Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Three New Developments

Three events have recently occurred, all of which would normally be worth commenting and editorializing about, but they have tended to drown each other out.

First, the IDF's internal enquiry into the Mavi Marmara boarding incident cleared the IDF. This was to be expected. The terms for the enquiry were whether or not Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was legal under international law and whether Israel used excessive force. Blockade is a well established belligerent practice in both international and internal conflicts. During the American Civil War President Lincoln held that the Confederate States of America had committed an illegal rebellion and refused to recognize that they had any legitimate rights under international law. At the same time he carried out a blockade of the South as if the CSA were a recognized belligerent. As recently as the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and more recently the Tamil Tiger rebellion in Sri Lanka blockades were used.

The second point is excessive force. It has been well established that the supposedly humanitarian ship was outfitted with a number of "peace activists" well armed with riot weaponry--iron pipes, knives, edged weapons, etc. The IDF was justified in using force to protect the life of its soldiers the same as if Iranians had attacked a U.S. Navy ship carrying out search duties during the UN trade embargo on Iraq and American sailors had fired back.  What is inexcusable is that the IDF, an army descended from the prestate Hagana/Palmakh militia that carried out blockade running against the British during the 1940s, was unprepared for this resistance.

The second major event is the introduction in the Security Council of a draft resolution by the Palestinians condemning Israeli settlements as illegal. Numerous former diplomat have weighed in urging the Obama administration not to veto the resolution. Nearly everyone except Israel and American administrations--but not the State Dept.--consider the settlements to be illegal under international law, which prohibits an occupying power from deporting or voluntarily settling its population in occupied territory. Israel's claim is that the West Bank and Gaza are not occupied but rather disputed territory, because Jordan had illegally occupied the West Bank and Egypt Gaza, previous to Israel seizing them in 1967. The near universal belief is that until clear legal title to the territories is established, no foreign power may settle them. That makes sense to me. I disagree with Michael Lame at ( that this would jeopardize the peace process. Something that is already dead cannot be killed again before being revived.

In a Wikileaks-like development Al Jazeera news agency published documents that are purported to be the minutes of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations of 2008 under the Annapolis peace initiative. The leaks seem to indicate that the Palestinian side was much more flexible than the Israeli side. At the time there was a coalition government consisting of Kadima and Labor as the main parties. The prime minister was Ehud Olmert, who was effectively a lame duck due to both his performance during the Second Lebanon War of July 2006 and corruption allegations. It was nearly a mirror image of Oslo. At Oslo Arafat considered himself to be under political threat from the Islamists led by Hamas, and thus not in a position to make any concessions. Ehud Barak's Labor coalition did make substantial concessions but important gaps remained on Jerusalem and refugees. Barak was denounced by the Israeli Right for the concessions that he made. Today it is the Palestinian Right of Hamas and parts of Fatah that are denouncing the purported Palestinian concessions of 2008.

The papers, whether genuine or not, were probably leaked by someone who is either connected with the Fatah hawks or with Hamas. From 1968 until 2004 it was Palestinian policy that the conflict could only be resolved through armed conflict rather than through negotiation and compromise. The papers seem to strengthen this preexisting fundamental belief.

Even during the Oslo process Arafat was quoted several times making a reference to a truce that Muhammad had made with Arabian Jews and then broke when it suited him. The message was that what was good enough for Muhammad was good enough for him, and that Oslo would result in a coerced peace made under duress that could then be broken at will.

This illustrates the difficulties of negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For this to happen four things are necessary: 1) A Palestinian government with credibility among the people must be willing to make an offer that realistically some Israeli government could accept; 2) an Israeli government must make an offer that some Palestinian government could realistically accept; 3) an American administration must be willing to take a vigorous role in mediating the conflict; 4) most difficult of all--the first three things need to take place at the same time. So far, at least one of the players hasn't been ready when the others have been. The PLO wasn't ready in 1999-2000; Israel hasn't been ready since 2000; and the U.S. hasn't been ready from 2000 to 2009. 

In my next post I will examine President George W. Bush's Palestine policy and what it says about the Middle East conflict and American policy.

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