Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, May 12, 2003
Abject apologies to my remaining readers. Once upon a time, this space boasted multiple posts per day. But in the month of April there were only 12 posts and in the month of May, well, this is the first, and it's an apology.

I plead a combination of Passover, a heavier load at work, and a vacation that I have just returned from. But that is small comfort to you who are still checking in at this site, who expect to get something interesting to read at least weekly. So I will try, really, to do better going forward.

I really do need to get a good night's sleep tonight, because, having been away, I'm going to come to work tomorrow to a stack of work several feet high. And I've been on vacation, not reading the news regularly and not logging on at all, so I have really no idea what to blog about.

So I'll blog about something that never changes: the situation in Israel.

Actually, I think there's a real chance that something will change on that front, but I don't know if for the better or for the worse. I think a moment of decision is coming for both the neo-cons and the realists in America, and for both Bush and Sharon, a decision that no one really wants to make. The decision, long avoided, and now looming: will America intervene, militarily and directly, for the first time, in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I thought this decision was coming once before, in 2000, but I was wrong. Here's why I think a decision is coming now, and why it will be unpleasant for all parties.

The war in Iraq has dramatically raised the stakes for our policy in the Middle East. Our intervention there would have been unexceptional if it had taken place in, say, Panama, an area no one really denies is in America's sphere of influence. By making the same kind of intervention in Iraq, we have taken far greater responsibility, not only for that country but for the region as a whole. The consequences of failure are much higher than they were before. And the implication of America in events that occur around the region is far greater than when our interventions were indirect.

As a consequence, America has lost a degree of plausible deniability with respect to events in Israel and its vicinity. We have effectively made it American policy to reshape the region in a certain direction. The benign neglect (as some would see it, myself included) with which President Bush attended to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer tenable. (By the same token, the malign neglect with which the past four American Presidents have attended to Lebanon is no longer tenable.) America is effectively obliged to deliver a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict - not as a matter of justice or as a matter of back-scratching diplomacy, but as a matter of prestige and credibility. We have declared, in so many words, that we are in charge now in the neighborhood. What we allow to go on is now our responsibility, far more than it ever was before.

The problem is that there is no diplomatic solution to the Palestinian problem. As I have never tired of pointing out, Palestinian nationalism is essentially the negation of Zionism. It necessarily cannot be satisfied short of the destruction of Israel. Moreover, as a practical matter, even if Palestinian nationalism took a radical turn towards compromise, and the Palestinian people as a whole accepted Sari Nusseibeh's and Yossi Beillin's vision of two states and an end to Palestinian ms of a right to "return" to Israel, any Palestinian state created in Gaza, Judea and Samaria would have only nominal independence. It would be continually vulnerable to military incursion by its neighbors and absolutely dependent economically on Israel. A Palestinian state, even if nominally independent would be a practical dependency.

For that reason, for most of Israel's history Israel's official diplomatic stance was that Jordan was Palestine and that the territories seized in 1967 should (with some adjustments) ultimately be traded to Jordan in exchange for peace and normalization. Since Jordan abandoned all claims to Judea and Samaria, Israel's only plausible diplomatic avenue for solving the Palestinian problem has vanished.

In the absence of a Jordanian option, Israel has veered between the dream that Palestinian nationalism can be crushed, and the Palestinians can be induced to accept some kind of autonomy within a sovereign Israel, and the dream that Palestinian nationalism can be tamed, and a real peace can be made with a Palestinian state. Neither dream has come true.

The essence of the "road map" is the assertion by the United States that the second dream will now come true, by American fiat. As I have said, American prestige is enormously on the line in this undertaking. We can't announce such a plan and have it fail. And it does not matter whose fault it is if it fails. It can be obviously the Palestinians' fault or obviously the Israelis, and we can condemn those whose fault it is until we are blue in the face. The failure would still be our failure.

Regardless of whether the "road map" is ultimately implemented in a more pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian flavor, the essence of the decision to be faced is: when actual events veer off the road, will America intervene militarily to push them back on? Specifically: if Hezbollah, or Hamas, or Jihad Islami, or Yasser Arafat decide, subtly or overtly, to torpedo an agreement, what will America do? Restraining Israel will work up to a point, until Israel reaches the breaking point where the connection with America is deemed less valuable than the right of self-defense. At that point, Israel will take what steps it deems necessary to defend its security, which will make it clear to all that the conflict has not ended and the American peace initiative has failed. America will have to respond. How will it do so? By the same token, backing Israel and pressuring Arafat will work up to a point, until it is clear that there is no road map, no peace in the offing, only the continuation of the conflict. Again: how will America respond?

Colin Powell and the realists have been betting for a long time that there are Palestinian "moderates" who have both the will and the means to bring about an agreement with Israel that Israel can live with (and I mean "live" literally). The neo-con hawks have essentially been betting that there is a military solution to the problem of Palestinian attitudes - that if Arafat were removed and the P.A. decisively defeated, the Palestinians would change their tune and make a deal. They could both be wrong. If they are both wrong, then no American initiative, however structured, can bring peace. And if that is true, then the only way America could "deliver" on its implicit or explicit promises is by military intervention to separate the parties - in effect, by trading the Israeli occupation for an American one.

An American intervention would be a mixed blessing for Israel. Israel would lose freedom of action. On the other hand, it would get rid of a very thorny set of problems, gain effective borders, and achieve these things with less loss of effective deterrent capacity than if it withdrew unilaterally. For the Palestinians, American intervention would be pretty much a unequivocal good, in that they would have traded a hostile occupier for one more likely to be generous and they would have established some measure of real independence from Israel, and diplomatically they would have lost nothing. For America, military intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a big negative. We would have almost nothing to gain and a great deal to lose. There is no prospect that any significant number of Palestinians would welcome an American occupation, as many Iraqis and Afghanis have. And there is no prospect that such an occupation could be light-handed or brief. But having invaded and conquered Iraq, and having laid our credibility on the line with the road map, we could well wind up in a position where such an occupation is the lesser of two evils.

How could we prevent such an end-game? Well, it's too late not to invade Iraq, and anyhow there were overwhelming national interests that necessitated that intervention. And it's too late to abandon the road map; effectively, our prestige is already committed. So what can we do?

I'm going to climb on another hobby-horse of mine for my first suggestion: take on Hezbollah. Hezbollah is the most powerful and dangerous terrorist group in the region. It has killed more Americans than any terrorist group but for al Qaeda, and it is directly allied with both Iran and with Palestinian terrorist groups. The Lebanese would welcome American intervention against Hezbollah and Syria, as against the Palestinians who would never welcome us. Going back to Lebanon - the scene of our earlier defeat - and physically eliminating the terrorist group that dealt us that defeat might just give Arafat pause, and maybe even Sheik Yassin. After all, they don't really want an American intervention in the P.A., particularly if it was clear that, when we come in, we eliminate our enemies.

My second suggestion is: dictate diplomatic terms up front. Some final status issues still need to be negotiated. Others are no longer up for negotiation. The precise borders of a Palestinian state, any limitations on its sovereignty, the nature of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, water rights, etc.: these things have to be negotiated. The so-called "right of return" does not. If that's negotiable, then it should also be negotiable whether there will be a Palestinian state at the end of the negotiation, or whether there will just be autonomous Palestinian cantons under Israeli sovereignty. America should make it clear: what is being implemented is a two-state solution. Any settlement of the claims of Palestinian refugees will not include a return to Israel. If the Palestinians don't want to sign up for negotiations on those terms, well, we've just saved ourselves a lot of time and trouble and can move right on to my next and last suggestion.

To whit: lay out the consequences of failure. Okay, so we mandate that the parties agree to a two-state solution. If the Palestinians come to the table saying: fine, we accept as long as we have full sovereignty over the Arab areas of Jerusalem, what are the consequences to Israel if they say that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and none of it is negotiable? By the same token, if the Palestinians refuse to give up the right to return as a precondition of negotiations, what are the consequences to them? Remember: we cannot go back to benign neglect. We can't simply give Israel a long leash and wait for the Palestinians to come to their senses, not once we've announced a timetable and so forth. So what are the consequences? Bush should welcome this particular suggestion of mine; it's right up his personal alley.

I am filled with foreboding about what is to come, but also with a strange sense of hope. Precisely because this President has real credibility, and has shown a willingness to make hard decisions, I feel like he really could break an impasse here. I have very little faith in the Palestinian people, and none in Yasser Arafat, but in the wake of the Iraq war I have a great deal of faith in President Bush. I believe that, as with the dance at the U.N., Bush will be willing to jump through whatever diplomatic hoops are placed in front of him to get the result he sees as necessary. But if jumping through the hoops doesn't get the result, he'll do what is necessary anyhow. Now I want to know: if he is really going to commit himself to delivering an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, does he - and, more important, do Rumsfeld and Powell - know what is potentially necessary? If so, and if he is prepared to do it, now is the time to start talking about it. It would clarify a lot of people's minds, and make that eventuality far less likely in the end.