The Mideast Peace, Make That, Nonbelligerency Process
Rob Malley and Hussein Agha have a very thought-provoking piece in the New York Review of Books (h/t Marc Lynch) concerning the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In effect, they argue that the peace process is a flawed, failed construct. I agree. Do read the whole thing.
But here it is in a nutshell:
The problem with the two-state idea as it has been construed is that it does not truly address what it purports to resolve. It promises to close a conflict that began in 1948, perhaps earlier, yet virtually everything it worries about sprang from the 1967 war. Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is essential and the conflict will persist until this is addressed. But its roots are far deeper: for Israelis, Palestinian denial of the Jewish state’s legitimacy; for Palestinians, Israel’s responsibility for their large-scale dispossession and dispersal that came with the state’s birth.
This logic is devastating:
If the objective is to end the conflict and settle all claims, these matters will need to be dealt with. They reach back to the two peoples’ most visceral and deep-seated emotions, their longings and anger. For years, the focus has been on fine-tuning percentages of territorial withdrawals, ratios of territorial swaps, and definitions of Jerusalem’s borders. The devil, it turns out, is not in the details. It is in the broader picture.
The problem was built into the structure of the negotiations. It is only a slight exaggeration to describe them as a confidence game, a tacit understanding by all sides to elude the historic core of the matter through disingenuous ambiguity. Palestinians hoped they could achieve their goals even as they persisted in denying the Jewish people’s entitlement to even part of the land; Israelis trusted that if they granted Palestinians some kind of state the whole problem would fade away. The US assumed the role of a willing participant. Others, Europeans included, lazily followed.
A kind of “bipartisan consensus” exists among the leadership of both sides:
Establishing two states would resolve the occupation, but that is only one aspect, albeit an important one, of a problem that arose decades before the occupation began. An Israeli leader will be loath to relinquish territory and permit the emergence of an indisputably sovereign Palestinian state at least as long as suspicion lingers that Palestinians have not genuinely made their peace with the new reality, that they are biding their time, and that a future of renewed strife lies in store.
In turn, a Palestinian leader cannot credibly proclaim that the conflict has come to a close if the solution ignores the genesis of the Palestinian plight and the historic core of its national cause. To adopt such a stand would be tantamount to conceding that the refugees—who make up a majority of the Palestinian population, were once its political vanguard, and could well regain that position—had waged six decades of struggle by mistake and endured six decades of suffering in vain. Internal challenges to such an arrangement might not be immediate. But they would be certain and severe, laying bare the fragility of a supposedly historic accord.
It seems to me the Peace Process has been built (at least since the 80s) on the foundation of the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David Accords. In that case, you had two already existing states working diplomatically with each other. One state (Egypt) found a modicum of a victory in the Yom Kippur War. The Israelis had something to offer in exchange for peace, a deal that was preferable to both sides. That precedent guided the Clinton-era Jordan-Israel peace deal.
And even during the first Bush administration, then Sec. of State James Baker wanted to make a deal first with Syria along these lines. The thinking was that if they could get Syria on board, Lebanon would be brought in (via Syria’s de facto control), Jordan would join (which they later did anyway), and Saudi Arabia would at least not stand in the way, if not declare its acceptance of the Israeli state. The theory was that if all of the Arab states were in that would then push Arafat to accept the deal–that latter point is a hypothetical one now so it’s impossible to really know.
Whatever the case, that moment is long gone and these faux attempts to revive it are nothing but a case of going through the motions politically, further engendering corrosive cynicism on both sides.
Notice the commonality between all prior peace deals. Israel wins (takes/occupies depending on your point of view) territories from various pre-existing nation-states in the 1967 war (or later, the invasion of Lebanon in the 80s): the Sinai, Sheeba Farms (Lebanon), Golan Heights (Syria), and areas like Peace Island (Jordan) and then gives them back in exchange for diplomatic rapprochement. Minus Syria’s decision under both Assads to maintain power through opposition to the West, the logic of quid pro quo is undeniable. At least insofar as the regimes in all those Arab countries are non-democratic and authoritarian and can therefore make treaties in the face of public reistance.
But Palestine is not like any of these other Arab countries. It’s not a country, for example, which is why having discussions as if there were two states at various points of disagreement doesn’t work in this context.
The point is not to provoke another in the endless round of “Whose to blame?” between Israel and Palestine. Rather, the point is to show the logic of Malley and Agha’s thesis that the Peace Process is fundamentally flawed and should therefore be scrapped in favor of a more a reduced (but realizable) set of goals–like a de facto truce.
But even lowering the bar has many difficulties. Agha and Malley raise the possibility of a Jordanian quasi-protectorate over the Palestinian territories–probably only The West Bank–in order to build the institutions of the Palestinian state that could then be declared, either unilaterally, with (some?) international support, and/or with Israeli agreement.
While the plan sounds very compelling in theory, I have my doubts about its effectiveness. But at least it’s a legitimate idea instead of the farce that is the US Sec. of State going over to the Middle East and praising Israel for kinda/sorta but not really slowing down illegal construction in the occupied territories.
Whatever the exact mechanisms that need to be worked out, Agha and Malley are 100% correct that the Peace Process as such should be scrapped in favor of this alternative approach.