How shall we approach the decades-long standoff between Israel and Palestine? In our rush to establish one position or another, we blow right by the general questions which the positions purportedly address. Any set of comparable positions lines up on an axis of some kind. Is I see it, there are three axes available. The first is conquest. Everyone has a claim on the Promised Land. It has been notoriously over-promised. Some combination of Middle Eastern states may very overwhelm Israel and put the land back in pre-1947 conditions, minus, of course, the British. Israel may decisively preempt attack and decisively defeat their enemies. They have done it before. Yet the war goes on.
The second is international settlement. There will have to be a deciding party and an enforcing party. The deciding party will be the United Nations. It’s hard to envision who will take part in the enforcing. A “New World Order” style of temporary coalition wouldn’t be stable enough. The U. S. would have to form the core of it and we wouldn’t unless the alternative were decisively worse for Israel and that view was taken by a substantial majority of the important pro-Israel groups in the United States. The basis would be the 1967 lines with land swaps and some arrangement for sharing Jerusalem.
The third is bilateral agreement. Israel and the Palestinian Authority work it out. That seems the least likely. No conceivable Israeli government could engineer such an agreement and no conceivable government of all the Palestinians—the West Bank and Gaza—could enforce the peace such an agreement would require. The fatal flaw in the “land for peace” deal is that Israel does not have the political will to give up the land and Palestine does not have the security forces to legitimately offer peace.
That is the set President Obama is working with. I don’t see any winners there. My gripe about the president’s speech to the U. N. is that he is denying any attention to what I think is the only hope. I call it, below, a “hybrid option” and will spend the rest of this post considering it.
The only hope I see is that the United Nations grants that the current set of options is unworkable and come with a hybrid. Palestine becomes a member of the United Nations. The plundering of the West Bank is recognized as the invasion of the territory of a UN member. Economic and military sanctions are threatened, as they would be if there were a similar invasion of Italy or any other member state. The same set of sanctions turns against the Palestinians if they are unable to control their militants and end military retaliation.
It is possible, under those circumstances, that the Israeli parties could decisively renounce their aspirations to Greater Israel and make the only deal there is to make. And it is possible that Palestine (UN member nation Palestine) could decisively deal with the array of their allies—most notably Iran– who consent annually to the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, provided that their own war against Israel continues. It is possible. The look on the face of Mahmoud Abbas is not encouraging.
To do that—to devise this hybrid—it is necessary to abandon the line President Obama drew in his September 21 speech to the United Nations. There is “judgment from the top” he said, and then there is “agreement by the two parties.” There is no hybrid there, please note. There is, instead, a resolute ignoring of the possibility of a hybrid and where necessary, the denial that it is possible. That is awkward, presuming that nothing else will work.
The bulk of the President’s speech was devoted to clarifying that line, so that the top down—the international mandate—solution could be decisively rejected. “This is how it is supposed to work,” said the President, “nations standing together for the sake of peace and security and individuals claiming their rights. He cited South Sudan and Côte D’Ivoire and Tunisia and Egypt and Libya. All those—successes or successes-in-progress all—show “the way it is supposed to be.” We can argue about whether any of those is an example comparable to the Palestine/Israel conflict, which is the use the president wants to make of it.
My interest here is the way each example reinforces the line of division the President wants to maintain. “We must choose,” he says over and over, “between ineffective top-down decisions” and “letting the two parties work it out.” Given only those two, the President is hoping that the U. N. members will deny Palestine’s bid for recognition. But to do that, you have to say that those two are really the only options.
Since I am pushing a hybrid—enhanced negotiations resulting from U. N. membership for Palestine—I am not happy to see my option obscured. When the President claims that there are only two options (and of the two, the one he likes looks preferable), it is important to argue that there are not just two and that we need not choose between them.
Controlling which options are seen as available is one of the first rules of power. Whatever choice is finally made, that will have been the first step. But to do that for the benefit of all, you have to get the options right and I don’t think President Obama did that at the U. N.