Sunday :: Dec 28, 2008

The Israel-Palestine Problem: The Quest for a Political Solution

by eriposte

Via Steve Clemons, an organization called J Street, that claims to be "the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement" has published very appropriate commentary by its Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami on the latest cycle of violence in the Gaza strip. I will reproduce his entire statement first (emphasis mine) and then briefly comment on this issue:

While this morning’s air strikes by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza can be understood and even justified in the wake of recent rocket attacks, we believe that real friends of Israel recognize that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive, igniting further anger in the region and damaging long-term prospects for peace and stability.

Respecting Israel’s right to defend itself, we urge leaders there to recognize that there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

Today’s IDF strikes will deepen the cycle of violence in the region.  Retaliation is inevitable, though we don’t know how far the violence will spread or how many more Israelis and Palestinians will die and suffer in the days and weeks to come.  

We call for immediate, strong diplomatic intervention by the United States, the Quartet and allies in the region to negotiate a resumption of the ceasefire which dramatically reduced violence and preserved quiet for over five months.  

The United States, the Quartet, and the world community must not wait – as they did in the Israel-Lebanon crisis of 2006 – for weeks to pass and hundreds or thousands more to die before intervening.  There needs to be an urgent end to the new hostilities that brings a complete cessation to the rocket fire out of Gaza and that allows food, fuel and other civilian necessities into Gaza.

He continues:

The need for diplomatic engagement goes beyond a short-term ceasefire.  Eight years of American neglect and ineffective diplomacy have led us directly to a moment when the prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hang in the balance and with them the prospects for Israel’s long-term survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

We urge the incoming Obama administration to lead an early and serious effort to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.  

This is a fundamental American interest as we too stand to suffer as the situation spirals, rage in the region is directed at the United States, and our regional allies are further undermined.  Our goals must be a Middle East that moves beyond bloody conflicts, an Israel that is secure and accepted in the region, and an America secured by reducing extremism and enhancing stability.  None of these goals are achieved by further escalation.

Even in the heat of battle, as friends and supporters of Israel, we need to remember that only diplomacy and negotiations can end the rockets and terror and bring Israel long-term security and peace.

That is an entirely reasonable summary of what is needed. No doubt, moving these from recommendations to solutions is challenging given the history of the region and the current escalation in hostilities, but it is clear that if both sides really believe in a two-state solution, then the only solution to this problem is going to be a political one, not military.

Laura Rozen at War and Piece is posting continuous updates on developments as well as commentary from various people, including observations on whether these actions are part of maneuvering ahead of the inauguration of the Obama administration which is evidently perceived by Israel as likely to be more "dovish" than the Bush administration. Steve Clemons at The Washington Note has a post in this context "Hijacking Obama's Middle-East Strategy", saying among other things that "Barack Obama cannot afford to allow his presidency and its foreign policy course to be hijacked by either side in this increasingly blurry dispute".

The biggest challenges for the Obama administration, in my mind, are two fold.

First, if a political solution is what is desired, then a key question is what kind of solution could be facilitated between Israeli and Palestinian moderates that allows them to save face with a majority of their respective populations, regardless of what the extremists believe. Stated another way, we need to create the conditions, both inside Israel and West Bank/Gaza and in the Middle-East, for moderates to convince a clear majority of Israelis and Palestinians that the eventual solution is indeed the best possible solution and that it is a win-win solution. Critically, this solution has to be reasonably credible in any media outlets that are friendly to the extremist viewpoints - which, in turn, requires proactively countering extremist objections by offering substantive arguments as well as visible accomplishments and desired changes in the Middle East - not mere propaganda. Without such an approach, any solution is likely to falter very quickly because changes in political parties could easily scuttle such deals (recall what happened in 2007 when Hamas won the elections). Hence...

Second, there has to be a lasting mechanism by which the eventual solution can be sustained regardless of changes in the political landscape in Israel and West Bank/Gaza. In the absence of such a mechanism any "solution" will likely be short-lived and quickly be replaced with a new cycle of violence. What would such a mechanism be? It's hard to say exactly, but based on my knowledge of how the country of India has grappled with insurrections, at the minimum it should involve State-enforced, constitutional safeguards in both Israel and Palestine that prevent extremists from subverting the solution even if elections result in a change of party in power. Without a doubt, identifying respected and visionary leaders in each region who can influence the broader public in a manner that preserves the solution and additionally, making the solution enforceable through third-party intervention (by force, if necessary) would be desirable, but constitutional safeguards, in my view, are a must.

eriposte :: 10:27 AM :: Comments (35) :: Digg It!