American foreign policy Israel Palestinian Authority Palestinians Right of Return

If doing nothing is insane, what, then, must be done?

Pundits everywhere are calling for a rethinking of America’s Middle East policies, assuming that the current tack will yield nothing productive. One of the most controversial calls was made by Thomas Friedman, in which he suggested the U.S. should pull the plug on its current diplomatic efforts, give the Israelis and Palestinians the White House phone number and just wait until the parties decide they are ready to negotiate seriously. Israel Policy Forum’s David Halperin summmed up my reaction with the title of his piece, To Do Nothing Is An Insane Policy. Doni Remba concurs.

But if the U.S. needs to stay engaged, what should it do? You might have been sucked into this post because you assumed that I had a clue, or thought I had a clue. I don’t. Isolated bits and shards of ideas are out there, nothing more. I offer a few from my rather paltry collection, hoping they will spark constructive conversation:

Daniel Levy opines: “The issues and their solutions are largely known, but the expectations that negotiations would deliver anything meaningful are nearly nonexistent. Another option for the U.S. would be to initiate back-to-back talks with the respective parties — this approach may actually be more productive than bilateral talks between two parties who have proven that they cannot resolve this conflict on their own.”

It worked for Kissinger, who went back and forth between the Egyptians and Israelis in the Sinai disengagement talks. It worked, up to a point, for Jimmy Carter in the cabins of Camp David. Why not give it a try?

But maybe more radical ideas are called for. In an interview, the estimable Rob Malley calls for “a sense of novelty”:

…As we’ve defined the parameters of a two-state solution, it hasn’t really addressed the concerns of today. On the Palestinian side: the diaspora, the refugees, those who have identified with Hamas; on the Israeli side the right-wing, the religious, the settlers’ community. And you won’t be able to satisfy all of them, undoubtedly, but there needs to be a way to at least try to bring some of their concerns into the solution that you’re ultimately going to have to sell to them. It’s very hard to imagine a solution that won’t entail the creation of a Palestinian state and Israel within the borders of 1967. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t change other elements of it so that it becomes both more attractive, and has a sense of novelty so that people when they see it don’t think, “We’ve seen this movie before, we know how it ends, and it doesn’t end well…

…Unfortunately…, the way the two-state solution has been discussed–including by very well-intentioned people–has been to say “the refugee problem is a card that the Palestinians will keep close to their chest until the very end, and then at the end they’ll trade it for East Jerusalem, or more territory.” If the genesis of the Palestinian movement is a refugee issue, if the majority of Palestinians are refugees, and if the Palestinian ethos is so connected to what happened in 1948 [when thousands of Palestinians either fled or were driven out of what later became part of Israel], that won’t cut it. So the answer is not to say, “They need a right of return to Israel,” because that would be the end of the two-state solution. The answer is to see whether you can find a way to show that whatever solution you’re pursuing takes into account the world view, the histories, and the concerns and the aspirations of the diaspora.

Malley has been calling for a focus on the core issues of 1948, of late. He gave few specifics in that interview, added no flesh to those provocative bones. But adding those core issues into the diplomatic calculus, if done properly, could indeed present the parties with new incentives, new directions.

When it comes to the refugees, one idea favored by Alon Ben-Meir is an international initiative to start compensating them now:

There is a need to create an economic incentive for the Israelis and Palestinians to come together and cooperate on such contentious final status issues as the Palestinian Right of Return.

It is necessary for all countries who endorse peace in the Middle East—including the US, Russia, China, Japan, EU and wealthy Arab states—to prove their commitment to a peaceful solution through a financial commitment of fifteen to twenty billion dollars for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugees. This not only implies that a solution to the Palestinian refugee question will be reached through negotiation, but more importantly, it redirects the various parties’ focus away from fighting over the political issue, and toward how to appropriately spend the money toward a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. This also assures Israel that the international community, along with some of the Arab states, is committed to a solution to the refugee problem that precludes the Right of Return to Israel proper without saying so publicly. Such a pool of funds should be placed under the umbrella of the IMF, the World Bank or the UN.

Ah, but what about the Jewish refugees from Muslim countries? Shouldn’t they be included? Sure. Why not? Wouldn’t that help to build support for other components of a final settlement among “Mizrachi” Jews in Israel, who tend to lean to the right?

That’s all there is in this week’s idea factory…

20 thoughts on “If doing nothing is insane, what, then, must be done?

  1. All of those sound like interesting ideas worthy of discussion.

    That’s the level of discourse that should be taking place, in my opinion.

  2. Finally, a logical column. What I can’t stand is this idea that if only Israel did A, B, and C this would all be wound up by Sunday. There are innumerable variables in this. Not the least of which is Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

    One other thing that obviously drives me nuts is the Phil ( Hiterl should have finished the job ) Weiss concept. Which is basically that Israel should dissolve itself. Launch into self flagellation. Invite Islamic Jihad to move into the apartment next door. Close up the universities, the economy, Hadassah hospital, and basically get ready for the ghetto and death and destruction. All to make Phil ( Hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss feel better. Not to mention his little side kick, Ã…dam ( Klinghoffer deserved to get shot ) Horowitz. Personally I think both of those guys have issue with their sexuality but I digress.

  3. FINALLY hearing some words of sense from “the Left”. Malley gets it right…..they can’t forget the Right of Return. So then we hear the usual nonsensicle reply by Alon Ben-Meir which says “we’ll pay them to drop it”. Of course, all we need is a couple of fatwas saying it is forbidden to give it up and that any Palestinian who dropped the demand or accepted compensation will end up in eternal damnation.

    People have values that transcend money. I peronally know a Jewish lady who was on a fast track to becoming a musical director on Broadway (“the lights, the glamour, the fame!”), but she became Orthodox/religious and found that it was impossible to observe the Sabbath so she gave up her career. The same with the actor Steven Hill who was the star of the hit TV show in the 1960’s “Mission Impossible” and he also gave it up because he was sabbath observant.

    So go try to tell the Palestinian to give up what is most dear to them.

    There is no possibility of reaching a contractual peace to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

  4. Folks (especially Bill), I going to be traveling much of tomorrow and won’t have Internet access. So I won’t be able moderate these and must ask for your help. Please try to stick with substantive matters, Snide asides about the sexuality of people you disagree with are beyond the pale and contributes nothing to the conversation. The substantive stuff provokes enough passions. We don’t need personal gibes. Thanks in advance.

  5. Alon Ben-Meir says:
    This not only implies that a solution to the Palestinian refugee question will be reached through negotiation, but more importantly, it redirects the various parties’ focus away from fighting over the political issue, and toward how to appropriately spend the money toward a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

    After all these years, he still doesn’t get it….the Palestinian refugee problem is not viewed as a HUMANITARIAN problem by the Arabs, it is ONLY POLITICAL. The Arabs couldn’t care less about the refugees as people…they rot in refugee camps in places like Lebanon without any rights. The Arabs don’t contribute to the UNRWA money that goes to sustain them on a day-to-day basis, it is the US and EU who pays for it. So why on earth would Ben-Meir think the Arabs would pay for the problem (for Israel) to go away?! They earnestly want to keep it going. Like so many Israelis in the so-called “peace camp” he transfers HIS values on to the Arabs. He wants a “reasonable” solution to the “refugee problem” so he assumes the Arabs want the same. WELL, THEY DON’T. They view the refugees as front line cannon fodder in the struggle against Israel.

  6. I just looked at IPF’s Halperin’s column. He says:

    “If diplomacy were abandoned entirely, violence could very likely ensue as the alternative. Some fear that a third intifada would be even more violent and deadly than in the past. There is no way of knowing whether such violence could spin out of control, bringing on a wider, and deadlier, regional conflict.”

    He, like so many in the ‘peace camp’, either has a short memory or is purposefully dissembling.

    The fact is that the worst violence, directed at the Israeli civilian population OCCURRED AT THE HEIGHT OF “PROGRESS” IN THE “PEACE PROCESS”. The big waves of suicide bombings occurred during the first flush of enthusiasm of the “peace process”. After Rabin was murdered Peres ordered a quick withdrawal from the Judea/Samaria towns and announced plans for further concessions. This led directly to the big wave of suicide bombings that brought about his defeat in the election against Netanyahu in 1996. Netanyahu slowed (but did not stop) the Oslo process, and the terrorism greatly decreased. Barak came to power in 1999 promising to set up a Palestinian state as soon as possible, and this brought the big suicide bomber war against Israel. As Barak announced more and more concessions, the bombings got worse and worse. Finally in 2002, Sharon as PM was forced to act against the terror infrastructure. Then, after he destroyed Gush Katif in 2005 and then formed the Kadima party with the announced policy of withdrawing unilaterally from most of the rest of Judea/Samaria HAMAS attacked in the south and grapped Gilad Shalit and HIZBULLAH in the north were they killed Goldwasser and Regev and took their bodies hostage. These led to the Lebanon II wars, and then the Gaza war, where the Israeli side was led by Olmert who was offering the Palestnians 98% of the territorial demands including dividing Jerusalem.

    Thus, we see it is PROGRESS in the PEACE PROCESS that CAUSES the violence. It is “hope” for Israeli concessions that encourages them to violence. Israeli concessions are viewed as weakness and the terrorists say “if they are willing to give up things now, more dead Jews wil bring them to capitulate even further”. When Israel hangs tough they realize violence doesn’t help and then they reign it in.

  7. Tom-
    While you are, in principle, right that this is not a forum for discussing Philip Weiss, I think Bill has legitimate reasons for bringing it up HERE because Dan has a link to his MONDOWEISS site. I have been monitoring his site for a couple of years now, along with numerous other Leftist sites, and Weiss is just getting worse and worse and worse. The only conclusion I can come to is that he hates Jews and he hates Israel. Period.
    You have to understand something else. When Israelis hear discussion of the “single-state solution” it rings the same bells as another euphemism from some decades ago “the Final Solution”. It doesn’t mean “living together in a single peaceful, democratic state” because such a thing doesn’t exist anywhere in the Arab world. It means, slaughter, genocide, expulsion. Not just another “multi-confessional” state like Lebanon which “only” had a bloody 15-year long civil war and which is now in a state of an uneasy, temporary cease-fire. The Arabs wouldn’t accept a Palestine like that. They want it all because there is a lot more resentment here.
    So when people like Weiss bandy around ideas like that, it means he is writing off the Jews of Eretz Israel entirely.

    Jews like Dan and other “progressives” must look at this honestly and see if they are going to continue connections with people like Weiss, because it only discredits them in the end, as well.

  8. I don’t see why everyone has to get so excited every time Thomas Friedman reverses his position, i.e., every time he has lunch with someone new. Agha and Malley, on the other hand, are definitely worth listening to. As Dan Fleshler says here, Malley’s interview doesn’t say anything new. He and Agha spelled out their ideas in more detail here, in the NYRB last June. What’s interesting to me is how their reality-based ideas were basically ignored by the Zionist left. As a realistic hawk, I think that Agha and Malley are at least looking at the same situation and speaking the same language as me. Fleshler too, which is why I’ve started reading this blog. But people like Philip Weiss, Stephen Walt, even Thomas Friedman – forget it. Not part of any real dialogue.

    That said, Friedman’s conclusion does make sense, even though his view of the situation that got him there is bizarrely incorrect. But noninterventionism should be adopted strategically, not just tactically. What really are the US interests in the Middle East, other than that the countries there ship oil but not terrorists to America? Now that the Soviet Union is gone, what realist justification does America even have for being involved in the region at all, much less supporting Israel? It seems to me a realistic dove and a realistic hawk should agree that meddling in the Middle East, especially in Israel/Palestine, doesn’t serve US interests at all. You may want to get involved for humanitarian or sentimental reasons, but I don’t see any Realpolitik motivation now that the Cold War is over.

  9. Levy, Kurtzer (often referring to Malley), a Palestinian academic and Syrian spoke at the Middle East Institute conference on Monday I think.

    It was a stimulating discussion.

    It is apparent from all of the comments there, that the Netanyahu and “realistic hawk” approach that Yakov and Aaron present (is that accurate description guys?), is what is failing in the region.

    Levy described the Israeli current political structure as entirely stalemated with no party receiving more than 25% of the vote, and therefore forming coalitions with odd-bedfellows, and no potential for either decisive or long-term strategic planning or thinking, because of the thin-ness of coalition loyalty or even party loyalty.

    The only area of consent is on security, and he described Israel’s current status as “securitacrat” in which the IDF is the only state institution that is capable of leadership and/or long-term strategy formulation and implementation.

    And, that that creates a potentially partially military state (rather than civilian), in that the most stable institution is the military. It conflicts with the notion that the military is an agent of policies that civilians define and are compellingly responsible for.

    At the same conference, the Palestinian, leader of a Palestinian polling organization observing changes over 30 years, stated definitively that the PA has succeeded in establishing rule of law in the region that it controls, and HAS kept the agreements with Israel (even beyond the agreements).

    His points sound accurate to me, which conflicts with Yakov’s repetitions that “there is no viable peace partner”, that the Palestinians have not established the rule of law, including relative to Israel and even relative to settlers.

    As such, “what can be done?” is on the ground, in people’s hearts and minds. At the minimum, it is essential that the humanity of all parties be emphasized, that Palestinian lives ARE important, the preservation and the quality. The next step has to be political, as there is very very limited contact between Israelis and West Bank Palestinians. If there was contact allowed, then relationship-building would be relevant to realize peace.

  10. Richard-
    You are at least partially correct about Israel being a somewhat military state. However, a friend of mind attended a number of seminars involving high-ranking military people and they were simply repeating the nonsense the Left was spouting about “the peace process” even though it was clear even before the big suicide bomber war started in 2002 that these things were not true, saying things like “Arafat is weak, Arafat is not really in control, it is not clear if Arafat controls the terror groups, etc”, all of which were lies, and they knew it.
    It could be that they were saying these things in order to please their political masters, while, behind the scenes they were doing what needed to be done in order to preserve the security of the state. When the mass violence broke out in October 2000, it is true that the IDF was pretty well prepared, and that horrors like terrorists overrunning yishuvim en masse were prevented (although there were some infiltrations that led to murders). However, regarding intelligence, the SHABAK woefully failed in preventing terrorist attacks. Avi Dichter, the head of the SHABAK even stated later that the SHABAK let the people of the country down (yet he is still in politics, in the Kadima party).

    Regarding the Palestinian who says things are hunkey-dorey in the PA controlled-areas: well, what do you expect him to say? They said all the same things during the height of the Oslo processin the 1990’s….the CIA was training PA security forces to control their territories, business was expanding , etc, etc. Yet these same security forces ended up literally turning their guns on Israelis on joint patrols and many joined the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigads terrorist groups. We have heard all this before. If the official PA media is still spewing out Judeophobic propaganda and they refuse to tell their people to prepare for peace, then I am not going to believe they are really trying to set up a functioning state.

  11. Richard,

    Israel has been a dysfunctional democracy on the Arab question for at least twenty years and the situation has only gotten worse. The double voting system changed, at least for the midterm if not permanently, Israeli voting behavior so that Israelis vote in much higher proportions for the smaller parties than before.

    In Northern Ireland there is a power-sharing Executive where the four largest parties (two unionist, two nationalist) each get a proportional division of the ministries. This effectively eliminates the concept of opposition as everyone is responsible. In Israel the religious parties tend to be permanent parties of government switching off between Likud, Labor, and Kadima-led coalitions.

    The sure sign of an ideologue is that they accuse everyone who disagrees with them of lying. First, you have to establish what you claim is factual is indeed factual. Second, you have to establish that those you accuse of lying know it to be factual. You normally fail on both counts. Assertions are not proof, although I can understand why the religious have problems with that simple concept.

  12. Yakov,
    One of the Palestinian pollster’s points was that the current setting in the West Bank is qualitatively DIFFERENT than during Arafat. Specifically, that Arafat retained a militant wing within Fatah that somehow conducted terror actions (that he would then describe as renegade, then meet with the leaders of the groups).

    Currently, the status is that the Al Aqsa Martyrs has officially and objectively renounced violence and literally turned in its weapons to the state-in-evolution of the PA.

    They HAVE made the transition from a region of militias to a region of a monopoly of power in police force.

    Their progress is very compelling, and undeniable for you, Netanyahu, anyone.

    That they made that great effort, accomplished it, and then you and the right continue the same mantra, indicates that you unconditionally ignore objective reality.

    There is always risk. But, in this case, the risk is likely higher that Israel will fail to deliver on its promises, than the PA. And, that is a very large hill to fall off of.

    Worthy of improvement. You are losing the majority of American liberal support, if you don’t bother to reform, and actually accomplish a real peace.

  13. What do the polls say Palestinians want? Would the majority be happy with the 67 borders and economic assistance and some of the other ideas mentioned in this post? Some folks on the far left are eager for “one man, one vote” , but if Palestinians are willing to go for two states, then it’s not anyone else’s role to tell them what they should settle for.

    Supposing a two state solution is still acceptable to the majority of Palestinians, then the problem is that Obama wasn’t willing to stick to his demand for no new settlements. He sounded serious back in June, but not now.

  14. Did you bother to read the article.

    It describes the successful institution-building and security and removal of terrorism from the West Bank.

    That is THE defintion of “peace partner”.

    In response, Israel has been institutionally supportive of those successful efforts, but like your comments politically opposed.

    The reason is that if Palestine succeeds in establishing the rule of law, for which it is close (actually better than Israel in controlling the actions of ruthless renegades, currently), then the Palestinian state will be undeniable.

    Fayyad has asserted that he will be ready in two years. If time is of the essence, maybe he should escalate his efforts and attempt to realize that in one year.

    The US will help Palestine in those efforts. I don’t think that the US will be happy if Israel attacks US funded infra-structure development in Palestine.

    The best that Israel will be able to do is to make friends with Palestine, rather than make war.

    And, that, making friends, is a good outcome, that should be encouraged.

    The far left practically does not want Palestine to emerge in this way. It then removes the street-cred building created by “I told you so”. And, clearly, the Israeli far right doesn’t want Palestinian viability to occur. And, Hamas doesn’t want Palestinian viability.

    Its the same coalition of strange bedfellows, that work together even as they hate each other.

  15. It is the two-faced approach of the Palestinians that is the problem. Tom accused me of saying they are liars..but they have a long history of this. Different messages for different audiences. I don’t know how much Abbas has really done to change things. I don’t know if as you claim that Abbas is doing a “better job” at suppressing the extremists than Israel has, but I doubt it. The IDF is still arresting HAMAS people every day.
    Has Abbas really introduced a rule of law there? Makor Rishon had a article on Friday that said they have still not done anything like build a state infrastructure, the way the Kurds in northern Iraq have. I repeat what I said…all this “progress” was reported also in the 1990’s, during they heydey of Oslo but it was all blown apart by Arafat’s terror war. The fact is they are NOT devoting themselves to building a state as their prime objective, but “liberating Palestine” as the FATAH congress emphasized. As long as this diversion of activity continues there can not be a true emphasis on state-building.

  16. Fayyad is building a state.

    The statistics on terrorist actions directed against Israel are compelling. Basically none in an extended period.

    I get that you could be hesitant and qualified in stating an opinion. However, your recent history of “there is no negotiating partner” is innaccurate.

    There are as many examples of Israeli ambiguity.

    I think to the extent that Palestinian leadership “keeps its eye on the prize”, that its viable statehood will be an inevitability.

    To the extent that it gets distracted to agitation, it will delay its statehood.

    I think it is getting close. Some are urging declaration of statehood now, which I think is premature.

    A year is my rational guess, pressing the need to firm final state institutions.

  17. Ya’akov,
    My remark was directed at your characterization of the Israeli military figures as liars. But I suppose if you use that term for anyone who disagrees with you, after awhile it can be difficult to establish what someone is talking about when they challenge you on it.

  18. Mr Mitchell,

    You chastise Mr Pearlman by stating, “This is not Weiss’s blog. If you have a problem with him, why not take it up with him over at his blog.”

    While you are correct that this is not Herr Weiss’ blog and I choke even typing the name of someone that in my opinion is being used as a stooge to legitimize a call for more terror and ultimately genocide with what he does, Phillip Weiss does not allow serious dissent. Taking it up with him is not possible when he insulates himself in a neat little bubble…just wanted to point that out.

    As to a solution, the single most effective starting point to a solution would be to dismantle UNRWA. The refugee farce needs to come to an end. The Arabs calling themselves Palestinian refugees should be immediately classified under the same definition as ALL the other refugees in the world. Those that are not real refugees, as defined under internationally accepted standards, should be taken off the dole. That would solve the refugee delusion and provide incentive for two things, smaller family sizes if they know they will now have to pay for their own up keep and an accounting of who should be ‘considered’ for compensation. Only around 6% of the land was private property owned by Arabs and most of those were not Muslims, any of those legitimate land owners that have not already been compensated under the Family Reunification program or through the Israeli court should be compensated by the party responsible for causing them to become refugees in the first place. This could be Arab states, Arab agents, or Israel. This would eliminate the dreaded “demand of return” and end the refugee nonsense. This would require tough love and honesty, but disempowering the Arabs by never forcing them to stand on their own two feet is demeaning. Forget the crossings and the so called embargo, Israel is not responsible for opening its borders or using its roads and airports to supply its enemy with power, food, or anything else.

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