Obama plan a good idea for both Palestinians and Israelis / a response to Mondoweiss

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The New York Times and the Washington Post reported last week that the Obama administration is considering presenting its own peace plan sometime in the near future, possibly around the fall. Israel has made it clear it would oppose such a plan, and the current government is insisting that an agreement can be reached only through direct talks between the two parties.

Thought some US officials sort of backed down from the idea, claiming that the US “would not impose a solution“, I agree with those thinking that the leak to the WP and the NYT was a test balloon, aimed to show Israel what will happen if it would not commit to the peace process or if it would consider ending the limited settlement moratorium Netanyahu has declared.

Zbigniew Brzezinski and Stephen Solarz repeated the idea on a Washington Post op-ed this weekend.

This goes for the Israeli side. Alex Kane summed up on Mondoweiss the case against an imposed plan from a Pro-Palestinian perspective. According to Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera English’s senior political analyst, the administration’s plan would follow the “Clinton Parameters” from the failed Camp David summit. These include:

Sharing of Jerusalem; no right of return for the Palestinians; a return to the 1967 borders with mutual adjustments to allow Israel to annex big settlement blocks; and a demilitarized Palestinian state.

Kane argues that:

the terms presented above wouldn’t be “fair or just,” because they would relinquish the “right of return” for Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Nakba, a right “enshrined in international law and international humanitarian law, and isn’t for Obama to deny, nor even for Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO chairman, to give away.”

And a demilitarized Palestinian state? With Israel keeping a presence “in fixed locations in the Jordan Valley under the authority of the International force for another 36 months” and having Israeli “early warning stations” inside the West Bank (as the “Clinton Parameters” state)? That doesn’t sound like an end to the occupation.

I assume the Clinton Parameters would serve as a starting point for negotiations on an actual agreement (that what was supposed to happen in Camp David), but even if they were to be implemented as they are, I think opposing them would be a grave mistake, and a move that would play right into the hands of those who wish to prolong Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza.

Let’s start with the issue of refugees. This, and not Jerusalem, is the biggest problem in any future settlement. According to UNRWA, There are around 1.7 million registered refugees in the PA territory, and around 3 million registered refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. There are probably between several hundred thousands to several millions unregistered refugees living in other countries, mostly in the West.

Israeli Jews, from the far left to the right, are opposing any return of Palestinians to the state of Israel. The only Jewish MK to ever speak in favor of a return was Dov Khenin from Hadash, and even he meant a limited return of several hundred thousand people at maximum. Hadash, it should be noted, got around 0.5 percent of the Jewish vote in the last elections.

Naturally, the international community doesn’t need to accept whatever the Israeli public do or say, but it should be understood that while there is a political base in Israel for ending the occupation, a return of refugees would have to be imposed on the entire system. Even if there was a way to do it, this would mean prolonging the occupation in years, probably even decades.

Furthermore, I don’t understand how this return should look like. Most of the Arab villages are gone, and in many cases, Israeli towns and neighborhoods were built in their place. Would a solution to the problem include the expulsion of millions of Jews, many of them refugees from Arab and European countries themselves? As you can see, this is getting very complicated, both politically and a morally. It is not enough to say that the refugees must return. One should explain what is it exactly that he means by ‘return’.

And it doesn’t end here. If you want to base your solution on the reality of 1947, before the Nakbe, rather than on the Green Line of 1949, you open the door for the Israeli claim for the places that were lost by Jews prior to and during the war: the Gush Ezion area (in the West Bank, south of Jerusalem), and most notably, the city of Hebron, which had a Jewish community living in it until the massacre of 1929. According to this logic, Jews have a “native” claim for living in Hebron just as Palestinians do; from a pure moral perspective it might even be so, but again, it takes us further away from the very practical notion of dismantling settlements and ending the occupation.

And one last point regarding the refugees: the idea that “nor Obama neither the PLO chairman can deny the refugees’ right of return” simply echoes the Israeli rigth-wing mantra that no Israeli leader can give up parts of land because “they belong to the entire Jewish people”. If the leader of PLO can’t sign an agreement with Israel or declare independence, who can?

Having said that, I do think that the Palestinian refugees problem must be solved. Israel should recognize its responsibility in creating the problem, allow a symbolic return for some, and take part in a compensating and re-settling mechanism for the rest.

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As for the other the reasons Kane notes for opposing the Clinton Parameters, they are simply absurd. Having several Israeli monitoring stations for three years is the thing that should make us join Netanyahu in opposing a settlement? Even when the peace agreement with Egypt was signed it gave Israel around two years to dismantle its settlements and clear army bases. Almost any international agreement works in stages. Is that such a problem?

As for “mutual adjustments” to the Green Line, they might actually play to the hand of Palestinians, who will be able, for example, to expand the very limited territory of Gaza. Again, I fail to see the major issue here, as long as the Palestinians will have a say on what areas are handed to them in exchange for the settlements blocks.

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I think people need to understand the gravity of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza and the urgent need to end the occupation. No matter what solution is reached, it will never be flawless from a moral perspective. Personally, I have my thoughts and reservation on all ideas right now. I never fully subscribed to either the Two States solution or the Bi-national one. But if the PLO leadership adopts the Administration’s plan, I wouldn’t oppose it.

One major lesson from the last two decades is that we should think of the dangers ahead. What if the Palestinians declare independence, Israel unilaterally withdraw to the security fence, and annex the settlement blocks? Then we will really have the puppet, Bantustans-like, Palestinian state everyone on the Left is afraid we will end up with. And there is always the possibility of more wars – which always take a greater price from the Palestinian side.

There is a huge advantage, from a Palestinian perspective, for a basic offer which the parties can negotiate on. Israel will always want to prolong the talks forever, and to avoid the hard task of settlements evacuation. No matter what happens, Israel will also be the strong side in the talks, because it controls the territory and all the resources, while the Palestinians have very few cards to play with. The Clinton Parameters, though far from perfect, are a reasonable framework to work on and to limit the Israeli government’s ability to avoid concessions; and the current administration is the most honest broker Palestinians had for years.

You can always declare it’s not enough and wait for a full boycott to take place, for the US to change its Middle East policy completely, or for Israel to simply fall apart. I’m not so sure all of this is going to happen, and more important, what about the fate of millions living under occupation, or under siege in Gaza? Don’t they deserve something to look forward to in the near future? Isn’t this thinking of “everything or nothing” just a gamble on their fate?


8 Comments on “Obama plan a good idea for both Palestinians and Israelis / a response to Mondoweiss”

  1. 1 Eamonn McDonagh said at 12:49 pm on April 14th, 2010:

    The case of Ireland provides an example to support your case.

    A limited form of independence was achieved by the 1921 treaty that ended the War of Independence. It involved continued British occupation of a number of ports, an oath of allegiance to the King and a number of other unpalatable impositions. Successive Irish governments gradually chipped away at the limits imposed by the 1921 settlement and Ireland finally declared itself a republic and severed its last ties with the Empire in 1948.

    If in 1921 we’d decided to fight on until we achieved a republic, well, we’d be fighting yet.

  2. 2 noam said at 1:09 pm on April 14th, 2010:

    Eamonn McDonagh – I totally agree. I think we can come up of many other examples in which a limited success in gaining political rights or independence was transformed – and in most cases, very rapidly – into a full independence.

    I think people on both sides are very suspicious of intermediate agreements here because of the failure of the Oslo accord. Many people who sympathies with the Palestinians think that anything but a full solution would be worthless, even counter productive, as Oslo might have been. As for me, I believe that the problem with Oslo was that it didn’t force Israel to actually give back land, and most notably, to take off the settlements. This is the main political question, as far as any future solution goes: will Israel evacuate settlements? Can it evacuate them? If Israel is able to hand the Palestinians a territory equal to the one occupied in 1967, with a solution in Jerusalem, I think they should take it, even if it means some temporary compromises on the way. If it turns out we are unable to get the settlers out due to our own political problems, it’s time to start working on a bi-national solution.

  3. 3 rick said at 3:29 pm on April 14th, 2010:

    what i think: time is ticking away to manage the problem in a way you mentioned. today about half a million settlers are living in the west bank (from like 80.000 in the 70s). even if the huge blocks will stay israeli, even if some of them would choose to live under pa-controll (it was offered I think, I´m very sceptical this would work because of booth sites), I think the settlement-movement will create a point of no return, soon. it will be impossible to remove the settlers, practically and politcally (sharon had to deal with like 5000 or 8000 settlers in gaza and it made no peace defacto broke his coalition). on the other site its kind of “quite” right now in the westbank, fayyad is going a non-violant way and will announce a state in the coming years. but whats if there wont be space for a palestinian state and the occupation and expulsion will go on. and the status quo with syria and lebanon (and saudi arabia!) wont change, I´m not shure the situation will stay “that easy controllable” on the ground in a middle east after huge demographic dislocations inside and outside israel.

    but we wont give up. perhaps a bi-national democratic state will look like a solution in ten years. for now it sounds still unrealistic to me.

  4. 4 Michael LeFavour said at 2:24 am on April 15th, 2010:

    Alex Kane is a clown. There is no such thing as a “right of return” in international law that is binding on or applies to Israel in relation to the Arabs calling themselves Palestinians. The so called right of return was created AFTER the so called refugees were created. It is not retroactive and it is not even binding on any states unless they ratify it and include it in their own state laws. If I am incorrect I challenge anyone to prove me wrong by siting a relevant body of law that is both binding and unambiguous.

    The solution to the faux demographic time bomb is to dismantle UNWRA and review whether or not the Arabs are actual refugees or not as defined by internationally accepted standards of what a true refugee is. There are so many potential state destroying Arabs on the dole only because they have a unique definition of what a refugee is, despite the fact there is absolutely nothing unique about their situation compared to the rest of the tens of millions of refugees that have been formed just in the last hundred years.

  5. 5 Robin said at 1:38 pm on April 15th, 2010:

    Fundamentally the questions that need to be answered are these: will the agreement improve conditions for Palestinians, giving them greater power and freedom, or repackage existing conditions and power relations? And secondly, will the agreement facilitate positive change in the future, or will it require some kind of counterproductive renunciation of essential rights by the Palestinians?

    I am wary, because for the Palestinians, any “solution” acceptable to Israel and the U.S. would not represent a true solution, but at best a step towards real justice and equality for them in their homeland. If the result would be to “close the case” so to speak (as the term “solution” implies), and leave Palestinians without allies in pursuing full sovereignty and equality from a powerful and fundamentally antagonistic state, then I don’t know if the gains would be worth the losses to them. (And it certainly wouldn’t be fair that refugees and Palestinian-Israelis would not be included in any real way in a process that sells them out.)

    Another thing to be wary of is the role of the U.S. Because without any kind of empowerment in a realistic sense (massive military buildup, not going to happen of course), Palestinian security hinges entirely on U.S. refereeing. Being an American, I’m not sure our politics has room for any kind of serious challenge to Israel, even if it is only holding them to a prior agreement. We didn’t hold them to Oslo. What if the “temporary” Israeli military presence lingers on (as it always has in this “temporary” occupation) past the expected date. Could the US really force compliance? I honestly don’t see any constituency that will reject whatever excuses Israel comes up with. Officials aren’t going to be committing political suicide for the Palestinians’ sake.

    I think any case here one way or another really depends on precise information. What exactly is being proposed? What exactly is public opinion and patterns of participation in the US and Israel, and based on that what can we reasonably expect each side to truly commit to? Will there be a specifically outlined path for further progress? Depending on the answers to these questions, we might see an end to occupation and progress in the mold of Ireland, or alternatively, the Gaza-fication of the West Bank and the triumph of Verwoerdian apartheid.

  6. 6 Robin said at 2:00 pm on April 15th, 2010:

    The state of Israel’s unmatchable level of military force, combined with the United States’ decidedly unbalanced (let alone favorable) political situation, lead me to believe that true Palestinian sovereignty (let alone full justice) will not be possible in any partition.

    I personally would like to see a unified struggle for human rights that includes the ’48 lands in its scope. It might take time, but it might be the only way to change political equations in the United States, the rest of the world, and maybe even Israel. If people can come to see the situation as more of a movement for equality, rather than a separatist conflict (with a faux-sovereign Palestinian institution to obscure the power relations), I think that would create a much more supportive atmosphere for progress, and begin to chip away at (rather than accomodating) the underlying core issues of supremacy and exclusion.

  7. 7 noam said at 4:41 am on April 18th, 2010:

    rubin: my basic criticism of Alex Kane’s was that even if it sounded morale, he doesn’t suggest any alternative. what political action you suggest we take to advance the idea of state for all it citizens? and what make someone think that such state will be able to receive the refugees? I feel that the opposite is true: there is a better chance of a Palestinian return to a Palestinian state than to a one, bi-national state.

  8. 8 Steve Kelly said at 4:30 pm on April 18th, 2010:

    Good post. Thoughtful and considered.

    I agree with your point that opposing everything, as many Pal supporters do, isn’t helpful.

    That said, Oslo was merely an exercise in “repacking existing conditions and power relations” as Robin put it above. One thing the Palestinians won’t – and shouldn’t – accept is more Oslo.

    Eamonn McDonagh’s comparison with the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty is a bit facile too. It’s comparing apples and oranges in every important respect.

    We have a precedent for interim agreements in this conflict, Oslo. With power relations unchanged and nobody willing to enforce compliance there’s no reason to believe another interim agreement would lead anywhere.

    The words ‘Palestinian state’ or ‘occupation’ are absent from the Declaration of Principles and all the further accords. Oslo was never meant to lead to a Palestinian state and Peres admitted as much in his memoir.

    The Palestinians should be careful about accepting another Oslo because, as someone else wrote above, time is running out.