The Iraq Study Group, or Baker-Hamilton report, is not for the most part about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, it is a last-ditch attempt to generate new American policies in the Middle East that can somehow avoid a tragic US defeat in Iraq. By the by, it acknowledges that the diverse conflict situations in the region are linked and suggests a series of policy initiatives in the related conflicts that might positively influence America's situation in Iraq. In so doing, it gets not only the linkage wrong, but also the recipe for progress between Israelis and Palestinians.
The ISG asserts that, "the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless [it] deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict". Thus it buys wholeheartedly into the theory that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of much of the unrest in other parts of the Middle East. We witnessed similar assertions in recent weeks by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and British PM Tony Blair. The latter, incidentally, went so far as to tell an audience in Pakistan that an Israeli-Palestinian peace would reduce jihadi terrorism there!
There can be little doubt that peace or even the rudiments of an active peace process between Israelis and Palestinians would be beneficial for the Middle East as a whole. Nor do Israelis and Palestinians need the incentive of reducing jihadi terrorism in Pakistan in order to apply themselves to solving their conflict. But would the mess in Iraq look any different today if, three years ago, the Arab-Israel conflict had not existed? Would Lebanon? Would Iran have ceased to develop nuclear weapons, seek regional hegemony or support Hizballah? There is simply no basis in fact or regional logic to support this approach, which gratuitously accepts the most handy Arab excuse for avoiding democratization and for not confronting the region's real problems.
"The United States", notes the report, "does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict". There is merit to this statement, which in Baker's case is based on the successful attempt back in 1991 to bring Israel and its neighbors to Madrid, where a peace process was launched.
But the report ignores at its peril the heavy contrast between America's status in the region then (victory over Iraq and "pax Americana" in the post-Cold War Middle East) and now (failure in Iraq and in virtually every other avenue of American endeavor in the region). Its writers seem to believe that if they just list the all too obvious issues the conflicted parties have to talk about and call for "sustainable negotiations", the fragmented leadership in Gaza and Ramallah and the mafia-like Assad family in Damascus will salute and comply. In fact the Iranians, Syrians, Hamas and Hizballah appear to view the report as confirmation that they have won the day against America. Witness the statement two days ago in Tehran by the ostensibly "moderate" Palestinian PM Ismail Haniyeh: "Iran is our strategic depth".
To be fair, Baker and Hamilton focus not only on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but on the conflict with Syria as well. Yet they ignore the more compelling logic of reverse linkage: under current circumstances, with the Palestinian Authority in disarray and no viable Palestinian partner for Israelis to deal with, it makes sense to focus on Israeli-Syrian negotiations first, insofar as success in reducing Damascus' support for Hamas would render Israeli-Palestinian talks more productive.
The ISG report offers a compelling description of the sad state of the US occupation of Iraq today. Yet its most troublesome aspect is that it willfully refuses to probe into the sources of the American fiasco in Iraq and to apply the lessons of that failure to prioritizing the United States' vital interests there for the future. Thus the report never asks: Was trying to democratize Iraq a mistake? Was the enfranchisement and legitimization of the pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias that today effectively rule the country a good idea? Was it a smart American move to strengthen Iran and turn Iraq into a potential member of the Iranian orbit, the "Shi'ite crescent"?
This approach kept President George W. Bush happy: he could confirm that the ISG was looking to the future rather than the past, where his mistakes lie. But because the report never asks these questions, it also never discusses the need for the US to radically change the outcome in Iraq: to forego democratization if necessary in order to leave behind a regime that keeps Shi'ite Iraq from falling into the Iranian orbit and to prevent a region-wide Sunni-Shi'ite conflict. Only in this way can Iran be kept at a distance from Iraq's borders with Saudi Arabia and especially Jordan--borders that are only a stone's throw, in Middle East terms, from Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.- Published 11/12/2006 © bitterlemons.org
The reason the Baker-Hamilton report was received positively by Palestinians on both public and official levels is that in many respects it reiterated arguments Palestinians have been making, both vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the regional situation, in which the Palestinian issue is crucial.
The Palestinian cause is a significant part of the Arab and Islamic psyche. Leaving unresolved the injustice Palestinians have suffered because of unjustified western bias in favor of Israel is a major factor in creating regional hostility toward the West. It also convinces the peoples of this region that the stated western commitment to international legality and the compatibility of civilizations is not credible.
In any case, the report does not really alter much. The problem Palestinians have with American policy is not so much Washington's stated positions as it is the gap between those positions and what the US does in practice. To give but one example, the official American position has always been that Jewish settlements in occupied territory are either illegal or an obstacle to peace. Yet Washington turns a blind eye to continued settlement expansion.
US failure in Iraq and in the wider anti-terrorism campaign, as well as a growing feeling, especially in Europe, that the American approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been a major factor in those failings, is what spurred Congress to commission the report in the first place. But the growing radicalization in the region, which involves a pervasive anti-western attitude, is not simply a security or political phenomenon, it is much wider.
In order to better understand the situation, we have to first acknowledge the role played by socio-economic factors, in particular the increase in unemployment and poverty, the problems facing the social sectors, especially in education, and, importantly, the growing gap, in economic and social terms, between this region and the West.
It has to be noted here that the same governments and regimes responsible for the failure to implement and encourage social and economic development programs are primarily those supported by and friendly to western governments, especially the US. This creates an impression that this support is part of the reason for these economic and social problems.
There are also cultural and identity problems. From the perspective of the people of this region, globalization, especially economic globalization, brought with it a cultural hegemony that is creating a crisis of identity and weakening the cohesiveness of society.
Socio-economic, cultural as well as political and security factors all need to be examined to come to a comprehensive understanding of the deeper roots of the growing frustration, anger and radicalization in the region vis-a-vis the more privileged parts of the world, privileges perceived to be partially responsible for the suffering of this region and others.
Finding an answer to the contradiction in the American strategy of supporting reform and democratization but rejecting its outcome when that empowers political Islamist groups might not be a bad place to start.- Published 11/12/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
America's faltering moment
by Aharon Klieman
Stating the painfully obvious, the Iraq Study Group report begins: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." Judging from the 96 pages of assessment, alternative courses and 79 recommendations deriving from that opening sentence, it is really America's position in and throughout the Middle East, and not only Iraq's, that is at once both "grave and deteriorating".
We are all witnessing Iraq's descent into sectarianism and civil war. National disintegration--not reconciliation or unification but partition--begins to assume an air of inevitability, in open defiance of America's presence or preferences. Both before and after Baker-Hamilton, the US is powerless to either arrest the process or to determine its results.
Gone is any ambitious attempt at a concerted Greater or Broader Middle East Initiative. In its place is an ill-disguised salvage operation, billed as "the best strategies and tactics to positively influence the outcome in Iraq and the region" and originating from within the US foreign policy establishment. It is a pastiche of wishful thinking, conventional Washingtonian wisdom and desperate stop-gap measures patched together to mask both the embarrassing decline of American power and prestige and a sharp policy divide.
For America's well-wishers there can be no satisfaction--rather, if anything, profound discomfort--at watching a superpower in the deep throes of Middle East policy disarray. This is particularly so for Israeli observers, given shared value systems and threat assessments and our direct regional proximity and appreciation for how the deterrent value of a strong, confident and determined United States factors into our own country's security posture.
Let there be no mistake. The true import of the report has far-reaching implications beyond the confines of Iraq. Globally, it puts paid to the so-called hegemonic or uni-polar interpretation of contemporary world affairs, revealing in so many words that the United States--tested and found wanting in Iraq, possessing the hard and soft power but not the will power--is unprepared and possibly ill-equipped to bear the full responsibilities of world order leadership.
In terms of the Middle East, the dual containment doctrine toward Iraq and Iran lies in ruins. This power vacuum in the Persian Gulf owes to a combination of resolute and open Iranian defiance, Iraqi self-destruction and misplaced US priorities. As a result, the Arab world's vulnerable southern tier--Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Arab emirates, Jordan, Lebanon, an ambivalent Syria and Palestinian moderates who are being swept aside by radical Islam--now lies exposed and insecure, bereft of the surety of a resolute United States acting from a position of strength.
The blue ribbon commission, striving to put a positive face on an emerging foreign relations fiasco, calls for a "change of course" by launching a "comprehensive New Diplomatic Offensive" to deal with the problems "of Iraq and of the region". This in fact signals scarcely-veiled bipartisan dissent from the four central components that have constituted the Bush presidency's Middle East game plan: democratization as the overarching principle and highest priority; a united front against terrorism and abetting countries like Syria and Iran; unilateralist action, extending to demonstrations of military force and, where deemed necessary, preemption; and lower profiling of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict deemed unripe for resolution, decoupling it from other regional problems and downsizing the US role from indispensable to auxiliary.
Yet what the report then proposes as a replacement for these fallen pillars is patently neither comprehensive nor new, foremost with respect to a depressing impasse in Israeli-Palestinian relations where the substitution default policy resurrects the notion of linkage. "Iraqis will have an opportunity for a better future, terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America's credibility, interests, and values will be protected". How? Only by the US dealing directly with the Arab-Israel conflict through "a renewed and sustained commitment" to "a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace"--on all issues, on all fronts and only within a wider regional context.
The conceptual as well as practical weaknesses in this line of reasoning are staggering, as are the attendant risks for all concerned parties. Israelis, Palestinians, moderate Arab rulers and the US itself should carefully think through whether linkage, multilateral conference diplomacy and the quest for an omnibus solution, whether imposed or by consent, is really the best pathway to peace or even the desired quick fix as Baghdad continues to burn.
That the United States "does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict" is a debatable proposition at best. Similarly, orchestration of the 1991 Madrid international conference by the US came on the wings of a stunning military-diplomatic triumph in forging a multinational coalition of the willing, all looking to Washington for leadership and sharing an interest in blocking a regional predator, Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Then, America enjoyed great credibility and leeway, whereas for the foreseeable future the United States will be on the defensive. Indeed, once having convened the talks it will be susceptible to demands from Arab delegations to press Israel for concessions, if only to avert yet another failed American enterprise.
Moreover, embedded in recommendations 12 through 17 is the nagging suspicion that, if adopted by President Bush as policy, the United States will for all intents be rewarding intransigents: Iran, for helping foment instability; Hamas for its inflexibility; Syria for its duplicity; and the Saudis, the Egyptians and other Arabs for timidity and inaction while Iraq deconstructs and Iran, exporting its lethal brand of Islamic militancy, emerges as a regional superpower.
There is folly in willfully associating the Palestinian question with what ails Iraq, tying an historical territorial dispute to an ancient tribal feud. Each issue needs to be dealt with on its own merits, imaginatively, with extreme sensitivity and, whatever else, not by aggregating and thus compounding both problems as well as America's discomfort.
Regionalizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contributes little if anything toward promoting the report's declared goals of supporting the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, stopping destabilizing interventions by Iraq's neighbors, securing Iraq's borders, preventing the expansion of instability and conflict beyond those borders and promoting assistance for the Iraqi government from non-neighboring Muslim nations.
What regionalization does guarantee, though, is the tragic and indefinite postponement of an agreed bilateral framework for coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, however grudging. That, and the specter of continued hegemonic retreat by a United States still incapable of deciphering--or playing by--Middle East rules.- Published 11/12/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Professor Aharon Klieman holds The Nahum Goldmann Chair in Diplomacy and heads the Abba Eban Graduate Program in Diplomatic Studies at Tel-Aviv University.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Camp David III will also fail
by Khader Khader
The Iraq Study Group report enthralled people from all sides of the political spectrum in the Arab and Islamic world. One might say the report set a precedent by meeting with the approval of almost everyone in the Arab world, a rare and unique instance indeed.
Of course, each party used and read the report according to its own perspective. The "moderate" regimes commended the report for calling for direct US involvement in solving the region's problems, especially the core question--the Palestinian cause--because leaving the Palestinian cause unresolved and allowing Israel a free hand to continue its unilateral measures against Palestinians and their land has caused serious embarrassment to them.
On the other hand, "hardline" countries, mainly Iran and Syria and the forces they support, called the report proof of the need for America to fundamentally reconsider its policies in the Middle East.
There are two key sentences in the report. One refers directly to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and states that the US "does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict". The other goes on to say that by pursuing a comprehensive regional program--the New Diplomatic Offensive-Washington "would help marginalize extremists and terrorists, promote US values and interests, and improve America's global image".
The US administration was sent a clear message by Hamas' victory in parliamentary elections in January. That message was that the political process after the 1991 Madrid conference has been a complete failure. Notably, the report refers to Madrid rather than the subsequent Oslo process as the model to follow for progress.
A byproduct of the failure of Oslo has been the failure of Fateh, which pursued the Oslo process. Thus failing to meet Palestinian national aspirations, Fateh failed at the polls. The radicalization of Palestinian society is not the result of growing "fundamentalism", but because Palestinian suffering deepened while and because illegal Jewish settlement building accelerated and the West Bank wall and other punitive and oppressive Israeli measures against Palestinians were implemented. All this, despite the Palestinian "moderate" calls for peace.
In this context, when the report talks about the "need" for direct US involvement, a crucial term is missing: neutral. The US was directly involved during the Clinton administration, and that was one of the main reasons for the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada. Why? Palestinians finally saw clearly that the US cannot and will not exert real pressure on Israel to achieve a just and permanent peace.
The report supports a negotiated peace between the Palestinians and Israelis that could lead to a Palestinian state according to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the land for peace formula, but fails to mention the "Arab Peace Initiative" or "the 1967 borders" or "an international peace conference". I don't believe those terms were missing by accident, especially from two major figures known for their vast experience of the Middle East.
The report gives impetus to "moderate" Palestinians to renew, yet again, their calls for a resumption of the negotiations process, a process that we have already seen will waste 10 or 15 years and lead nowhere as long as vague terminology such as "based on Resolutions 242 and 338" continues to be used. Camp David II negotiations were "based on" these two resolutions and such language fails to pressure Israel to withdraw from all territories occupied in 1967, the only genuine hope for the success of a two-state solution. President Mahmoud Abbas, the Egyptian leadership and the Saudi Peace Initiative, even Hamas, have all recently talked about the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Even the Europeans have started to call for an international peace conference to solve the Palestinian cause, once and for all.
The timing of the report will be crucial for the next US administration. This one is beyond hope. But should that next administration, likely a Democrat one, translate the report's recommendation for active diplomacy to mean yet another round of fruitless negotiations, it will only serve to provide Israel with more time to consolidate its "facts on the ground", culminating finally in Camp David III. Once again, it will result in failure.
Was it so difficult for those who prepared the report to provide the specific features of the future Palestinian state they envision? I don't think so.- Published 11/12/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Khader Khader is a media analyst with the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.
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