By Barry Rubin
President Barack Obama’s State Department speech on Israel-Palestinian peacemaking continues to be misunderstood. Virtually all of the focus has been on the following passage: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
The problem of Israel returning to the 1967 borders has been widely discussed. But, Obama’s defenders say the statement provides for “mutually agreed swaps,” so what’s wrong with that? Other than the problem that the Palestinian Authority would continue to reject any exchanges, as it did in 2000, international and US pressure would be on Israel to accept ever-smaller “swaps” to get an agreement until, “for the sake of achieving peace,” it would disappear altogether.
But that passage is not the big problem. This one is: “The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, nonmilitarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.”
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WHERE TO begin? First, this is precisely the formula from the Oslo agreement. The negotiators regarded it as foolproof, yet it failed, thousands of people are dead as a result, Israel became more delegitimized after making massive concessions, and its strategic position is far worse.
The false assumption on which the 1990s peace process was based is precisely the same as Obama’s flawed premise: The Palestinians are eager to get a state of their own; consequently they are willing to make concessions, they will live up to their commitments, and international security guarantees can be relied upon as a fail-safe. Let’s take these one at a time:
• Palestinians eager? They aren’t eager. Many Palestinian leaders frequently say that it is it’s worth decades of not getting a state and continuing to fight in order to get everything in the end. They also say the current generation has no right to close the door to total victory and Israel’s destruction by future generations. They mistakenly believe time is on their side; indeed, Obama tells them so.
• Consequently are they willing to make concessions? Neither Palestinian public opinion nor the political balance of forces allows for the more moderate sector of the leadership (which is very small) to make the needed concessions and compromises.
• They will live up to their commitments? Let’s look at the commitments: Systematically stopping and punishing terrorism? No. Preparing their people for peace? No. Ending incitement against Israel? No. Refraining from violence? No.
• International guarantees? Worthless. There is a long list of examples, including most recently the failure to stop Hezbollah’s return to southern Lebanon and the end to Syrian-Iranian arms smuggling to the group, as pledged by the US and UN after 2006. The Obama administration is particularly unreliable; in the last two years, it has abandoned the Bush administration promise of supporting Israel’s retention of settlement blocs, changed the US position on Gaza sanctions and pressuring the Hamas regime, defined the settlement freeze as only including the West Bank, demanded a second freeze after the first one failed, etc.
IN HIS speech, Obama said: “Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security.” But what will happen when terrorism continues, weapons are smuggled in, and cross-border attacks are launched in the new state of Palestine? Will the US condemn Palestine and come to Israel’s full aid? Will the UN condemn Palestine and authorize Israeli defensive measures? Will the world’s media endorse Israel’s actions? Of course not.
But that’s not all! In Obama’s plan, Israel gives up all of its cards – turning over the remainder of the West Bank (unless the PA agrees to border changes, which it won’t) – while getting what in return? Security guarantees on paper? Meanwhile, the issues of refugees, east Jerusalem, massive payments to Palestinians, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian demilitarization, and the end of the conflict remain undecided.
Obama’s plan would put a now-sovereign Palestinian state in possession of the West Bank, saying: “Okay, now let’s talk about giving us all of east Jerusalem and letting all refugees and their offspring come live in Israel.” And what international, political and material leverage would Israel have in those negotiations? None at all.
In other words, after giving up the rest of the West Bank (or almost all of it) and accepting an internationally recognized Palestinian state that can allow in unlimited weapons, terrorists and money, Israel will be worse off than it is now. It would be turning over the material possession (land), and the most valuable political treasure (sovereignty) in exchange for nothing except promises by a party that doesn’t keep its promises guaranteed by a party that doesn’t keep its guarantees.
And that’s also why, in part, administration critics play into its hands by focusing on the 1967 borders issue – on which Obama has plausible deniability – rather than all of the other problems with his plan and his view of the situation.
Nations, if they expect to continue to exist, cannot pin their existence on such fragile reeds.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com