By Max Ajl
The U.S./Middle East Project (USMEP), whose president is Henry Siegman, just released a report, entitled, "A Last Chance for a Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement." The Executive Summary observes that “In short, the next six to twelve months may well represent the last chance for a fair, viable and lasting solution.”
What is the USMEP? Hardly a radical institution. It spun off from the Council on Foreign Relations, establishmentarian think-tank par excellence. The authors of the report, most of the project’s Senior Advisors and board members, include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Chuck Hagel, Lee H. Hamilton, Carla Hills, Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, Thomas R. Pickering, Brent Scowcroft,Theodore C. Sorensen, Paul A. Volcker, and James D. Wolfensohn. These are not–and this is neither insult nor encomium–the Nasrallahs or the Noam Chomskys of the world. They are the most conservative, placid, members in good standing of the committee to protect the status quo one could hope to find. This gives the report greatly added heft. Will it be enough? We shall see.
It does not couch its recommendations in such idealist naiveté like concerns regarding “social justice” or national self-determination. It speaks directly to security issues, noting that “Although a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace would not erase Al Qaeda, it would help drain the swamp in which it and other violent and terrorist movements thrive, and eliminate a major source of global Muslim anti-Americanism,” seven years ago a radical argument, today, conservative wisdom.
It fends off the argument of political infeasibility, or the lack of sufficient political will, noting that “According to polls, most Israeli and Palestinian public opinions back a fair settlement, and Arab countries now offer unprecedented support for the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002,” suggesting that the problem is turning inchoate opinion into political action.
And it presents the brief for acting with dispatch: “Failure to act would prove extremely costly. It would not only undermine current efforts to weaken extremist groups, bolster our moderate allies and rally regional support to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran, but would also risk permanent loss of the two-state solution as settlements expand and become entrenched and extremists on both sides consolidate their hold.” The report’s authors recognize that if the two state settlement is not emplaced now, it will be emplaced never.
It does not kowtow to the “Israel Lobby,” nor to Zionist sentiment that demands complete Palestinian capitulation, noting that the plan, which must be “fair, viable, and sustainable,” must also be based on UNSCR 242 and 338, the principles agreed to in the 2003 Road Map and the 2007 Annapolis proceedings, and must demand a return to the Green Lines, land swaps on a 1:1 basis, a "fair" resolution to the refugee problem (although it explicitly prohibits a “general right of return”), dual-and-divided sovereignty over Jerusalem, and a de-militarized Palestinian state.
It suggests Israeli engagement with Syria, as well as accepting Hamas as a legitimate interlocutor of Palestinian political will, moving away from punitive boycotts or sanctions. As the report puts it, Israel and the US must take “a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas,” although it does call for a “government that agrees to a ceasefire with Israel [and] accepts President Mahmoud Abbas as the chief negotiator.”
It is not clear if the Palestinian citizenry, sick of the quisling Fatah’s betrayals, will accept such a condition, although this does not detract from the point that coming from US power circles, this is a very welcome document. And there is some evidence that it will: as Roger Cohen noted in the NYT on March 26, Siegman told him, through oral and written media, that although Hamas would withhold recognition of Israel, “it would remain in a Palestinian national unity government that reached a referendum-endorsed peace settlement with Israel. De facto, rather than de jure, recognition can be a basis for a constructive relationship, as Israel knows from the mutual benefits of its shah-era dealings with Iran.”
Its suggestion for dealing with the refugee problem are welcome, if imperfect:
“For Israelis the “right of return” issue is the ultimate “third rail.” For Palestinians, the entitlement of four million refugees to justice and dignity is an absolute. A formula must be found to protect Israel from an influx of refugees, assist Palestine to absorb as many refugees as possible, and offer Palestinian refugees options for productive and dignified lives in Palestine or elsewhere, closing refugee camps wherever they exist.”
Perhaps most worrisome is the section where the report deals with water issues. The document states that:
“Still, terms will have to be reached protecting Israel’s access to aquifers lying largely beneath Palestinian territory while permitting Palestine to develop its water resources to support an expanding population as well as agricultural and industrial development.”
They suggest desalinization as a way to elide the problems of satisfying both of the above conditions, which seem to be in real tension with one another. The report also outlines fairly reasonable solutions to the issues of borders, peace with Syria, and security, recommending extensive use of the United Nations as a peacekeeping force in the region. One really hopes Obama is listening.
– Max Ajl is a writer and activist, living in Brooklyn. He has written on Latin America for the Guardian and the New Statesman, and writes on Israel/Palestine at his blog, www.maxajl.com [Jewbonics]. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.