The European Union's chief foreign and security policy official, Javier Solana, made a remarkable proposal in a speech in London on July 11. He suggested that, if Israeli-Palestinian negotiations continue to fail, even with the benefit of "real mediation" and a "fixed deadline", the United Nations Security Council should "proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution. . . . accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN and set a calendar for implementation." There would follow international monitoring and guarantees, with the Arab states immediately establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel.
Solana's proposal is remarkable for several reasons. To begin with, this is a serious appeal for the international community to impose a solution. Second, it comes from the representative of an institution, the EU, which is not generally considered capable of presenting and enforcing a strong foreign policy position. Third, and most significantly, this may not be a good idea but it is a sign of the times that Israel must heed.
Solana is reminding us that Israel's policies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank put it on a collision course with the international community. The evidence is abundant. Not only the president of the United States but Congress as well is fed up with Israeli settlement policies. There appear to be serious fissures in Israel's support base in the US. The boycott on diplomatic engagement with Hamas is cracking day by day.
We fought a just war last January in Gaza, where our behavior at the humanitarian level was mild compared to the US and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that no longer protects us from investigation and global condemnation. Our previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, offered the Palestinians the best deal they could hope to get; that it was rejected by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is yet another indication that the Palestinians have failed miserably at state-building. The Fateh-Hamas split is also a manifestation of this malaise. But none of that reduces the pressure to cease settlement construction and get out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
As matters stand, with the Netanyahu government refusing to freeze settlement construction, Abbas refusing to negotiate, both sides too weak or too obstinate to reach agreement and President Barack Obama seemingly determined to move forward on a multilateral basis, Solana's proposal could indeed be seriously considered one day soon by the Security Council.
Yet an attempt by the UN (or any other actor, for that matter) to impose a solution could create serious tension in the region. Certainly it could be bad for Israel. Despite improvements in Israel-UN relations in recent years, the UN's objectivity remains questionable from Israel's standpoint. There is absolutely no guarantee that it would support Israel's legitimate security interests in an imposed settlement. Not only Israel but some Arab actors as well might oppose a UN solution.
For 42 years, some of us have predicted that eventually the world would get fed up with the occupation. We have grown increasingly aware of the demographic danger of remaining in the territories. Our leaders have reluctantly made a variety of initiatives that temporarily held off the pressures and the dangers by giving up something: at Oslo, at Hebron, at Camp David, unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
The only such initiative Netanyahu appears to be offering is "economic peace". But if he wants to avoid an international diktat, he had better consider reorganizing his coalition to engage in much more far-reaching initiatives. He should begin by considering four, none of them mutually exclusive: additional unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank; picking up where Olmert's two-state proposal left off and recruiting US and Arab pressure on Abbas; engaging Hamas in Gaza; and galvanizing the peace process with Syria.- Published 20/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org
The London remarks by Javier Solana have attracted the attention of politicians and analysts in the region. Solana courageously suggested that the international community should be more forceful in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to the extent of imposing a solution if the parties cannot reach agreement by a certain deadline.
Solana knows what he is talking about. He is one of the most experienced European politicians dealing with this issue and he has been intimately involved in the ups and downs of peacemaking over the past ten years. Thus, one significant aspect of his statement is how little hope it held out for the US-mediated bilateral process.
The problem with an imposed solution, however, seems to be the same problem that has beset successive political efforts, including the latest one at Annapolis. There is certainly no lack of initiatives or proposals that enjoy international consensus. In fact, the accumulated resolutions of the United Nations Security Council reflect exactly such consensus. As does the roadmap, a document prepared by the Quartet, adopted by the Security Council and endorsed by all the parties to the conflict and almost all members of the international community.
Yet, there has been no progress.
One of the reasons is the unusual nature of relations between Israel and the most influential players in the international community, the United States and Europe. For historical and strategic reasons, the US and Europe have always been hesitant to differ with Israel or to pressure the country this way or that. Europe, and to a lesser extent the US, seems paralyzed by its historic guilt. On the strategic level, meanwhile, Israel has long been an ally to the West. In the 1960s, Israel helped counter the growing influence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East. Later, the country positioned itself as an ally in the "war on terror", and now Israel is trying to make Iran the main factor shaping strategic relations between itself and the West.
However, the strategic relationship no longer carries the clout it once did. On the contrary, events have proven that these relations have begun to backfire on the regional interests of the western world and, equally importantly, are being used as an excuse to maintain regressive, non-democratic regimes in the region.
It is important to avoid mixing causes with effects in this regard. The way Israel has been allowed to treat the Palestinians and escape its obligations under international law has been a significant factor in the deterioration of relations between the West and the peoples of the region, especially Arabs and Muslims.
Hence the way to reverse this deterioration, to enhance the credibility of the West in the eyes of the peoples of the region, as well as pave the way for reform of Arab regimes and governments, would include, though not be confined to, establishing a credible international approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that brings Israel into line with its obligations under the roadmap and international law.
So the question whether it is a good idea to impose a solution, as Solana suggested, depends on two things. First, the solution has to be one that is compatible with the accumulated resolutions of the United Nations and hence international law. Second, the West must be willing to put Israel under sustained and significant pressure in order to implement such a solution (begging the question why that hasn't happened yet, even on an issue such as ending Israel's illegal settlement expansion in occupied territory).
Imposing a solution compatible with international law would be the proper approach and represents the only possible consensus. But the question that really needs answering, by Solana as well as his friends in Washington, is the extent to which Europe and the US would be prepared to exert pressure on the parties, especially Israel.
The experience so far is not encouraging.- Published 20/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president for community outreach at Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Solana throws us a life-line
by Avraham Burg
In a recent speech in London, Javier Solana devoted special and rather innovative attention to the Middle East conflict. This was not a message directed at us; rather, it was one dimension of a broader picture the European Union's chief foreign and security policy official painted for his superiors under the header, "Europe's global role: what next steps? [sic]"
This in itself is interesting and important: the Middle East, with our conflict at its center, is part of Europe's world view. It is not merely a nuisance on Europe's eastern fringes, but a genuine threat to Europe and to its delicate relationship with its own component parts, its immigrants and its neighboring countries and peoples. Our peace is their interest, and our wars are an immediate and continuous threat to their lives as well.
This was not an anti-Israel speech. It was one of the most original and courageous stands taken in recent years--in our favor. Solana filled, in Europe's name, the job of responsible adult who enters the kids' room and tries to put a stop to the endless squabbling between its occupants.
Once, until not long ago, talk of two states for two peoples, one of them a Palestinian state, sounded like an optimistic vision: the right strategy waiting for the right timing; a kind of carrot awaiting the Palestinians at the end of the process if they fulfill all of Israel's demands and whims. But times have changed beyond recognition. The carrot has dried up and withered while the problems have grown to such an extent that it is doubtful whether the creation of a Palestinian state can deal with all the baggage created here during the years of arrogance, evasion, indifference and smugness.
It sometimes appears to me that the days of the two-state solution are numbered. The Israeli and Palestinian majorities that until lately provided the opportunity to end the conflict have been hijacked by fanatics driven by a very different vision.
Israel has fallen hostage to the settlers who believe in the vision of the greater land of Israel, meaning one state for the two peoples with structural supremacy for the Jewish component even at the cost of discrimination, an end to democracy and abandonment of the constitution of human rights that stood at the foundation of Israel's creation. On the other side, Palestinian society has been hijacked by its own religious extremism that preaches the vision of greater Palestine under Shari'a law. Both societies, ours and theirs, have developed a kind of "Stockholm syndrome" toward their captors: empathy and psychological identification with their kidnappers' deeds and values.
Despite all their attempts and efforts, neither official Israel nor official Palestine appears to have the energy or capacity to free itself from the prison it has voluntarily locked itself in. We are rapidly sliding down the slippery slope toward one entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, all of whose component parts are linked by perpetual bloodshed in endless mutual hatred: a dialogue of national violence between two tortured peoples, fueled by religious fanaticism and dangerous messianic dreams.
Hence the importance of the Solana initiative. Apparently the picture Solana sees from "there" is one that Israel's leaders don't see from here. One of the most significant developments in our contemporary world--one that is evolving before our eyes--is strategic deployment for global challenges. Global warming, chronic shortages of water, energy, economic and business infrastructure, development of alternative energy resources and historic conflicts are no longer local problems. Everything has a much broader significance--ramifications in depth and laterally that mandate the establishment of broad coalitions and new partnerships to deal with global tasks. The Middle East no longer belongs only to us; we are not the only players in the arena. Nuclear issues, terrorism, religious extremism and fanaticism are not our problems alone: their source may be here, but they project across the globe.
Solana and the EU leaders understand that it is a mistake for them and a disaster for us to leave us alone, lonely and smug. Against this backdrop, the "Palestinian state first" solution sounds like the last life-line thrown to us, without which our life here will not be a life or will not be at all. This is a step intended to restart processes that have withered and died. This is a Palestinian state for our own good, backed by the international community as it looks after its own interests no less than ours. Herein lies its chance for success.- Published 20/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Avraham Burg is a writer and businessman. He is former speaker of the Knesset and former chairman of the Jewish Agency.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Proceed with caution
by Joharah Baker
There is no doubt EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana meant well when he suggested that the United Nations Security Council "proclaim the adoption of a two-state solution and welcome a Palestinian state as a full member of the UN" should peace negotiations ultimately fail. The Palestinians immediately warmed to the idea while the Israeli government just as quickly knocked it down. Neither, however, should be too eager to accept or reject the notion just yet because, like all other aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there are a multitude of layers that need to be peeled off before getting to the core.
While suggesting such a "drastic" measure may seem like a revolutionary idea coming from someone as high ranking as Solana, this particular proposal has been pushed around before. On the surface, it sounds like a great idea, one that just might put an end to this endless conflict. We Palestinians have said it repeatedly--throw the conflict back into the lap of the international community, which in many people's opinion has largely forsaken the Palestinians. That way, it is no longer an issue of bilateral negotiations or a "he said, she said" kind of situation where the Palestinians and Israelis try to outdo each other over who violated which agreement. If the Security Council declares a state of Palestine as a full member and adopts the two-state solution, the ball will finally be out of our court and justice just may prevail.
Solana proposes that if the parties fail to reach a peace agreement on their own, a deadline should be set after which responsibility for finding a solution reverts to the UN Security Council. The Security Council would in turn recognize the state of Palestine. Key issues such as borders, refugees and Jerusalem would be "specified" in the declaration. "It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimize the end of claims," he added.
This would be excellent news if it were not for a few major obstacles. Let us assume that the Palestinians and Israelis do not come to a final agreement any time soon, a most likely scenario. Then, let us assume that the Security Council does adopt the two-state solution. Who will ensure that Israel will commit to its implementation? Who would impose sanctions on Israel if it failed to comply? Surely not the United States, Israel's most loyal ally and one of the five permanent member states of the Council with veto power. If this were the case, UN resolutions 181, 194, 242 and 338 would have been implemented long ago.
It would take nothing short of a miracle for the US to agree to such a proposal, especially in light of Israel's vehement rejection of the idea from the start. One could only imagine the pressure Israel would place on America not to even consider it. This is not too difficult if we look at the status quo today. Israel is making one big stink over US President Barack Obama's call for a freeze on settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, calling it an "obstacle to peace" because all Israelis should be allowed to live in dignity and have their cities and--in this instance--illegal colonies expand to accommodate natural growth. If Israel is bartering over a few hundred housing units in this and that settlement just to make the point to the US that it will not be bullied, what kind of tantrum would it throw if Solana's proposal actually saw the light of day?
Furthermore, Solana is being accused of simply wanting to "leave a legacy". This may be true in part. It is characteristic of political figures to "finally see the light" once their term in office nears its end. Even former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted just before he retired from political life that Jerusalem would inevitably have to be divided and East Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state if peace were to prevail.
Add to this the fact that Solana barely holds any real political clout other than as advisor and sincere champion of a Palestinian-Israeli peace. The European Union itself may pull some economic strings when it comes to the Palestinians, but other than a few statements bordering on the bold (especially in terms of Israeli settlements) the EU has not been known for its influence on Israel, the United States or the UN where the Palestinians are concerned.
Still, credit should be given where it is due. Solana is a proponent of a fair solution to the Palestinian problem and has probably reached a level of frustration with all the failed efforts, his own included. This is a last straw before he parts ways with this troubled area (at least in his current capacity). Unfortunately, even Solana knows that the powers that be are not going to accept such a proposal hands down.
Even the Palestinians need to think twice before jumping on Solana's bandwagon. Some within Palestine's political arena, including Hamas leaders, have cautioned that such a proposal must come with guarantees and preconditions such as a full withdrawal from areas occupied by Israel in 1967, a complete end to settlement activities and a just solution to the refugee problem.
These are not issues the Palestinians can risk. If the Security Council adopts the two-state solution and an end to claims without clear guarantees that powers such as the US will not sabotage its implementation, this could spell the demise of any future demands. Instead, the Palestinian leadership should build on Solana's proposal to create a new, more powerful demand that the UN adopt the end of Israel's occupation first. This way, there is no chance for Israel, or America, to tamper with the important issues Palestinians cannot and should not compromise over. Once the most legitimate demand of ending the occupation is recognized, the rest is detail.- Published 20/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Joharah Baker is a writer for the Media and Information Department at MIFTAH and a former editor of Palestine Report Online.
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