Tag: United States

The two face solution

President Obama’s statement of the obvious yesterday–that the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine should be based on Israel’s 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps–has created a furor.  This is difficult to understand. All the serious talks on borders have started with 1967 as the basis, even if that hasn’t been explicitly endorsed by American presidents and secretaries of state.

Rob Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs waxes passionate but incoherent on the subject:

The idea of land swaps, which may very well be a solution that the parties themselves choose to pursue, sounds very different when endorsed by the president of the United States. In effect, it means that the U.S. view is that resolution of the territorial aspect of the conflict can only be achieved if Israel cedes territory it held even before the 1967 war.

Yes, that’s right, if Israel wants to preserve some of the settlements on the West Bank, it will have to give up land it held before 1967, precisely the idea that the Washington Institute explored thoroughly in a January 2011 publication and one of its stalwarts supported in an op/ed yesterday.

So why do Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters get so upset when the President says something that other Israeli prime ministers accepted long ago?  The answer, I am afraid, is that Netanyahu is not like other Israeli prime ministers.  It is not just the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiation that he rejects.  He also rejects the idea of a two-state solution.  He has occasionally talked the right talk, under strong pressure and with caveats about recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, but he does not walk the walk.

This is because his attachment to the settlements is far stronger than that of other Israeli prime ministers.  This is apparent from the efforts of his supporters to claim American support for settlement activity that simply does not exist, as explained by former Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer.  Netanyahu has no intention of being the Israeli prime minister who recognizes a viable Palestinian state, because he knows this means abandonment of settlements to which he is committed for ideological and practical reasons:  they make the land of Israel whole and provide him with ample political support.

Obama has called Netanyahu’s bluff.  Netanyahu has demonstrated that he says he supports the two-state solution while in fact trying to block it.  His is a two face solution.



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A right-minded but (mostly) forgettable speech

It is hard for me to knock a speech whose most frequently occurring words are “region” “must,” “change,” “people,” and “rights.”  There has to be something to appreciate there.  The President was particularly good on Tunisia and Egypt, supporting completion of their transitions to democracy and offering economic help, mainly through debt forgiveness, trade and investment.  He was better on Bahrain than I might have expected, underlining that the destruction of Shia mosques there is unacceptable (thank you Roy Gutman for your reporting on that!).

On Syria, he was so-so, appealing once again for Bashar al Assad to lead reform (fat chance) or step aside (fat chance of that too).  But that is farther than Obama has gone in the past.  He gave President Saleh of Yemen a push toward the exit, but it did not seem to have any real force behind it.

The President was overoptimistic on both Afghanistan and Iraq, claiming we have broken the momentum of the insurgency in the former and established multiethnic and nonsectarian government in the latter.  Both may happen, but they aren’t consolidated achievements yet.

On Israel/Palestine, the President took something like Shimon Peres’ approach: focus for now on defining Palestine’s territory and ensuring Israel’s security, solve Jerusalem and refugee return later.  Rhetorical support for Israel was strong, as was opposition to the Palestinian effort to get the UN General Assembly to approve statehood.  But there was really nothing new.  That might be the best he can do for the moment, which is not propitious.

No mention of Saudi Arabia.  A bit of talk about Iranian hypocrisy in providing assistance to Syria in repressing demonstrators, but no clarion call for rebellion there.  Strong on women’s rights, inter-religious dialogue and rejection of political violence.  Big throughout on self-determination (Palestinians take note), values as a focus for American policy in addition to interests, universal rights and strengthening the economic underpinnings of political transition.

A right-minded but I am afraid forgettable speech.

PS:  I did not anticipate when I wrote this piece quickly this afternoon the furor that has erupted over the President’s endorsement of the ’67 borders of Israel as the basis for negotiations and eventual land swaps.  It is still a bit hard for me to see what other basis there would be in a “land for peace” deal, but I take the point that this is the first time an American president has endorsed an idea that many of us take for granted.  Those who object need to explain what other basis there might be for the territorial solution, other than “making the land whole.”

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Making the land whole means war

In a New York Times op-ed today, Knesset deputy speaker Danny Danon (Likud) offers this advice to Israel’s prime minister on how to respond to the Palestinian effort to get General Assembly recognition of statehood in September:

  • stop the $1 billion in tax transfers as well as security cooperation;
  • annex the Jewish communities (settlements) and uninhabited lands on the West Bank.

Danon then dismisses the prospect of international criticism, saying it will all blow over.  These unilateral actions, Danon says, are an appropriate response to Palestinian unilateral abandonment of the Oslo accords.

It will be news to most of us that abandoning the Oslo accords has been unilateral.  Israel has certainly violated in spirit the provision Danon cites:

“neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”

But I’ll leave it to the lawyers to argue over that.

To me, the interesting thing is what Danon’s piece suggests about Likud’s goals. While claiming that annexation of the settlements would be good for Israeli security, the real message is in the Times’ headline:  “making the land of Israel whole.”

Palestinians often claim that Israel is after land and doesn’t care about peace.  Danon confirms their worst fears.  He wants what Milosevic wanted in Kosovo:  the land without the people, since their numbers would eventually threaten the Jewish majority in Israel.

Danon’s formula would make a Palestinian state not only non-viable but also a constant source of security problems for Israel.  This would not be a frozen conflict but rather a perpetual one. President Obama is unlikely to delve deeply into the Israel/Palestine conflict in today’s speech, but he of course has to do so at AIPAC on Sunday.  He needs to make it absolutely clear to the likes of Danon that the United States will not support an Israel that abandons the two-state solution and condemns the Middle East to perpetual war.



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Suddenly, it’s all about endgame in AfPak.  The death of Osama bin Laden has precipitated a small avalanche of writing about how to get out.  James Traub writes about leaving with honor. Karl Inderfurth and Chinmaya Gharekhan suggest a regional political agreement would help the U.S. extract itself.  Shuja Nawaz foresees the possibility of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation against the Haqqani group, provided Islamabad and Kabul can reach a political accommodation and the sorry state of relations between Washington and Islamabad does not derail things.

A lot of this strikes me as wishful thinking.  The U.S. can of course withdraw from Afghanistan as planned by the end of 2014.  The question is, what will it leave behind?  Can we expect the Afghan government to maintain itself?  Will the Taliban take over large portions of its territory?  Will they return to hosting al Qaeda?  Will U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan leave Pakistan exposed to infiltration and possible takeover by extremists with a safe haven in Afghanistan?  What kind of relationship will we maintain with both Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Dick Holbrooke’s heirs (literal and figurative) are portraying him as saying that it is Pakistan that really counts, not Afghanistan.  Those who worry about nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation have long felt that way.

Nothing about the Pakistani state gives me confidence in its ability to meet the challenges it will face once the U.S. is out of Afghanistan.  Yesterday’s report in the Wall Street Journal about the Pakistani military’s dodgy billing for its role in the war on terror suggests that we are being robbed by the people who are supposed to be helping protect us, from threats they themselves have nurtured.  It doesn’t get much worse than $70 million for air defense radar to protect against an enemy that doesn’t have air assets (and what was the radar looking at during the raid on Abbottabad?).  The civilian side of the Pakistani state is widely believed to be just as mendacious.

It is also hard to be optimistic about the Afghan state.  While the American military sees signs of tangible progress, especially in the south, efforts to improve governance lag at all levels while the country’s main bank has fallen victim to fraud.  Anthony Cordesman argues that the metrics available are not even suitable to measuring progress on “hold” and “build.”

So what do we do?  The Administration argues for continuing engagement.  In Afghanistan, that is a given until the end of 2014.  Savvy experts like Dennis Kux see Pakistan and the U.S. as condemned to a perpetual series of strategic disconnects, but nevertheless bound together by inevitable mutual interests. In this view, our interest is making sure Pakistan is not taken over by extremists.  Theirs is in extracting as much military and civilian assistance as possible.  The U.S. Congress will want to subject both to some real scrutiny in this difficult budget year, but my guess is that they won’t want to risk shutting it off.

The trouble is that the bilateral approach gives Pakistan incentive to keep the extremist threat alive.  It would seem to me preferable to recast Pakistan not as a bilateral problem but rather as a regional one.  In this perspective, issues like the Pakistan/Afghanistan border (the Durand line), Kashmir, Pakistan/India relations more generally and the Pakistan/China relationship become more important.  The U.S. is not a main protagonist on many of these issues, but rather plays a supportive role.  This is where the Century Foundation (Pickering/Brahimi) report on negotiating peace got it right:  any settlement in Afghanistan will require a regional approach.

The same is true for Pakistan.  Inderfurth and Gharekhan are right.  Pakistan faces what it regards as “existential” threats, mainly from India.  It is those fears that drive its nuclear policy as well as its posture on Afghanistan.  The United States cannot allay those fears, but it can help to nudge Pakistan, India, China and Afghanistan into a regional effort to resolve some of the existential threats and shift all concerned in the direction of exploiting their economic opportunities, which have serious potential to incentivate resolution of the political and security issues and encourage the building of stronger states in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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The Yugo-second is over

A friend in the Balkans, whose perspective is not far from mine, writes:

Richard Holbrooke often referred to the “Yugo-second,” the amount of time that passed between when a Balkan politician made a promise and broke it.

The EU’s High Representative for foreign policy Lady Katherine Ashton and her Balkan Director Miroslav Lajcak, traveled to Banja Luka last Friday in a poorly planned, poorly conceived and poorly executed trip, where they met with Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik. The official purpose of the trip was to dissuade Dodik from holding a referendum and to have him revoke the 24 problematic RS National Assembly (RSNA) conclusions. Lajcak’s hidden agenda was to demonstrate the EU’s ability to take over from the OHR and prove that Bonn Powers are not necessary.

The EU came away with a “triumph” that represents a contemporary “peace in our time.” Rather than have Dodik travel to Sarajevo and meet Lady Ashton at the EU House, Lady Ashton was forced to travel to Banja Luka and have a photo op in front of a large map of RS that shows Brcko belonging to RS. The meeting also took place with only RS flags present — no Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) state flags. Dodik was accompanied by a large entourage of more than ten people. And after the meeting Dodik emerged triumphant in the RS media, touting victory.

A longtime pro-Serb activist in Washington, Obrad Kesic, hit the nail on the head when he described the outcome of the Ashton/Lajcak visit. “The agreement reached in Banja Luka presents a great achievement for the RS. When I look at that agreement, I see three already recognizable results. Firstly, the High Representative has been completely excluded, not only from the process of negotiation, but from all future actions… Secondly, this is the first time the RS has been given legitimacy by the EU when it comes to one of the more important state issues… Thirdly, this presents affirmation of political and legal status of the RS, not only as a negotiator, but as a partner.”

The EU came away thinking that Dodik had committed to annulling the referendum conclusion by the end of this week. The EU also thought that Dodik would annul the RSNA conclusions shortly thereafter. In exchange the EU had committed to send enlargement commissioner Fuhle to Banja Luka to negotiate with RS over the state courts and prosecutors.

Within only hours of the Dodik/Ashton meeting, RSNA president Radojcic announced that he wouldn’t call a special RSNA session before the end of the month. Dodik hinted then that the RS would only delay the referendum and would wait until Fuhle arrived to see what those discussion produced. Only then would they consider annulling the referendum.

Today Dodik came out and made it official: no annulment of the referendum until they see what gifts Fuhle has to offer.

My own guess is that the RS objective is to begin a conversation with Fuhle that will enable RS to claim that it is applying the acquis communitaire on its own and doesn’t need the dysfunctional Sarajevo government to qualify for EU membership.

What should Brussels do? It should agree to schedule the Fuhle meeting only in Sarajevo with the BiH authorities present and only after annulment of the 24 conclusions and the referendum decision. Odds of that are very long.

PS:  Lady Ashton and Hillary Clinton discussed Bosnia today in Washington.   According to the State Department,

Mrs. Clinton “…raised concerns regarding the political deadlock in Bosnia and Herzegovina and any efforts that could undermine the Dayton Peace Accords and the stability of the country. We fully support the authority of the Office of the High Representative Inzko in Bosnia and Herzegovina and want to see the people there realize their hopes for necessary reforms, effective government, and a European future.”

Note the emphasis the Americans put on the the High Representative.

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The Palestine question needs answers

I am perfectly willing to believe that today’s pro-Palestinian demonstrations on Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, in which Israeli security forces killed at least eight people, were in part efforts to use the annual Nakba (“catastrophe”) commemoration of Israel’s founding as a way of refocusing attention away from poor governance in Arab countries and towards the plight of the Palestinians.  This seems especially likely in the case of Syria, which has a real need to show Israel and the United States that there is good reason to preserve autocratic rule, which has ensured peace on the Syrian-Israeli border for decades.  Israeli claims that Iran is stirring the pot seem far-fetched, but who knows, maybe even that is true.

None of that excuses the ham-fisted reaction of the Israeli security forces, which seemed unprepared and undermanned for the occasion.  Of course the country has a right to defend its borders, and stone-throwers in my view do not qualify as unequivocally peaceful demonstrators.  But how stupid is it for democratic Israel to adopt the methods of the Arab autocrats in responding to provocation?  Where has shooting protesters had a stabilizing impact?  And just how serious is the presence on your sovereign territory of even a few hundred demonstrators?  How long do you think they will be able to stay once the security forces move deliberately and without violence to cut them off from support across the border?

This overreaction comes at a delicate moment, with Prime Minister Netanyahu getting ready to visit Washington and President Obama preparing to unveil who knows what now that his Middle East special envoy, George Mitchell, has quit in obvious frustration.  If Iran and its Arab allies in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza are successful in an effort to refocus the Arab Spring on Palestinian issues, Israel and the United States are both in deep difficulty.  The best thing they can do to avoid that unfortunate trap is to stop killing protesters and offer some clear answers on when and how the state of Palestine can emerge from the chaotic soup in which the Middle East finds itself.

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