I can already see, despite my support of President-elect Obama, that my main criticism of his administration will be his lack of change in America’s policy in the Middle East. So far, it hardly seems any different from Bush’s, or Clinton’s, or any other President’s policy since John F. Kennedy. The last President to stand up to Israel, of course, was Eisenhower, who threatened to impose sanctions on Israel if it did not withdrawal from Egypt. Obama, thus far, does not appear to be so bold. So, with that, I will begin by offering Obama my solution to the conflict:
How to Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
In Seven Easy Steps!
In a post-9/11 world, with militant Islamic fundamentalism on the rise, it is even more imperative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For too long, the United States has believed that arming Israel to the teeth and maintaining a regional imbalance of power was a strategic asset. However, this has proven to be a misguided policy as it has fueled anti-Americanism in the Middle-East, which has manifested itself into acts terrorism. The only way to reverse the violent trend is to impose a general settlement along the following lines: provide for the self-determination of both Israelis and Palestinians within the borders created by the UN Partition Plan of 1947; both parties must recognize one another’s right to exist; the Israelis must allow for the return of refugees, or provide compensation to those families that decide to remain within the state of Palestine; the Jewish settlers in the West Bank must return to Israel, or accept Palestinian citizenship; both states must guarantee religious freedom to all its citizens; the UN will have the authority to patrol and secure the borders of Israel and Palestine, as well as have jurisdiction over Jerusalem, which will be the capital of both Israel and Palestine; and both states must agree to rein in and control their extremist populations, who will undoubtedly, perhaps violently, reject any peace agreement. This settlement must be implemented speedily, so as to avoid any potential political stalling.
Before this discussion begins, it is important to point out that the immense pressure from the Israel lobby disqualifies the U.S. from having sole authority in devising a settlement, which is why the matter should be referred to an international summit. The Israel lobby, far from being a single entity, is a “loose coalition of individuals and organizations,” such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who actively seek to influence U.S. policies in the Middle East within legal and democratic institutions (Mearsheimer, 112). Though these interest groups are participating in legitimate democratic activities, as laid out by James Madison’s Federalist No. 10, they should not be immune from criticism when they use immoral tactics to stifle debate or discussion. The abuse and slander (or libel) that befell former President Jimmy Carter following the publication of his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is a perfect example of the lobby’s modus operandi. Ads were taken out in prominent newspapers, encouraging people to contact him and his publisher to condemn them for his audacity to write a book encouraging peace between Israel and Palestine. And not only was Carter blasted as “anti-Semitic” by various pro-Israel groups and pro-Israel intellectuals, he was also labeled a Nazi-sympathizer and intellectually linked to former KKK leader, David Duke (Mearsheimer, 193). It is indefensible that there is all this venom towards the man who brokered the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel during his presidency. This same animosity is directed towards any newspaper, radio station, or any other media outlet that has any report that is remotely critical of Israel, which has been a successful strategy. Journalist Michael Massing interviewed a reporter for his article “Israel Lobby” who admitted that “the pressure from these groups is relentless. Editors would just assume not touch them.” (Mearsheimer, 172) This same pressure is brought to bear on Congress and Presidential contenders. Despite the many political differences between all the 2008 Presidential hopefuls, they could all agree on their unequivocal and unconditional support for Israel. President-elect Barack Obama has even asserted that Jerusalem should not be divided under any peace agreement. The same allegiance holds true in Congress: Michael Massing reported that “a congressional staffer sympathetic to Israel told him, ‘We can count on well over half the House… to do reflexively whatever AIPAC wants’.” (Mearsheimer, 10) There is even the boast from a former AIPAC official that he could get the signatures of “seventy senators” on a napkin within twenty-four hours (Mearsheimer, 10). Not everyone agrees that the Israel lobby carries much weight. In an e-mail to the author, Noam Chomsky wrote: “If U.S. Presidents want to kick Israel in the teeth, they do, and the lobby runs and hides, knowing better than to confront U.S. power.” (Chomsky, “From a…”) He also wrote that there is no “national interest” among the elites, who “are making out quite fine with a rich and powerful client state, with a high-tech economy closely linked to that of the Master, and a base for U.S. power in a crucial (region).” He closed his e-mail by writing: “The Palestinians, in contrast, offer nothing at all to U.S. power, and therefore have no rights, by the reigning principles of the intellectual and moral culture.” (Chomsky, “From a…”) Either way, political leaders and media elites have demonstrated, for decades, that they really have no ability to be even-handed in the peace process. As the British did in 1947, the United States needs to acknowledge its failure and defer the matter to the international community.
The states of Israel and Palestine must accept the borders set-forth by the UN Partition Plan of 1947. When the U.N. was given authority to resolve the conflict between Arabs and Jewish settlers in Palestine, they proposed a partition of Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state. On November 29, 1947, the U.N. General Assembly voted on and passed Resolution 181—the Partition Plan (Cleveland, 264). However, Britain, who had long grown weary of the conflict, announced that they were withdrawing from Palestine on May 15, 1948, an announcement that lead to chaos between the Arab and Jewish communities. Though the Jews were not happy, they agreed to the terms of plan, while still hoping to eventually gain control of ‘Eretz’ (Biblical) Israel. The Arab League rejected the plan, arguing that Palestinians, who made up the majority of Palestine’s population, were “alone entitled to set up an administration in Palestine for the discharge of all governmental functions without any external interference.” (Talal, 62) Needless to say, with the departure of British forces on May 15, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s statehood and, within ten hours, they were invaded by Arab forces (Cleveland, 264). However, as Hassan bin Talal pointed out in his book Palestinian Self-Determination: A Study of the West Bank and Gaza, the fighting between Arabs and Israeli forces occurred on land where “Jewish forces [were] already present in the areas of Palestine allocated to the Arab state under the Partition Plan of 1947… or in Jerusalem, allocated to neither the Jewish nor the Arab State.” (Talal, 37) The war lasted only seven months, but it demonstrated that Israel was the dominant military force in the region. And despite the Partition Plan’s intention to create a Palestinian state, that never materialized; indeed, the war had created so many refugees (roughly 730,000 Arabs) that the Jews gained the demographic upper-hand (Reinhart, 52). From the end of the 1948 war until 1967, Arabs maintained their rights to self-determination and statehood, a right which has repeatedly been affirmed in U.N. Resolutions, such as 3236 (1974) and 1397 (2002).
In order for the above step to be taken, Israel must withdraw from the territories occupied after the June 1967 war and return to the borders established by the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947. During the six day war, superior Israeli forces took complete control over the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights, while delivering another staggering defeat to both Arab nations and the spirit of Arab nationalism. It also replicated the tragedy of 1948 by generating another flow of refugees, roughly 250,000 (Tolan, 141). On November 22, 1967, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 242, which called for the removal of Israeli forces from territories occupied during the 1967 war. It also required “the acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” To this date, despite repeated U.N. Resolutions demanding compliance with the Resolution 242, Israel has not withdrawn from, or relinquished control of, all the territories, such as the West Bank and Gaza. A subsequent Resolution, 328, was passed in October 1973 demanded compliance with 242, stating: “The territory of a state shall not be the object of military occupation resulting from the use of force in contravention of the provisions of the [U.N.] Charter.” (Talal, 116) Israel maintains that it has security concerns, which prevents it from withdrawing from the occupied territories. However, as the U.N. Partition Plan laid out, the territories under occupation were supposed to be allocated for an Arab state. Also, Resolution 242 only requires Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, so the Resolution would have to amended, or a new Resolution would be needed, which would require Israel to return to the borders laid out in Resolution 181. Until Israel ends its occupation, they will continue to be in violation of international law. And until they acknowledge the right of Palestinians to statehood they will have to worry about security concerns that stem from Arab resentment and anger.
Given the above condition, Israel and Palestine must recognize and respect one another’s right tosovereignty, as per U.N. Resolution 242.
Israel must respect the Palestinians’ right of return or financially compensate the refugees who elect to stay in Palestine. Again, U.N. Resolution 194, passed on December 11, 1948 (after the 1948 war), requires that Israel allow for the return of the 730,000 refugees created by the war. In Dennis Ross’ book The Missing Peace, he describes the Palestinians obsession with the right of return as the “myth of the ‘right of return’,” which they cling to out of a sense of entitlement (Ross, 4). Ross was President Bill Clinton’s Middle East negotiator as they made their last minute effort to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but he, like Clinton, was heavily biased in favor of the Israelis. Both Ross and Clinton blamed Arafat for the failure of the talks because he kept returning to Resolutions 242 and 194, which, in reality, were international laws that did indeed require the return of refugees to the homes they fled during the 1948 war, or “that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.” The primary concern for Israel’s political leaders (and pro-Israel Americans) is that the enforcement of Resolution 194 would flood Israel, a state that is distinctly Jewish, with Arabs, who are mostly Muslims, which would destroy the purpose of significance of Israel as a homeland for Jews, where they, as Vladmir Jabotinsky stated in 1937, “could build up their own body social undisturbed by anyone.” (Laqueur, 59) However, this concern is unfounded; with the creation of a Palestinian state, most refugees would certainly prefer to live in Palestine, not Israel.
The Jewish settlers in the West Bank must dismantle their outposts and return to Israel or accept Palestinian citizenship. It is clear that the sole purpose of the settlements is to establish Jewish roots in Arab territory, which will ultimately be difficult to uproot. Israel’s leaders, in the spirit of David Ben-Gurion, view the occupied territory as part of Eretz Israel, and thus they supported increased immigration into the West Bank and Gaza in order to gain the demographic upper-hand (Cleveland, 363). This has been one of the major planks of the Likud party, which was heralded by Menachem Begin. Under Begin’s leadership, he increased settlements from 24 to 106, with a population increase from 3,200 to 28,400 (Cleveland, 364). The Palestinians, obviously, view these settlements as an obstacle to their eventual self-determination. In December 2001, the international community came together in Geneva to discuss the application of the 4th Geneva Convention to the occupied territories, which the U.S. boycotted (Chomsky, 232). The conference concluded that the settlements were illegal and condemned the “willful killing, torture, unlawful deportation, willful depriving of the rights of fair and regular trial, extensive destruction and appropriation of property… carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” (Chomsky, 232) The oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories, paralleled by the increasing building of settlements, only serves to undermine the hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people and drive them into the arms of radical Islamic terrorist organizations.
UN peacekeeping troops will patrol and secure the borders between Israel and Palestine. Israel has continued to claim that it is constantly under threat of its Arab neighbors, which is a claim that is not substantiated by its impressive military victories over the last 60 years. In addition to that reality, not only does Israel have the benefit of massive U.S. military support, but they also possess nuclear weapons. Long term security for Israel can only come about through good relations with their Arab neighbors. But, in order to address their security concerns (as well as the Palestinians’ security), any peace plan must also include U.N. peacekeeping troops. They will be responsible for protecting the territorial integrity of both nations.
The UN will establish an international zone in Jerusalem, which will be the shared capital of Israel and Palestine. As originally proposed by the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947, Jerusalem should be internationalized under the auspices of the U.N. Not only is Jerusalem holy to the Jews, but it also a holy site for Muslims and Christians, therefore it ought to be controlled, not by one party, but an international body with the interests of all parties at heart. As it stands now, with the support of President-elect Obama, Israel has refused to allow or accept the division of Jerusalem. Contrary to popular thought, there was never a legitimate offer to divide Jerusalem at the Camp David meetings, brokered by Clinton. What was offered was control of the Arab neighborhoods of Abu-Dis (Al-Quds), hardly within the limits of Jerusalem (Reinhart, 26). To resolve this issue, Jerusalem should be the shared capital of both the states of Israel and Palestine, under the supervision and protection of the U.N.
All the groundwork for a general settlement has been established, whether through UN resolutions, the Geneva Accords, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All that has been missing from the process has been the political will of the United States. Not only would securing a homeland for the Palestinians go a long way toward bringing greater security to Israel and the U.S, it would also bring justice to the Palestinian people who have been denied self-determination for over 60 years.
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Chomsky, Noam. Middle East Illusions. New York: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2003.
— “From a UCSB Student.” E-mail to the author. 29 July 2008.
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Laqueur, Walter. The Israel-Arab Reader. New York: The Citadel Press, 1968.
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