A Last Chance for a Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement – a "naive and myopic initiative"

In mid-January, as was reported on UN-Truth, here, “Former U.S. National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, were among the ten authors of a newly-revealed letter handed to Barack Obama just before his inauguration, urging the new president-elect to change policy and make contact with Hamas … The group is preparing to meet this weekend to decide when to release a report outlining a proposed US agenda for talks aimed at bringing all Palestinian factions into the Mid-east peace process, according to Henry Siegman, the president of the US/Middle East Project, who brought the former officials together and said the White House promised the group an opportunity to make its case in person to Obama … The Boston Globe reported that ‘Siegman and Scowcroft said the letter urged Obama to formulate a clear American position on how the peace talks should proceed and what the specific goals should be. “The main gist is that you need to push hard on the Palestinian peace proces”, Scowcroft said in an interview. “Don’t move it to end of your agenda and say you have too much to do. And the US needs to have a position, not just hold their coats while they sit down”. Along with Scowcroft, Volcker, and Brzezinski, who was national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, signatories included former House International Relations Committee chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat; former United Nations ambassador Thomas Pickering from the first Bush administration; former World Bank president James Wolfensohn; former US trade representative in the Ford administration Carla Hills; Theodore Sorensen, former special counsel to President John F. Kennedy; and former Republican senators Chuck Hagel and Nancy Kassebaum Baker”.

Now, apparently, the report — containing “recommendations for U.S. Middle East peacemaking” — has been released. Entitled “A Last Chance for a Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement”, it can be read in full here].

It suggests the following:
1. Present a Clear U.S. Vision to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict … The U.S. parameters should reflect the following fundamental compromises:
• Two states, based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap, to take into account areas heavily populated by Israelis in the West Bank;
• A solution to the refugee problem consistent with the two-state solution, that does not entail a general right of return, addresses the Palestinian refugees’ sense of injustice, and provides them with meaningful financial compensation as well as resettlement assistance;
• Jerusalem as home to both capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty, with special arrangements for the Old City providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them;
• A non-militarized Palestinian state, together with security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty, and a U.S.-led multinational force to ensure a peaceful transitional security period. This coalition peacekeeping structure, under UN mandate, would feature American leadership of a NATO force supplemented by Jordanians, Egyptians and Israelis. We can envision a five-year, renewable mandate with the objective of achieving full Palestinian domination of security affairs on the Palestine side of the line within 15 years.
2. Encourage Israeli-Syrian Negotiations
3. A More Pragmatic Approach Toward Hamas and a Palestinian Unity Government”.

Kathleen and Bill Christison took the report apart, in an article published in Counterpunch on 15 April, in which they wrote: “The end of George W. Bush’s long tenure and the advent of Barack Obama have now given rise to other initiatives that are as naïve and myopic as the aid pledges [to reconstruct Gaza]– myopic because, wittingly or not, they come from a starting point that is totally centered on Israel and its demands and totally oblivious to Israel’s barbaric behavior”…

The Christison’s critique continued: “Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton speak earnestly of the ‘inevitability’ and the ‘inescapability’ of a solution based on two states, without regard to the growing impossibility of a real Palestinian state or to the fact that Israel is killing off any prospect for such a state and is in fact openly killing off the Palestinians. The early months of the administration, and the appointment of George Mitchell as special Middle East envoy, are bringing out others who, more enamored of the process than of any prospect of genuine peace, blindly pursue the ‘peace-process industry’ regardless of realities on the ground or the virtual guarantee of failure. Probably the most detailed plan purporting to lay out a path toward a two-state solution was actually written before Obama took office and is only now being publicized. This plan — entitled “A Last Chance for a Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement” — was drawn up in December by a group of well meaning U.S. elder statesmen, including Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Paul Volcker, the only one of the ten to enter the Obama administration. The elders were drawn together by Henry Seigman, a former head of the American Jewish Committee and scholar of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict who has distinguished himself in recent years by his frank, realistic criticism of the Israeli occupation. The proposal is a 17-page blueprint for achieving the impossible. It approaches the conflict from an Israel-centered perspective and indeed, by heavily emphasizing the need to meet Israel’s security needs, contains the prescription for its own failure. The report devotes a remarkable one-fifth of its entire length to an annex on “Addressing Israel’s Security Challenges”, in addition to considerable verbiage devoted to this subject in the body of the document. There is no mention whatsoever of any need to ensure Palestine’s security against threats from Israel”.

The Christisons write that “The impulse behind this plan is admirable: it recognizes the centrality of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict to other issues and U.S. interests in the Middle East; it urges that the new administration overturn the Bush administration’s eight years of disengagement from the conflict and do so quickly; it calls for engaging Hamas; and it urges that the peace effort be undertaken even at the cost of angering ‘certain domestic constituencies’. But the plan itself is naïve and oblivious to the brutal realities of the situation, which existed even before the Gaza assault. Because it takes no account of Israel’s lethal intentions toward the Palestinians or its responsibility for the current level of violence, the report actually encourages Israeli intransigence while blithely assuming that this rigidity can be overcome by issuing a plan on a few pieces of paper while the U.S. continues to send Israel the arms necessary to destroy Palestine. The report exists in a never-never land in which Israel has no responsibility for occupying Palestinian land and has concerns only for its own security but no obligations to the Palestinians. The report refers repeatedly to the ‘chicken and egg’ security situation in the occupied territories — as if it cannot be determined whether Israel’s occupation or Palestinian resistance to it came first, as if the occupation is not the reason for Palestinian resistance, as if the Palestinian suicide bombings that the report says cause Israel ‘understandable anxiety’ might have arisen out of nowhere rather than precisely out of Israel’s oppression. The plan addresses the requirements of peace between the two envisioned states almost solely in terms of Israel’s needs — not only its security needs, but its settlements needs and its concerns about Palestinian refugees’ right of return. For instance, while it calls for the border between the two states to be ‘based on’ the lines of June 1967 with only minor reciprocal modifications, it recommends that the United States ‘take into account areas heavily populated by Israelis in the West Bank’. Although the language minimizes the magnitude of this issue, this passage means that accommodation must be made for major Israeli settlement blocs, which include approximately ten percent of the small Delaware-sized West Bank, cover virtually the entirety of East Jerusalem, and include fully 85 percent of the 475,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In April 2004, George Bush gave Ariel Sharon a letter that officially granted U.S. approval to Israel’s retention of what Bush called ‘major [Jewish] population centers’ in the West Bank, thus altering what had been almost 40 years of U.S. policy supporting a virtually full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Bill Clinton’s ‘parameters’ outlined in 2000 had done the same on a somewhat smaller scale by proposing to allow Israel to retain its settlements — referred to by the anodyne term ‘neighborhoods’ — in East Jerusalem. The latest proposal by the elder statesmen repeats this Clinton dictum and in general endorses both Clinton’s and Bush’s declarations unilaterally ceding Palestinian land to Israel, without negotiation or consultation with Palestinians”.

Moreover, the Christisons argue, “This proposal also gives away the Palestinians’ right of return. Although it gives a nod to the refugees’ ‘sense of injustice’ and calls for ‘meaningful financial compensation’, it declares, again unilaterally and pre-emptively, that resolution of the refugee problem should ‘protect Israel from an influx of refugees’ — meaning that the right would not be available to all or even most refugees who might choose to return to the homes and land inside Israel from which they were expelled. This provision would ‘protect’ Israel from any requirement that it rectify the massive injustice it perpetrated in 1948 and would require that the victims be satisfied, after 60-plus years, with a little money and a home somewhere outside their own homeland”.

A main point, according to the Christisons, is that “The major element of the elders’ report proposes that the Palestinian state would be non- militarized and would be policed by a U.S.-led, UN-mandated multinational force that would function for five years but would have a renewable mandate, the intention being to permit Palestinians to control their own security affairs (and of course be able to guarantee Israel’s security) within 15 years. The force would be a NATO force supplemented by Jordanian, Egyptian and — amazingly enough — Israeli troops. The Alice-in-Wonderland aspect of this particular proposal is the elders’ assumption that Palestinian sovereignty would somehow be respected even as the Palestinians were being forced to turn their security over to a multinational force that included not merely elements of multiple outside armies, but troops from the very oppressor the Palestinians are presumed to have just shed by attaining statehood”.

And, they write, “This is the kind of ‘peace-process industry’ nonsense that renders proposals such as this utterly meaningless. The proposal gives away, before negotiations have begun, more than any state-to-be could ever possibly afford to give. It cedes territory in what would be the Palestinian state before Palestinians are even able to sit down at the negotiating table. It cedes, without cavil or apology, the Palestinians’ right to redress of a gross injustice that is, and has been from the beginning 60-plus years ago, the fundamental Palestinian grievance against Israel. It cedes Palestinian sovereignty and security by inviting in an international security force including troops of precisely the occupying force that the Palestinians seek to be rid off. And it cedes any viability in the new so-called state. The elders who composed this document should know better. Some of them have actually worked as specialists on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the past, and the proposal’s convener Henry Siegman has been working on this issue for decades. But the proposal exhibits so little understanding of the extent to which Israel has already absorbed the West Bank into itself that it would appear that none of these individuals has ever even visited the region” …

This critique of the recommendations recently made to Obama was published on Counterpunch here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *