November 30th, 2008 (02:48 pm)
current mood: thoughtful
A carefully constructed narrative is often accepted without much in the way of question in this country. The narrative is that Israel is a peaceful democratic country that has tried its best to live in peace with its neighbors only to be thwarted by angry irrational Islamic terrorists. The "peaceful" part is somewhat amusing when one considers that Israel is one of the only nations that has its own brand of gun, but nevermind. The problem with this narrative is that although (like all good fiction), it may contain a large grain of truth, the full story is a lot more complicated than that.
In 2002, the Arab world launched their own peace initiative and that offer is likely still on the table were Israel to accept and sit down at the negotiating table. The peace initiative offers recognition and full normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and over fifty Arab and Islamic countries. In return, the initiative asks for a return to the 1967 borders of Israel, a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just settlement of the refugee issue in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions.
And now the Palestinian Authority is running a full-scale advertising campaign in Israel to make people aware of this initiative. The advertisements are in Hebrew and, by making a concerted effort to speak to the Israeli people in their own language, the PA is already offering a tacit acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist in the region--a breakthrough which it seems should be getting more coverage than it is.
Personally I would make some modifications to this proposal, but none that would really change the substance of it. First of all, a return to 1967 borders presents some very serious practical issues relating to Israeli security, particularly in the Golan Heights. I have always said--and continue to say--that any fair Mideast peace settlement must take into account Israel's legitimate security concerns.
Handing the Golan Heights over to Syria outright seems particularly problematic and not something that I would imagine any nation in its right mind would do if they were in Israel's position, considering the huge advantage in intelligence-gathering and military positioning it would offer to a nation that has, after all, been hell-bent on the annihilation of Israel for quite some time. A peace agreement has to take into account that building up trust amid such long-standing animosities is something that will take time.
One possibility I can see is establishing some sort of neutral zone in the Golan Heights that would be strictly enforced by either an armed UN force or a heavily armed contingent of American, Canadian (assuming of course that sun_tzu does not accidentally lock the keys in the jeep again), or NATO troops. The United States could provide a lot in the way of intelligence or surveillance capability in support of such a mission, regardless of whose troops you used. And you'd want the area to be open to both Israeli and Arab monitors, although no Israeli or Arab military presence would be allowed.
In fact, I would make it part of the mandate of the international force that they would be explicitly authorized to use lethal force to repel any Arab or Israeli military incursion. You'd have to make sure that commanding officers of this force were competent and trusted by both sides to be impartial, since the use of force authorization would have to be on the authority of the commander on the ground and not some far-off superior.
While many people think that the references to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust have been seriously overplayed (and again, there is some grain of truth in this), Israel has some very legitimate concerns. It's perfectly understandable to me that the Jewish people would be particularly sensitive to a very ugly history. The Holocaust in particular is an event, we must remember, that took place while nearly all of the rest of the world stood by and did nothing or very little. It's really not hard to understand why the Israelis have long felt that they can only count on themselves for their security. Certainly the failure of much of Europe, for instance, to acknowledge its present-day issues with anti-Semitism is not exactly a confidence-builder in the eyes of the Israelis.
While I understand the desire for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state, there are better ways to deal with this issue. Jerusalem is unique in the region in being a city that is considered sacred by three very old faiths and any just long-term solution should take that fact into account. For instance, Jerusalem could be turned into a unified international (and inter-faith) city that served as the capital of both Israel and Palestine. An international council could be set up (funded internationally and backed by an international police force, at least for a time) to handle city administration. Conceivably an inter-faith council could be established to oversee the protection of the holy sites.
The last tweak I would make is the addition of a bi-lateral security agreement between the United States and Israel, along the lines of the NATO treaty, that would commit the United States to coming to Israel's aid in the event of any Arab attack. This could go a long way toward easing Israel's security fears, as well as serving as a powerful deterrent to any attack, particularly if it were backed up by an American base or two in Israel that would pack enough of a military punch to wipe out any Arab military force in short order. As part of a comprehensive peace agreement, the American people could then rest assured that our forces were, in fact, protecting a truly just democracy in the Middle East, a true ally of the United States.
It could be done. All it takes is the political will to make it happen.