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Friday, October 17, 2003

NEW ARAB-ISRAELI PEACE IDEA In case you have forgotten what it's about here’s an interesting debate at tnr online between Yossi Klein Halevi and Leon Wieseltier. It is a good summary on where the main arguments run along in the current situation. I might add that Wieseltier's opinions sound more sensible to me, but either way it's certainly recommended reading if you're interested in the issue.
It's also a good starting point to examine the new peace proposal that popped up this week and which Naomi Chazan propagates in today's Jerusalem Post. There are some good ideas in it, but you cannot quite avoid the feeling that there is something amiss here:

The draft Permanent Status Agreement contains over 50 pages and a series of annexes and maps that are an integral part of the final text. The strategy guiding this undertaking, in a major shift from the phased approach governing the Oslo accords and the road map, is to first iron out in detail all the key elements of a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace treaty.
Agreement on the ultimate goal and the breakdown of the measures required for its realization (according to a 30-month timetable) provide both a clear, consensual objective and the promise of a reduction of violence and terrorism en route to its implementation.

Ouch, this hurts. I'm no great expert on the details of how and why exactly past peace efforts have failed, but I can say for sure that one element was that they were too detailed and fixated on an exact timetable. The past mistake was certainly not that the plans were too vague but that they were too specific to be able to adapt to changes on the ground. On the other hand it does make a lot of sense on other issues:

The preamble to the document highlights the centrality of the achievement of a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. For the first time in Israel's history, there is explicit recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Which is ok as a start, but the real questions are how do you accommodate into this framework the Palestinians' right to a state, and more importantly, how will you get the rejectionist forces in the Arab world to change their minds? On that last issue many will say that a Palestinian state would change that, but let's assume that rejectionism boils down to a rejection of a state that -depending on the rejectionists' ideological source- is either Jewish, Western or democratic. How will that and the associate problems it brings with it, be they support for anti-Israeli terrorism or Iranian nuclear weapons, be dealt with?

Elaborate provisions are made to safeguard Israel's security, including the demilitarization of the future Palestinian state.

Except of course that a mandatorily demilitarised state isn't really a state. It is acceptable and sometimes necessary to impose demilitarised zones and a ban on specific weapons systems on a country as part of a peace settlement as was done to Germany following World War One. But such measures must be temporary, limited and enforced to be workable and seen as legitimate (the measures against Germany failed because they broke every one of these conditions). But an entire state that is demilitarised as a condition of its existence and not an internal choice? I'm not sure that will be taken serious by its own population and given so far the impossibility of a Palestinian leadership that would be accepted as the only negotiator with Israel this is a very serious obstacle indeed.

The refugee issue is resolved through compensation, repatriation in Palestine, relocation in a third country, or official residency in existing domiciles. There will be no Palestinian return to Israel (extraordinary individual humanitarian cases will be settled only by agreement).

This is certainly an important step that will eventually have to be taken, but why on earth do the authors believe that this is a viable option at this moment? The current situation is not one in which such a deal is going to happen. Chazan presents a lot of other good things that in the big picture of it all may make sense, but it all boils down to feasibility:

A complex system of monitoring mechanisms is set in place to assure compliance.

And what happens when one or both parties fail to comply? The plan is derailed because then all this ingenious just-in-time-manufacturing style diplomacy will find the same end that such manufacturers have if one of their trucks gets stuck in a traffic jam, or a storm takes down a telephone line or a vital worker becomes ill: it collapses. And then what? The only option seems to be back to the drawing board to change a few emphases and to create an even more detailed plan because the last one wasn't detailed and complex enough.
I know I don't have the solution, but this is, as good as much of it sounds, not going to happen. Shame really.

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