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A rethink on the Middle East

Below is an oped I have in today's Boston Globe.

Middle East peace policy has tanked, despite a flurry of diplomatic activity to block out that reality. The approach of backing Fatah against the democratically elected Hamas majority went horribly wrong in Gaza, so President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel met in Washington, and there was a summit of the Egyptian, Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian leaders in Sharm.

The message: It's working, one more push and Fatah wins. Except it isn't working. Sure, the desire to keep trying is preferable to a paralyzing sense of despair, or worse, a mis placed satisfaction in the Palestinian predicament. But this is a moment better suited to reflection and re thinking than to pressing down on the accelerator. Big-picture strategic reflection has not characterized the American or Israeli response to recent developments, yet it is in order and should fall into three categories: what stays the same, what becomes more urgent, and what needs to change.

Some of the previous working assumptions do still hold. Despite all the sloganizing about a three-state solution, or two governments with no state, the driving paradigm of a Palestinian state that includes the West Bank, Gaza, and a Palestinian East Jerusalem being established alongside Israel still offers the best future for both peoples. Egypt will not absorb Gaza, nor Jordan the West Bank. A bi national, one-state solution would mean that the Jewish people would no longer have self-determination and the Palestinians would continue to be denied it. In spite of the geographical, and even cultural, distance that separates the West Bank from Gaza, they are still both inextricably linked in the Palestinian national narrative. The neoconservatives may gloat, but they offer no credible alternative.

The new urgency is in finally ending the occupation and achieving a Palestine living in peace alongside Israel. Delay has been the enemy, not the friend of achieving a permanent status compromise. The Oslo process has been blamed, but its five-year timetable expired even before we entered the new millennium. It is approaching seven years since the last Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations and the last US effort to frame the parameters of a solution. In the context of today's regional instability, there is an added urgency to moving beyond the occupation toward an agreed and secure border between Israelis and Palestinians. It is more difficult today. It will require deft political management, inclusiveness, and an ability to work several channels at once.

The strategic change that is required is not simple, unpalatable to many, and made all the more so by recent events. Our friends in Fatah, Abbas, Fayad, et al., cannot do it alone. Hamas will need to be on the inside of the proverbial tent. Palestinian politics is going through a phase of post-Arafat transition. Single-party Fatah rule cannot be re imposed, nor should it be. Hamas is a permanent feature of the political landscape that needs to be digested. Admittedly, Hamas does not come in a bottle of milk of magnesia -- its actions and language are often coarse. It is also part of the Palestinian and regional reality -- a mainstream political Islamist movement that rejects Al Qaeda, that is isolated and accepts help from Iran, while trying to reach out to the West. Hamas leaders have given increasingly strong hints of their acceptance of the 1967 lines and the reality of Israel and have both offered and adhered to a cessation of hostilities in the past.

If America and Israel are now pursuing confidence-building measures with extra vim in order to defeat Hamas, then they are likely to get neither. That is the lesson of at least the last 18 months since the Palestinian Parliamentary elections. A peace process with Hamas on the outside is likely to be effectively torpedoed. Having Hamas on the inside will add resilience and stability and perhaps be decisive. There will be efforts, sooner or later, to bring Fatah and Hamas together again in a national Palestinian political accommodation. These efforts might be initiated by Arab states, by elements within both factions, or as happened in the past, by prisoners affiliated to both movements. When this happens, the United States and Israel should accept such initiatives. The policy of encouraging civil conflict and driving to irreconcilability the existing Hamas-Fatah division has been counter productive. A bear hug Israeli-American embrace of Fatah will not be that movement's ticket back to Palestinian popularity and credibility.

There is still a route back to a sustainable two-state solution, and it is more urgent now. Of course, a serious strategic re think would benefit from a US decision to make this issue a priority, as the Iraq Study Group suggested and as the regional environment demands. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has described her foreign policy ethos as American realism -- it is time for that realism to be applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Comments (3)

Lina:

I'd wager that Bill has never been to Israel. He may not have been to any part of the Middle East. Because if he had, he would know that things are a bit more 'up close and personal' than he thinks. Things are, for the most part, VERY close together. Which means your enemies are very close to you. It's not like Iraq across the Atlantic from the U.S. It's much closer to Massachusetts, surrounded by NH, VT, NY, RI, CT, etc. Except Israel is much smaller than MA, and the countries surrounding it are more numerous and bigger. (see http://www.iris.org.il/sizemaps/arabwrld.htm , or any map of the Middle East.)

Israel has a substantially better military, but, as the U.S. is finally realizing, the size of a military doesn't help as much as it used to, because terrorists aren't so easy to find or identify. Terrorists specifically rise up in situations where there is a superior military power, because they are the weaker side's best chance of causing their enemies trouble.

And it's not so clear that the US would intervene if Israel were attacked- look to history, when the US sent troops to help Israel in a war. (I can't seem to find any examples- check for yourself: http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz/interventions.html)

All it takes is one war, and Israel could be wiped off the map. All it takes is one nuke in the wrong hands, like Iran's, for example. That's it. Unfortunately, it's not so hard to imagine.

Bill:

Unfortunately, SLC evidences the mindset that allows suppositions and fantasies to trump sound policy. The notion that Hamas poses an "existential threat" to the state of Israel is absurd. No Arab state or terror group poses a threat to the existence of the state of Israel (and that's true even if you don't consider the fact that the US would clearly intervene if Israel became seriously threatened with invasion).

Since Israel is clearly the most powerful military power in the region and does not face any threat to either its territorial integrity or the survival of its population, it has a position of strength that allows it to engage whatever entity is the de facto government (whether in Lebanon or Gaza). It can engage Hamas on the basis of its interests (as any state would) but without the sort of silly paranoia SLC evidences, because she simply isn't threatened in a strategic manner by her enemies. The real question is, does the Israeli government truly a settlement of its conflict (by which it will lose the ability to spread illegal settlements in the West Bank with impunity)?

(And neither is the US by Arab terrorists either, for that matter, the only difference is AQ is stateless and not the authority in any territory).

SLC:

Mr. Levy apparently doesn't think that the Hamas characters are serious people, and that their demand that the State of Israel go out of business is just hot air. On the other hand, I think that they are serious people and that they are absolutely serious in their demand that the only acceptable solution is a Palestine without the State of Israel. Therefore, it doesn't make any difference what Olmert, or Beilin, or Bibi or Lieberman propose as nothing they could conceivably propose will be acceptable to Hamas.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 3, 2007 11:31 AM.

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