The missing links in the so-called US Diplomacy

The missing links in the so-called US Diplomacy...

The United States should spell out in detail its vision of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, and declare that it was determined to resolve the conflict, not simply to manage it...

Between the War of Independence and the end of the 20th Century.

Between the War of Independence and the end of the 20th Century US foreign policy was largely grounded in domestic politics and reflected the real (as opposed to ideal) needs and aspirations of the American people. Paraphrasing von Clausewitz’s comment on war, one can indeed say that US foreign policy was then the continuation of domestic politics through other means.

All this changed in the first year of this century as a result of the convergence of two factors: one extraneous, namely the 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil, the other internal, namely the rise to power in Washington of the Neocons, driven by ideas. Following which, for most of President George W Bush’s eight years at the White House, foreign policy was idea-driven, rhetoric replaced dialectics and, the sobering link with domestic politics having thus been severed, foreign policy became increasingly disconnected from the realities of the American polity and economy, it started free-wheeling on its own, and hubris finally set in.

Now, with a new President in place who has pledged to address, first and foremost, the American people’s real needs and aspirations, the time may be ripe to again make US foreign policy tributary of domestic realities. And what better foreign policy issue to start with, than the Middle East conflict. For, if there ever was a conflict driven exclusively by ideas and beliefs (i.e., driven by ideology), it is certainly the conflict in the Middle East.

If History has ever taught us anything, it is that beliefs and ideas are non negotiable. Everything else--land, territory, wealth, power, oil, gas, water supplies and even strategic positions—might be. Not so beliefs and ideas. Hence the unending Israeli-Palestinian (and, beyond it, Jewish-Moslem) conflict, which never was about sheer territory (territory that can be negotiated, as Israel’s restitution of the Sinai to Egypt suggests), but about a sacred (i.e., idealized) territory.

The majority of Israelis (and beyond them a substantial number of Jews from around the world) indeed strongly believe that Israel is the Promised Land given them by the Almighty, and that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish State; while most Palestinians (backed in this by a vast majority of fellow-Muslims across the world) equally strongly believe that Palestine is their rightful homeland, that they have a legitimate right to return to it, and that Jerusalem is theirs, rather than the Jews’. Such beliefs and ideas, whether grounded in truth or not, are non negotiable. And this helps explain why the Middle East conflict has hitherto remained unresolved.

No serious attempt can therefore be made at resolving the protracted Middle East conflict without first stripping it from its strong (and non negotiable) ideological undertones. More specifically:

(i) In a first phase, soil rights ought to supersede and replace blood rights. In other words, the land in Israel and in Palestine should belong to those who now live on it. Both Israel and the Palestinians and the latter’s Arab and Muslim sponsors should therefore rescind their respective Laws of Return that give, on the one hand, all Jews throughout the world the right to come and live in Israel, and, on the other hand, all Palestinians whose ancestors once lived in what is today Israel, the right to return to “their” home and “their” land. As of D-Day, therefore, and once both sides would have rescinded their Laws of Return, would be considered as Israeli citizens only those (whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Druze) whose homes and livelihoods would be in Israel on the day, to the exclusion of all others; and would be considered as being Palestinian citizens on D-Day only those whose homes and livelihoods happen be in the West Bank and in Gaza on the day, to the exclusion of all others...

(ii) In a second phase, the issue of the status of Jerusalem should be addressed and, while its sacred character should be preserved, its multi-denominational reality should also be recognized and then confirmed under international law. In other words, whereas the holy city of Jerusalem would remain the “eternal capital” of the State of Israel and should be recognized as such by Israel’s present foes, there is nothing to prevent it, in its very holiness, from concurrently being the eternal capital of a Palestinian State (or even “the eternal capital of the three monotheist religions”), however tenuous effective Palestinian (or international) control over the city might be. Only then, when the weight of ideas and ideology would have been lifted and life would have reasserted its rights, will the international community be able to tackle other issues such as security, peace treatises, refugees issues and the sharing of natural resources (fresh water reserves, offshore gas reserves). From being bones of contention, all these issues will then turn into as many common denominators.

All this can be made possible if the United States recognizes that its duty as world leader is not merely towards this or that idea or dream, however legitimate these might seem to be, but its duty is, first and foremost and exactly as is the case in America itself, towards life and all that exists: the real men, women and children, irrespectively of their nationality or creed, who now live in the Middle East region and who are all entitled to live in peace, dignity and security.

• The US goal should be a comprehensive peace: That is to say, there should be coordinated movement on the Syrian, Lebanese and the Palestinian tracks. Any attempt to promote an Israeli-Syrian peace while relegating a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a later date was bound to fail. Equally, focusing on the Palestinian track to the neglect of Syria was a recipe for failure. Although simultaneous movement on the two tracks might prove difficult, it had to be recognized that neither could reach closure without the other.

• The United States should overcome Israel’s well-known reluctance to negotiate with the Lebanese, the Palestinians and Syria at the same time. It should use its considerable leverage to bring Israel to the negotiating table -- in much the same way as former US Secretary of State James Baker managed to compel a reluctant Yitzhak Shamir, then right-wing prime minister of Israel, to attend the 1991 Madrid peace conference.

• The United States should insist on an immediate and total freeze of Israeli settlement expansion on the occupied West Bank. Without such a freeze, any Palestinian-Israeli negotiations would be futile.

• The United States -- together with the European Union, Russia and the UN -- should play an active role in talks on both tracks. Turkey might also play a useful role. These outside parties, with the US in the lead role, should stimulate negotiations, arbitrate between the parties, monitor implementation of agreements reached, and be ready to provide security guarantees if these are needed. The Palestinians and Syria should not be left to face Israel alone, since the imbalance of power is simply too great for a satisfactory conclusion to be reached.

• The United States should rein in Israeli militarism, rather than unleash it, as the Bush administration had done -- against Lebanon in 2006, against Syria’s alleged nuclear facility in 2007, and most recently against Gaza this past December and January. In particular, Washington should firmly prohibit any Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. What is the background to this last demand?

The destruction of Iraq by the United States has overturned the regional balance of power to Iran’s advantage. Iran has emerged as a regional rival to both Israel and the United States. Israel, in particular -- in spite of its own vastly superior nuclear capability -- regularly depicts Iran’s nuclear programme as an “existential threat,” which must be eliminated by force, if necessary.

Most of Iran’s Arab neighbors are undoubtedly concerned at the rise of Iran. A key debate in the Arab world today -- in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Lebanon, Egypt -- is how to contain and accommodate Iran’s rising influence. But any such worries are dwarfed by the fear of an Israeli strike against Iran, which could be catastrophic for the Arab Gulf states, as they would find themselves in the line of fire. Indeed, an Israeli-Iranian military clash could trigger a regional war and be devastating for Arab, American and Israeli interests.

• The Arabs dream of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East -- an improbable outcome in view of Israel’s determination to be the region’s sole nuclear power. But short of general nuclear disarmament, the Arabs would like the United States to embrace the goal of a regional balance of power, rather than guaranteeing Israel’s military edge over any Arab combination. The argument is that a balance of power keeps the peace, whereas an imbalance causes war, since the stronger power will always seek to impose its will by force on its weaker adversaries -- as the Gaza war has demonstrated only too clearly.