July 28, 2009

Arab Peace Reconstruction

They tell you everything is fine, that “everyone is friends,” but each day brings new distractions, new makeups, new falling outs. What looks like persistence could be panic. President Obama wants a two-state solution by the time he leaves office, but he’s realizing this may be just another dream of his.

Obama is possibly taking the advice of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who advised him to commit to the Arab Peace Initiative when he took office, or else Obama realized his current strategy is taking on water. Either way, the Initiative appears to be back in action after being endorsed by key players as the best opportunity for two states.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently told a reception for Egyptian ambassador Mohamed Asem Ebrahim, “We appreciate the efforts by Arab states to advance the peace initiative. If these proposals are not final, they can create an atmosphere in which a comprehensive peace can be reached.”

Special envoy George Mitchell then alluded to the Initiative on his recent trip to Syria and Israel, saying all his discussions, “are intended to help what we share in common: a desire for comprehensive peace in the Middle East and that includes Israel and Palestine, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon and normal relations with all countries in the region.”

British Foreign Minister David Miliband later shadowed Mitchell to Syria and claimed the Initiative is the best strategy to normalize relations in the Middle East. The road to peace seems clear when these three individuals are combined with approval from the PA. Unanimity is a relief compared to the diplomatic sideshow currently on stage, but it poses one question: can the Arab Peace Initiative truly succeed?

For anyone still wondering why Syria is being vigorously wooed by the West, the first demand of Israel is a, “Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon.”

Israeli officials, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have expressed a willingness to cede part of the territory, but they suffer right-wing fallout every time. Netanyahu declared in May, “Remaining on the Golan will ensure Israel has a strategic advantage in cases of military conflict with Syria.” Presumably he must change his position to implement the Arab Peace Initiative.

The second clause of the Initiative is to, “Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194.” Netanyahu very publicly declared that refugees and their descendants, “must once and for all give up the demand to resettle inside of Israel.”

Presumably he must change this position as well.

Finally Israel must, “Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.” Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, but skeleton would be a better word. Along with 300,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, Israel is unyielding on Jerusalem. Netanyahu wants the whole city under Israeli authority and isn’t willing to negotiate.

Netanyahu must shift on every policy to accord with the Arab Peace Initiative, which promises to, “Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over,” and, “Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace.” Now it's clear why Netanyahu stressed that peace is only possible “if these proposals are not final,” and he has President Obama on his side.

While praising the Arab Peace Initiative for its “courage”, Obama intends to incorporate only parts of it into his own plan. So the real question becomes: can a rewritten Arab Peace Initiative succeed? The answer depends on editing, but it’s looking like a negative.

During a campaign trip to the Middle East in 2008, Obama reportedly told Abbas that, “The Israelis would be crazy not to accept this initiative,” but he must really think the Arab demands are crazy. Soon after coming to office, Obama submitted amendments to the Arab League that watered down the right of return and emphasized a demilitarized Palestinian state. Until he officially renounces his former statements to AIPAC in a speech of equal magnitude, Obama has also gifted an “undivided” Jerusalem to Israel.

The Arab Peace Initiative was designed to defend Palestinians when no one else would. Obama is revising the terms to make them more acceptable to Israel, a sign of desperation more than optimism.

President Obama must decide whether he wants the job done fast or done right; right now he’s choosing fast. While his own version of the Initiative may please Israel and thus have a higher probability to being initially agreed upon, the outcome will lack staying power. Forcing a weak hand on Abbas will dry up what’s left of his popular support and provoke Palestinian militants.

A two-state solution cannot be sacrificed for convenience. It will take time - time Obama doesn’t have. There’s no real need to finish by the end of his term, only his personal needs. He should, as music producers advise, let the track breathe.

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