Day: November 12, 2010

A negotiated solution for Abyei?

Voter registration for the South Sudan referendum on independence January 9 starts Monday and extends until December 1.  Preparations are reported to be adequate.

The problem is Abyei:  there is no agreement yet on who can register there for the separate referendum on whether it goes north or south.  That could spell trouble.  The U.S. is telling the Security Council it wants a negotiated solution in Abyei, rather than a referendum.  This is the classic “who does it belong to” problem.  Remember Eastern Slavonia, Brcko, and Kirkuk?

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Flood of Afpak reports begins

Clear a shelf:  the flood of reports on Afghanistan and Pakistan has only just begun.  Earlier in the fall (it would be nice if they put dates on these reports!), the self-appointed Afghanistan Study Group (wish I had trademarked “study group” when I was executive director of the Iraq Study Group) has already recommended winding down and eventually out the military effort, while somehow increasing economic assistance and regional cooperation: A New Way Forward | Report of the Afghanistan Study Group.

Now the Council on Foreign Relations (Sandy Berger and Rich Armitage chairing) weigh in with a lukewarm endorsement of the current military and civilian “surge” approach, but only if it starts to show results by the time of the President’s December policy review.  Absent that, they too advocate a drawdown and narrowing of the military effort to the fight against al Qaeda:  U.S. Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan – Council on Foreign Relations.

At least two more due out soon.  Center for American Progress should have a report out within a couple of weeks that focuses at least in part on the defects of the Karzai government and raises questions about whether it is worth supporting (as all the reports do, in one way or another).  Century Foundation has got Tom Pickering and Lakhdar Brahimi working on another report that focuses at least in part on the prospects for “reconciling” some of the Taliban.  Brahimi, remember, was the UN Special Representative who wanted to bring the Taliban into the political  process, a move the Americans blocked.

The Administration has already let it be understood that the December presidential review is not expected to produce any dramatic policy moves, and Gates/Clinton have been anxious to let the Taliban and al Qaeda know that they expect the U.S. to still be militarily active in Afghanistan and Pakistan until 2014, when Karzai claims the Afghans will take over.  But at the very least the reports already out suggest that there are profound doubts about the legitimacy, capability, honesty and efficacy of the Karzai government.

The CFR report defines a desirable end-state in Afghanistan this way:  “An acceptable end state in Afghanistan would be one in which the Afghan people are secure and strong enough to prevent the rise of new terrorist safe havens inside Afghanistan and avert a return to civil war without relying upon U.S. or international military forces.”  Can that be achieved with Karzai?

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Slo-mo train wreck

I’ve been hesitating to comment on the “Middle East peace process,” but I guess there comes a point at which you can’t ignore it any longer.  When even President Obama has turned gloomy, you’ve got to wonder whether the time has come.  So here goes:

Leverage in negotiations comes from having “BATNA”:  a best alternative to a negotiated solution.  The Israelis have one:  they just keep on building settlements in the West Bank.  The Ramallah Palestinians don’t really have one:  Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t want to go back to the Intifada, and there is really nothing he can do to block the settlements.  Hamas is trying out a new BATNA, as its last one (rockets into Israeli population centers) did not work so well.  It is lying (relatively) low, figuring time is on its side.

The Israelis have got a BATNA, but what Netanyahu lacks is the ability to deliver Israel to a negotiated solution.  His government is fractious, and he sees no need to take the political risks a negotiated solution would necessarily entail.  Of course Mahmoud Abbas has a similar problem, only his government is just plain broken, since he doesn’t control what Hamas does or does not do.  So neither side can deliver its own people to a negotiated peace.

Continuing to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank is making it hard to picture a viable two-state solution.  Netanyahu says he wants the Arabs to accept Israel as a Jewish state, but his pursuit of his BATNA is putting the country into a demographic trap:  the more settlements he builds, the harder it gets to picture a viable Palestinian state, which is an indispensable component of a two-state solution, and the more likely it gets that Israel/Palestine will end up as a single state, which eventually won’t have a Jewish majority.

So Israel and Palestine are careening towards an outcome neither wants, with leadership on the Israeli side that doesn’t want to take the risks required to prevent it and leadership on the Palestinian side that lacks any means to prevent it.  Slo-mo train wreck.

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