Israel-Palestine: Is Peace Possible On Obama’s Watch?
By Alan Hart
The answer to my headline question could be, not necessarily would be, “Yes” IF President Obama was prepared to put America’s own best interests first and use as necessary all the leverage he has to oblige Israel to accept that peace with the Palestinians requires a complete end to its occupation of the West Bank.
With East Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state or, preferably, Jerusalem an undivided, open city and the capital of two states, Israel back to its 1967 pre-war frontiers subject only to minor and mutually agreed border modifications is an Israel the Palestinians could and would make peace with. But…
It is important to acknowledge the difference between what could be and what would be even if Obama was willing to read the Riot Act to Israel’s leaders and back his words with actions including sanctions as necessary.
In a White House push and Zionist shove game it could not be taken for granted that Israel’s leaders would respond to real pressure by saying, “Okay, Mr. President, we’ll do what you ask.” There is at least the possibility that they would tell the president to go to hell and threaten to do serious damage to America’s interests if he did not back off.
I imagine Obama is aware of what happened when President Carter and his Secretary of State Cyrus Vance worked with the Soviet Union to produce a joint US-Soviet Declaration for advancing the peace process. All Arab governments and the PLO accepted the declaration as the way forward to peace. Only Israel rejected it. Prime Minister Begin went up the proverbial wall and sent his foreign minister, Moshe Dayan, to the White House.
At a point in his conservation with Carter, Dayan said:
“Mr. President, you must understand that my prime minister is mad. He is quite capable of bombing the oil fields if you proceed with this initiative and push him too far.” When Dayan left the White House, the joint US-Soviet Declaration had been replaced with a new memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Israel.
While I believe it would be wrong to dismiss the possibility of an Israeli leadership telling Obama to go to hell, I don’t think it would actually come to that in the event of him reading the Riot Act to them and backing his words with actions as necessary. And here’s why. The thing most Israeli Jews care most about is the relationship with America. If they believed it was being put at real risk by their government, I think a majority of them would say to it: “Enough is enough. End the occupation for peace.”
Now to the attempt by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to raise the corpse of what used to be called the peace process from the dead. His marathon performance to date suggests two things.
The first is that the Obama administration is not in the process of pressing Israel’s leaders for a complete end to occupation because trying to make it happen would require an all-out confrontation with Netanyahu (not to mention Israel’s neo-fascists to the right of him) and the Zionist lobby including and especially its stooges in Congress; a confrontation Obama and Kerry probably believe they could not win.
The second is that Kerry seems to be going for what down the road he might describe as the “maximum possible” Israeli withdrawal.
One line of speculation by some commentators, Israeli and other, is that Kerry went along with the recommendation of retired U.S. General John Allen that Israel must be allowed to maintain a military presence along the Jordan River (the border area between Jordan and the West Bank) and at all crossing points for a good tactical reason. What was it? Kerry believed that if his framework plan said “Yes” to what Netanyahu is demanding on the security front in the Jordan Valley, persuading Israel’s prime minister that he could not say “No” to ending the occupation of most of the West Bank ought to be less than a mission impossible.
Allied to that way of thinking, or so it seems, is the theory promoted by Norman Finkelstein (on Russia Today and elsewhere). According to it Israel’s leaders have long had a withdrawal fallback position. What is it? If and when pressures for an end to occupation become too great for Israel to live with comfortably, it will withdraw to behind the so-called separation wall. (As Jeff Halper said in London on 23 December, the wall was not built for security reasons as Israel has always asserted. “It was built to define borders of the Israeli Bantustan that is being created for the Palestinians.”)
That would leave Israel, in defiance of Security Council Resolution 242, in permanent occupation of about 10 percent of the West Bank. This annexed 10 percent on what would be Israel’s side of the wall includes the biggest and most highly populated illegal Jewish settlements including Ariel, Gush Etzion, Emmanuel, Karnei Shomron, Givat Ze’ev, Oranit, Maale Adumin and those of East Jerusalem. These illegal settlements sit on top of the West Bank’s main water aquifers. (Sharon once said that the main reason why Israel grabbed the West Bank in 1967 was the Zionist state’s need for water).
In exchange, under the heading of “land swap”, 10 percent of the land of pre-1967 Israel would be transferred to the Palestinian state. According to a recent report in Maariv, one idea under consideration in Israel is “transferring parts of the territory in the triangle southeast of Haifa – along with the hundreds of thousands of Israeli-Arab citizens who live there – to a future Palestinian state in return for annexing West Bank territory including settlement blocs.”
The accuracy of that report was confirmed days later when Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said at a conference attended by Israeli ambassadors and heads of missions across the world that he would not agree to any peace agreement with the Palestinians without the exchange of the triangle area southeast of Haifa for the annexation of the West Bank settlement blocks. Probably to avoid the charge that he was openly advocating the need for more ethnic cleansing, Liberman emphasized that he was not talking about a population transfer. He said: “Everyone will stay in their own houses, in the same places. Just the borders will move.”
It might be that Kerry thinks or is at least hoping that Netanyahu would accept a withdrawal to the wall. In the Finkelstein scenario he does, knowing that would give him the scope to launch a propaganda blitzkrieg. Its message to the world and America especially would be something like this. “By withdrawing from 90 percent of Judea and Samaria, part of our God-given ancestral home, we are making huge concessions. There could not be more dramatic proof of the Jewish state’s wish for peace. So world, don’t ask us to give up more land and compromise our security further. Stop the anti-Semitic demonization of Israel and the pressure.”
The truth is that Israel is not required to make “concessions”. The West Bank was grabbed in an Israeli war of aggression NOT self-defense, and international law requires withdrawal from it without conditions. (As I document in my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, the Arabs did not strike first in June 1967 and were not intending to attack, and Israel’s leaders knew that).
I speculate that the second of two reasons why Kerry seems to think there is no alternative to allowing Israel to annex the West Bank land on which the biggest and most highly populated illegal Jewish settlements are built is that he believes it is necessary to assist Netanyahu to avert, or greatly reduce, the prospect of a Jewish civil war. (The first reason is the Obama administration’s assumed need to avoid an all-out confrontation with the Zionist lobby).
Because of what was said to me in early 1980 by Peres when I was acting as the linkman in a secret, exploratory dialogue between him and Arafat, I have never discounted the possibility of a Jewish civil war in the event of an Israeli government decision to withdraw from much of the West Bank. At the time Peres was the leader of the Labour opposition to the Likud-led government of Menachem Begin and hoping to replace him as prime minister after Israel’s next election. Peres said he feared it was “already too late” for a two-state solution that Arafat could accept. I asked him why. He replied: “Every day that passes sees new bricks on new settlements. Begin knows exactly what he is doing. He is creating the conditions for a Jewish civil war. He knows that no Israeli prime minister is going down in history as the one who gave the order to the Jewish army to shoot large numbers of Jews out of the West Bank.” (In 1980 when Peres said that there were only about 70,000 illegal Jewish settlers on the occupied West Bank. Today there are more than 500,000 with that number rising on an almost daily basis).
I have also retained in my memory what President Sadat said to me in our last private conversation a few months before he was assassinated. He said that ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank would require a Jewish civil war.
It might also be that Kerry thinks the present Palestinian leadership can be bullied and bribed into accepting the land swap indicated above. Perhaps, but even it cannot accept Netanyahu’s most outrageous preconditions for peace.
One, as indicated above, is his insistence, already endorsed by Kerry for framework purposes, that there must be an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, in other words on the territory of what would be in theory a sovereign Palestinian state. Probably to reduce the chances of being blamed for the failure of Kerry’s effort, Abbas has indicated that he could and would accept an international force for a limited period. But that counter suggestion will cut no ice with Israel’s leaders because of Zionism’s Rule Number One – “Never, never, never, rely on any outside force to guarantee Israel’s security.”
Though it goes down well with the brainwashed majority of Israel’s Jews, the assertion by Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that an IDF presence in the border area between Jordan and the West Bank is essential for security reasons does not bear serious and honest examination. Why not?
Part of the answer is that there is no danger of an attack on Israel by any Arab armies from any direction.
But what about the fear many Israeli Jews have that the border of a Palestinian state with Jordan that was not manned and monitored by Israeli military and other security forces would be open to visiting Arab and other Muslim terrorists, suicide bombers in particular?
This fear, I assert, is grossly exaggerated because the government and security services of a Palestinian state would have the biggest possible incentive to prevent terror attacks on Israel from sovereign Palestinian territory. Why was once explained to me by Arafat.
I had asked him what he thought about Zionism’s assertion that a Palestinian mini state could and would pose a threat to Israel’s security and even its very existence. He dismissed it with good humoured contempt as propaganda nonsense. He then asked me what I thought would happen if the government and security forces of a Palestinian state living side by side with an Israel in more or less its pre-1967 borders failed to prevent terror attacks on Israel.
He didn’t wait for me to answer. He said: “We all know what would happen. Israeli tanks would roll over our borders and smash our little state out of existence and then say to the world, ‘You must understand why we had to do this.’” After a pause Arafat added: “Do you really think that having suffered for so long to get a small measure of justice we Palestinians would be stupid enough to allow that to happen?”
I said that I did not think Palestinians were that stupid. (As I write I find myself entertaining the thought that some of Israel’s leaders and their followers hope they are or would be).
It’s interesting to note that a former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, has said on the record that Israeli control of the Jordan Valley is NOT essential for Israel’s security. The argument that it was, Dagan said, is “a manipulative use of security issues for political ends.”
Given that Mossad is the prime source of much of the CIA’s regional intelligence information, I wonder what Kerry made of Dagan’s assessment. Will it, together with Abbas’s explicit rejection of the stationing of Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley, cause him to rethink what his final framework document should say on the subject? Probably not.
Despite Kerry’s proclaimed optimism (has it ever been more than wishful thinking and diplomatic whistling in the dark?), the main reason for believing that Netanyahu has no interest in peace on terms the Palestinians could accept is his insistence on them recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state.” Netanyahu has described this required recognition as “the real key to peace”, “the minimal requirement” and “an essential condition.”
While this Netanyahu demand might seem reasonable or even more than reasonable to uninformed and misinformed Americans (sadly very many if not most Americans) and even some Europeans, it is ludicrous and a non-starter for all Palestinians.
How can Israel be a Jewish state when more than 20 percent of its citizens, about 1.6 million, are Arabs and mainly Muslims? (In the minds of Israeli Jews of the neo-fascist tendency the answer to that question is probably something like, “That won’t be the case when we’ve completed our ethnic cleansing programme.”)
But there’s much more to it. As lawyer John V Whitebeck has stated, Palestinian acceptance of Netanyahu’s demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would “constitute explicit Palestinian acquiescence in permanent second-class status for Palestinian citizens of Israel and in the liquidation of the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees, as well as implicit Palestinian acceptance that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was morally justified, which in turn would require conceding that Palestinians are sub-humans not entitled to fundamental human rights.”
In other words, by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, the Palestinians would be endorsing Zionism’s version of history (all the propaganda lies upon which it is constructed) and denying their own (essentially the truth).
Netanyahu knows there are no circumstances in which the Palestinians (leadership and people) would recognise Israel as a Jewish state and that, of course, is precisely why he is demanding that they must. In other words, he knows his demand will make an agreement with the Palestinians impossible and he is hoping that Palestinian rejection will enable him to get away with blaming Palestinian “President” Abbas and his leadership colleagues for the failure of Kerry’s mission.
On the subject of the Palestinian right of return, Liberman (who has hopes of replacing Netanyahu as prime minister) said, “I will not sign any agreement that includes any right of return into Israel, not even a single (Palestinian) person.”
On its own limiting the Palestinian right of return would not be an obstacle to peace IF the land to be returned to was a Palestinian state formed by a complete end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank with East Jerusalem its capital (or the whole of Jerusalem an undivided, open city and the capital of two states). And here’s why.
Way back in 1979 when the PNC (the Palestine National Council and then the highest decision making body on the Palestinian side) overwhelming approved Arafat’s two-state policy of politics and compromise with Israel, it was accepted in the name of pragmatism that the return would have to be limited to the Palestinian mini state. Though they could not say so in public unless and until they had something concrete to show for their willingness to face the reality of Israel’s existence in more or less its pre-1967 borders, Arafat and his senior leadership colleagues had calculated what this would mean in terms of the number of Palestinians who would be able to return. They told me in private that the number would probably be not more than 100,000 and that the rest would have to settle for financial compensation.
Arafat and the 296 of 300 PNC delegates who voted for what had previously been unthinkable compromise with Israel were fully aware that by agreeing to limit the right of return in the name of pragmatism they would be laying themselves open to a charge of betraying the Palestinian diaspora if and when their decision became public. I discussed this in some depth with Arafat at the time and his view, simply stated, was that it was better for the Palestinians, the occupied and oppressed most of all, to have some justice rather than none at all. As I have indicated in previous articles, it was also his hope that one or two generations of a two-state peace would lead by mutual consent to one state for all, creating a situation in which more Palestinians could return.
On the subject of the Palestinian right of return I think the pragmatism Arafat represented still applies but it won’t have the opportunity to manifest itself without a complete end to Israel’s occupation to make the space for a viable Palestinian state.
From time to time in recent weeks I have asked myself what, really, is driving Kerry. Is he powered by an Obama command along the lines of “Go to the outer limits of what is politically possible for us to do for peace”, or is there something else?
Meir Dagan has speculated that Kerry’s apparently inexhaustible commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is “motivated by his presidential hopes for 2016.” If that is so his calculation would be that Kerry the peacemaker not Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic frontrunner for the next race to the White House, a race it seems the Democrats are likely to win because of the divisions in the Republican Party.
In that context I think Hillary has no reason to be concerned because it seems that the day is coming when Kerry will have to admit that his optimism about his ability to “narrow the gaps” between what Netanyahu is demanding and Abbas can accept was not justified. (My guess is that Hillary will not volunteer for the race to the White House but will wait to be begged to run by her fan base within the Democratic Party).
If and when it does become clear that Kerry can’t raise the corpse of the peace process from the dead, President Obama will have two options.
One will be to wash his hands of the conflict in and over Palestine that became Israel and seek to deflect attention away from his own failure of leadership by repeating what he has said in the past – “I can’t want peace more than Israel and the Palestinians.” (In that event I hope he would have the grace to hand back his Nobel Peace Prize with a note apologizing for the fact that he had not earned it).
The other option will be to summon up the courage to put America’s own best interests first and use the leverage he has to require Israel, in exchange for peace with the Palestinians, to end its occupation by withdrawing to its pre-1967 boundaries with mutually agreed and minor border modifications. Yes, that would require him to go for a head-on confrontation with Netanyahu and the Zionist lobby and its mad Christian fundamentalist allies, but I think he would have a good chance of winning it by taking to the bully pulpit – going over the heads of Congress in a peak time tv and radio address to the people of America. (That’s what President Eisenhower did to overcome Zionist lobby and other blocking opposition to his demand that Israel should withdraw from the Sinai without conditions after it had colluded with Britain and France to invade Egypt and topple Nasser).
In such an address Obama could spell out why, really, it is in America’s own best interests and also those of Jews everywhere for Israel to end its occupation in exchange for peace with the Palestinians and, actually, the whole Arab and wider Muslim world. He could say that he was, of course, aware that there were violent Islamic fundamentalists who would continue to resort to terrorism, but an end to the Israel-Palestine conflict would greatly assist the efforts of governments and their agencies everywhere to contain, isolate and defeat them.
He could also indicate that the days of America casting its veto in the Security Council to prevent Israel being called and held to account for its crimes are over.
One particular reason why I think Obama could free himself from the stranglehold of the Zionist lobby by taking to the bully pulpit and going over the heads of Congress is the insight provided in a recent and most revealing article by the Jewish American M.J. Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer. His opening sentence was, “Nobody I know is interested in talking about Israel anymore.”
After noting that virtually all of his friends were essentially pro-Israel and had supported it all their lives, he went on:
“Now their attitude is ‘what’s there to say?’ as if Israel was a friend with an alcohol problem who, despite everyone’s best efforts, simply chooses drinking to excess over being sober. You know the alcohol is killing him but you also know that it’s his considered choice of drink. He’s weighed the risks and chosen alcohol. There isn’t anything you can do, so you stop talking about him, other than the occasional sigh at the mention of his name. It’s wrong but essentially you stop actively caring. So we ignore them, even though we know Israel is committing suicide. In fact, our indifference helps create the conditions for suicide. After all, if Jews don’t much care about Israel anymore, then who does? The only Americans Israel can count on are Jews and they are losing interest. Big time.”
And what about AIPAC, the engine of the Zionist lobby? Rosenberg wrote:
“But, you say, Israel still can count on the politicians who look to AIPAC for campaign contributions… So long as there is money in it, one can count on Bob Menendez, Lindsey Graham and the like to ‘stand by Israel.’ But that will last only as long as the money is there. And that money will run out as the old Jews die off and their children chose other causes that are not morally compromising. AIPAC is the only thing that is keeping Congress in line in support of Netanyahu’s refusal to compromise with the Palestinians and his determination to destroy any chance of ending the Iran nuclear problem peacefully. Anyone who thinks that (the money flow for AIPAC purposes) will last knows nothing about the political trajectory of Jews under 70, let alone under 40. Jewish indifference is Israel’s biggest enemy and Israel, like an alcoholic who decides that he prefers drinking to abstaining, will pay the price.
“Does this mean that Jews opposed to Israel’s suicidal cause should just shut up? No, although most have. There is, after all, J Street, which struggles to turn things around but it is simply not a factor in Congress. That is not its fault. Congress is bought by AIPAC and J Street cannot outbid it. If it could Chuck Schumer would be leading the forces for peace with the Palestinians and for a deal with Iran. But that won’t happen… This is the way it will be until either the Israelis bring down its government of settlers and religious fanatics or the president decides to ignore the lobby and impose an agreement on both sides, or the Palestinians succeed in changing the situation on the ground.”
If Rosenberg is right about the process he describes as being underway in America’s Jewish community, the day IS coming when an American president WILL be able to break free from the Zionist lobby’s stranglehold on policy for the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The question is – Will it happen on Obama’s watch…?
Another question to think about is this. What could the Palestinians themselves do to improve their prospects for an acceptable measure of justice?
They could invigorate and broaden their appeal to the peoples of nations for the Zionist state to be subjected to boycott and sanctions. (Progress on this front would be assisted by pro-Palestinian activist groups everywhere campaigning in unity).
The Palestinians could also do what Israel and Obama have successfully pressed them not to do – take Israel to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, either by filing their own charges or prodding the ICC into taking action on its own initiative.
But in my view there is something else they could and should do which would change quite dramatically the political and diplomatic dynamics. They should demand the dissolution of the impotent Palestine Authority and handing back to Israel complete responsibility for its occupation. That would place considerable financial and security burdens on Israel, burdens I imagine no Israeli leader or leadership wants; and, as I have written and said several times in the past, it would make calling and holding the Zionist state to account for its crimes something less than a mission impossible.
If I was advising Abbas I would say to him: “When it is clear beyond any doubt that Israel won’t allow Kerry to bring the corpse of the peace process back to life, tell President Obama to his face that you will dissolve the PA and hand full responsibility for the occupation back to Israel. And when you’ve said that, add this: ‘Mr. President, this time I really, really, really mean what I say.’”
That might, I emphasize might, cause President Obama to reflect and conclude that he must himself do whatever is necessary to deliver peace on the basis of an acceptable amount of justice for the Palestinians and security for all – if only to best protect America’s own interests.
Alan Hart is a former ITN and BBC Panorama foreign correspondent who has covered wars and conflicts wherever they were taking place in the world and specialized in the Middle East. His Latest book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Vol. 1: The False Messiah, is a three-volume epic in its American edition. He blogs on AlanHart.com.