Sunday, February 22, 2009

The “peace process” needs to go back to he future

Ted Belman

Elliot Abrams advises there are “two alternatives: realism and failure.” He ought to know.

Elliot AbramsAccording to The Neocons Neocon

Elliott Abrams embodies neoconservatism. Perhaps more than any other neoconservative, Abrams has integrated the various influences that have shaped today’s neoconservative agenda. A creature of the neoconservative incubator, Abrams is a political intellectual and operative who has advanced the neoconservative agenda with chutzpah and considerable success. As a government official, Abrams organized front groups to provide private and clandestine official support for the Nicaraguan Contras; served as the president of an ethics institute despite his own record of lying to Congress and managing illegal operations; rose to high positions in the National Security Council to oversee U.S. foreign policy in regions where he had no professional experience, only ideological positions;

He was also tasked by Bush to bring about the downfall of Hamas after their coup.

He just published an article in the Weekly Standard titled The Path of Realism or the Path of Failure: Laying a foundation for peace in Palestine. He states,

As an official of the Bush administration I made three dozen visits to the Middle East in the last eight years, and in February, as Israelis voted, I made my first visit as a private citizen in nearly a decade. After lengthy discussions with Israelis and Palestinians, it seems to me obvious that it is time to face certain facts, facts that President Bush actually saw clearly during his first term: We are not on the verge of Israeli-Palestinian peace; a Palestinian state cannot come into being in the near future; and the focus should be on building the institutions that will allow for real Palestinian progress in the medium or longer term.

He follows this up with a review of Bush’s historic vision speech in 2002 which essentially said he same thing as did the performance based Roadmap. Annapolis was an attempt to leapfrog to final status discussions. It failed.

I am unaware of the achievement of any actual agreement on any important issue on either track.

But the lesson for 2009, for the new administration, must be that there are actually only two alternatives: realism and failure.

Netanyahu has long been associated with the Neocons so it is no surprise that he too chooses realism instead of failure. He wants to work from the bottom up.

On the toughest issues, such as Jerusalem and refugees, there was, unsurprisingly, no meeting of the minds. It is unlikely negotiators will do better this year. It has been true for decades that the most Israel can offer the Palestinians is quite evidently less than any Palestinian politician is prepared to accept. Those who say “the outlines of an agreement are well known” and thereby suggest that an agreement is close are precisely wrong: Is it not evident that to the extent that such outlines are “well known,” they are unacceptable to both sides or they would have led to a deal long ago?

After reviewing all the standard reasons why it is a no-go now, he comes to grips with the goal itself.

It is also time to rethink the recent commitment to leaping all at once to full independence for the Palestinians, and even to break the taboo and rethink that ultimate goal itself. Immediate and total independence was not the plan when the Roadmap was written in 2002 and released in 2003. Then, it was understood that “an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty” was a necessary way-station. Given Hamas control over Gaza, which makes a united independent Palestine impossible for now anyway, a West Bank-only state with provisional borders and only some of the attributes of sovereignty makes far more sense as a medium-term goal. It might also allow postponing compromises on Jerusalem and refugee claims that no Palestinian politician could now make, for those issues could be left aside for another day, while the delays are blamed on Hamas and its rebellion in Gaza.

This last part is extremely important as it places the onus on the Palestinians to make the necessary compromises. I haven’t seen an official say that before.

How that episode will end is entirely unclear, given Israel’s reluctance to reoccupy and rule Gaza, and Egypt’s reluctance to enforce strict controls on the smuggling of weapons. One Israeli official told me that Egypt had agreed to stop the smuggling through the tunnels. But will they really do it? I asked him. Oh, he replied, “now you are asking if we can get an agreement to implement the agreement. That’s different.” While Iran is able to sustain the Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza, negotiations over a full final status agreement are little more than staking territorial claims to a mirage.

He leaves the best for the last.

But one is free to wonder as well whether Palestinian “statehood” is the best and most sensible goal for Palestinians. When I served under Secretary of State George Shultz in the Reagan administration, we were expressly opposed to that outcome and favored some links to Egypt and Jordan. On security and economic grounds, such links are no less reasonable now; indeed, given Hamas control of Gaza and the Iranian threat to moderate Arab states as well as to Israel, they may be even more compelling. As we’ve seen, President Bush in 2002 stated that the Palestinians should “reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence.”

Take note of the highlighted sentence and remind yourself what Mitchell recently said about striving for peace,

“..coordinated strategy that will take into account regional leaders concerns regarding Iran.”

Mitchell also said that there needs to be both economic development and diplomatic efforts. Perhaps the reference to diplomatic efforts is just talking the talk.

They seem on the same page.

Now, even the mention of Egyptian and Jordanian involvement will evoke loud protests, not least in Amman and Ramallah, and perhaps U.S. policymakers should think but not speak about such an outcome. There are many and varied possible relationships between a Palestinian entity in the West Bank and the Hashemite monarchy, and if none can be embraced today, none should be discarded either. One Arab statesman told me when I asked him about a Jordanian role that there “must absolutely be an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank–if only for 15 minutes,” and then they could decide on some form of federation or at least a Jordanian security role for the area. If the greatest Israeli, Jordanian, and Egyptian fears are of terrorism, disorder, and Iranian inroads in a Palestinian West Bank state, a Jordanian role is a practical means of addressing those fears.

He ends on a hopeful note

Israel’s next government, which Israel’s president has asked Benjamin Netanyahu to form, must soon take up these matters with the Palestinians, Arab neighbors, the EU, and above all with the United States. The new Obama administration has not yet worked out a policy toward Iran or toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but that may be a hopeful sign. Thinking is better than assuming or reacting or misjudging. As the new team reviews the playing field, it would be well advised to look not only at what its predecessors did in the second Bush term, but also at what they did in the first term–when a gritty realism prevailed over visions, dreams, and endless conferences. For, again, it seems to me there are at present only two paths forward–the path of realism and the path of failure.

The Palestinians will never have full sovereignty. They cannot be in charge of their airspace or borders or be allowed to militarize their territory, all for obvious reasons.

Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration.

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