There is a line of thinking that argues that globalization is not just about economics, but about ideas and their political expression as well. Fifty years ago Conservatives in the US agreed on “Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet” and Conservatives in Germany agreed on “Mutter, Wiener schnitzel and BMW.” Today, Conservatives worldwide agree on “Family Values, agro-industry and having a piece of the global auto market.” There are similar Liberal values. Likewise, both Conservatives and Liberals approach foreign policy ideologically – until reality forces them to abandon their isms and face reality or electoral defeat.
The Neo-Con foreign policy was an extreme application of Conservative ideology to foreign policy. It took the darker view of civilizational politics, first posited by Samuel Huntingdon in 1992-93, almost to it “logical” conclusion. This is by no means a criticism of Huntingdon. The mistakes made by George W. Bush’s administration, belong to him and his advisors. Their philosophy has been repudiated and abandoned, at least temporarily. However, since nature abhors a vacuum, something must take its place. For now, let’s call it the “New Liberal” foreign policy or “Neo-Lib.”
Neo-Libs are a loose agglomeration of American Democrats and European Social Democrats and Socialists. Their approach to foreign policy involves conflict resolution, reconciliation councils, mutual recognition of national rights, confidence-building measures (CBMs) designed to generate mutual trust and economic integration designed to generate interdependence and common interests. All very politically correct. John Rynhold published an excellent summary of this not too long ago, but these ideas have been in circulation since the end of the Cold War (Francis Fukuyama, Tim Dunne, Herbert Kelman, Dean Pruitt, among others).
They cite the success of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979, the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994, the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and South Africa’s relatively peaceful transition from Apartheid to majority-rule. Unfortunately, the Neo-Libs have learned a thing or two from watching Dubya’s imperial presidency, and there are a few things that they don’t want to tell you about these “successes.”
First, the number of conflicts that have been resolved in this manner are a mere fraction of the total number that existed at the time or exist today. Outcomes such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Somalia, Chad, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Darfur are just as likely if not more so. History is replete with examples. Suffice it too say, someone loses – and often loses big!
The second thing the Neo-Libs don’t like to tell you about their “successes” is that in every case, the participants wanted peace, were exhausted by war and just needed a supportive environment to help them on their way to the Geneva or wherever they needed to go to cross the T’s and dot the i’s. Egypt and Israel fought three wars in the span of seven years; Egypt “switched sides” in the Cold War, and as the largest Arab country could afford to take chances. King Hussein’s regime in Jordan had been tacitly backed by Israel since 1971.
Likewise, Northern Ireland – a three-century old conflict – was ripe for conflict resolution. Both sides were basically worn-out. Both sides had much more to gain materially from the quickening pace of European economic integration than they had from further bloodshed. Similarly, with Europe integrating as a single political unit, a neighborhood’s religious identity was becoming less and less meaningful. George Mitchell, President Obama’s current Mid-East Envoy-extraordinaire, has earned much credit for brokering the Good Friday Agreement. He wouldn’t have succeeded though in 1972; “The Troubles” were out in full force.
For liberal academics and liberal Israeli politicians, the agreement on mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, signed in September 1993, signaled that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was ready for a liberal-negotiated solution. Mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO made the conflict resolution, not conflict management, the order of the day. Along with the economic gains generated by peace, a new era would emerge. However, the Oslo process failed miserably. Successive Liberal governments in Israel under Rabin, Barak and Olmert have failed to quell Palestinian violence, obtain Palestinian compromises and translate Israeli economic success into hard currency in the West Bank and Gaza.
George Mitchell, riding President Obama’s wind of change, has already been to the region two or three times in less than one hundred days. He’s listening, but also conveying President Obama’s vision and determination. What he really needs to do is answer a simple question: is the Middle East ready for the Neo-Lib solution?
Leak Machine in Full Gear
How does one put the proper spin on the last three or four days? There have been a number of stories regarding the speech he will give in Cairo in early June, and the supposed details of his long-awaited peace initiative. Was President Obama completely oblivious to the Washington Leak Machine, and its counterparts in all other world capitals? Or was he using it to test the waters? If he was oblivious to it or thought that his sheer “Obama-ness” could overcome it, he was foolhardy. If he was testing the waters, he’s found out that:
a) he can’t walk on them, and
b) that ship has sailed.
Mixed Metaphors, Mixed Plans
Sorry for mixing metaphors like that; I do try to treat my public a little more generously than that! Nonetheless, if the proposals that have been subject to many column inches in the worldwide press – and Lord knows how many blog sites – are true, then we have much to despair over. Alright despair is overdoing it, but much to be concerned about, for sure.
The “plan” that has surfaced is a dreadful combination of the one the nascent UN tried propsed back in 1947, combined with the supposed alterations to the Saudi Plan of a few years ago. Back in 1947, the Jews in Palestine reluctantly accepted the UN’s proposal. However, it was rejected by Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syrian and the various Arab irregulars within the Mandate. Those forces invaded Israel the day after it declared independence.
Results: Israel 1, Arabs 0
Israel won its War of Independence through sheer grit and bloody sacrifice. At one point, the fledling IDF was chasing retreating Egyptians across the Sinai. A scene which, much to the chagrin of the Egyptians, would be repeated several more times over the next 30 years.
Israel, however, failed to hold East Jerusalem. In the wake of the Armistice in 1949, Jordanian forces dynamited synagogues, tore up Jewish tombstones to pave roads and forbade Jews from worshipping at the Kotel, the “Wailing Wall.” Those who were around then remember those days and their aftermath vividly. The succeeding generations have been taught these facts in school.
Since 1948, Israel has accomplished so much in the arts & science, agriculture & technology, diplomacy (yes, even in diplomacy) and the military, that one would think that the Arab and Muslim states would have gotten the message. A few have, but even they are reluctant to admit it.
That dog won’t hunt . . .
. . . as the saying goes in the American South. The supposed details, particularly concerning Jerusalem, have already been rejected by both sides. Palestinians have also rejected the demilitarization of their embyronic state and the settling of Palestinian “refugees” in their host countries. If I had a dollar for everytime I’ve heard Palestinian spokesman/foreign minister Saeb Erekat say, “We reject this!” I would be a wealthy man. I might even be able to buy the White House, which is apparently behind on its mortgage.
Of course, there is a small chance – a vary small chance – that the press leaks and resultant verbal firestorm they generated are just a ploy. That President Obama and his aides are deliberately stirring the pot, deliberately (davka, in Hebrew) getting everybody roiled up. For what reason? Possibly an even bolder move to resolve the conflict.
It’s possible, but from what we’ve seen so far from this White House, it is unlikely.
In the beginning . . .
Interestingly enough, the peace process between the Arab states and Israel dates back to November 1947. It is then that the UN General Assembly passed what would turn out to be the first of many resolutions on the conflict, Resolution 181, partitioning the territory of Palestine between its Jewish and Palestinian Arab inhabitants. I said interestingly enough because Israel wasn’t even independent at that time. It was ruled by Great Britain under a mandate given it by the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations. Independence wouldn’t come for another six months after Resolution, on May 14, 1948.
What was Resolution 181? It called for the partition of the British-ruled Palestine Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state. It was approved on November 29, 1947 with 33 votes in favor, 13 against, 10 abstentions and one absent (see list at end of document). The Jews in Palestine accepted the resolution, despite the fact that thousands of its nascent citizens would be forced to move or fall under Palestinian rule, and despite the fact that the resolution represented a second reduction in the territory promised them by the Treaty of San Remo.
The Arabs in Palestine and the Arab states rejected the resolution. Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen all voted against the resolution. In addition, the Muslim, but non-Arab states of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey voted against the resolution. India, which has a significant Muslim population and had just ended a war with Pakistan, as well as Cuba and Greece voted against the resolution also. Following Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1947, the armies of five Arab states (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) invaded Israel.
Who were the Palestinians?
The Ottoman Turks had dominated economics and politics in pre-Mandate Palestine. In fact, “Palestine” did not even exist as a political designation for the territory. Instead, it was divided into three administrative units centered respectively around Acco, Jaffa and Beersheva. Despite the arrival of new rulers, the British, in1918, the Arabs in Mandate Palestine were slow to organize themselves. British rule was grudgingly accepted, but Jewish presence in the country grew so did opposition. Although Jews had always lived in the region, and had a achieved a majority status in Jerusalem in 1860, they were not part of either the economic or political elite.
In 1936 the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) was formed. It never achieved the widespread presence or numbers that its Jewish counterparts, such as the Israel Worker’s Party, Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Movement or the various religious Zionist factions had. Its leadership never numbered more than two dozen members, and local sheiks in Arab villages were as likely to be antagonistic to their advances as they were to the British and the various Zionist parties. Most of its membership was either imprisoned or fled to Egypt after the AHC assassinated the British district commissioner of Galilee, Lewis Yelland Andrews in Nazareth on September 26, 1937.
On the same day that David Ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel, the Arab League based in Cairo announced that it would setup a single Arab civil administration throughout Palestine. This government was officially declared in Gaza on 1 October 1948, partly as an Arab League move to limit the influence of Transjordan (later known as Jordan) over the Palestinian issue. The former mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was appointed as president. The government was recognised by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, but not by Transjordan or any non-Arab country. It was little more than an Egyptian protectorate and had negligible influence or funding.
Israel’s War of Independence
The newly formed, poorly equipped Israel Defense Forces (IDF) repulsed the invaders in fierce intermittent fighting, which lasted some 15 months and claimed over 6,000 Israeli lives (nearly one percent of the country’s Jewish population at the time). For comparison sakes, the US has a population of approximately 300 million today. A loss of 1% of the population would be the equivalent of 30,000,000 souls or 1000 times the number lost on 9/11.
Indigenous Arab forces, acted at the behest of the Arab Higher Committee, independently or at the behest of whichever Arab army was closest. Generally, their attacks came by way of ambush on road traffic and convoys and harassment of outlying Jewish kibbutzim and small villages. As IDF forces advanced, they generally retreated or threw away their weapons and melted away into the general population.
The Armistice to end all Armistices
During the first months of 1949, direct negotiations were conducted under UN auspices between Israel and each of the invading countries (except Iraq, which refused to negotiate with Israel), resulting in armistice agreements which reflected the situation at the end of the fighting.
• Israel-Egypt: February 24, 1949
• Israel-Lebanon: March 23, 1949
• Israel-Jordan: April 3, 1949
• Israel-Syria: July 20, 1949
These armistice agreements were endorsed by the UN Security Council resolution S/1376 on August 11, 1949. Accordingly, the Coastal Plain, Galilee and the entire Negev were within Israel’s sovereignty. The West Bank came under Jordanian rule and was subsequently annexed by the Jordanians; however neither the UN nor any other state recognized this unilateral act. The Gaza Strip came under Egyptian administration, and was ruled as a separate territory; Egypt deciding not to annex it, but also opted not to grant it independence.
The fighting was over, agreements were signed, Jews were ruling primarily over Jews and Arabs were ruling almost exclusively over other Arabs. Under normal circumstances – an oxymoron in the Middle East – one might have expected all the parties concerned to have negotiated formal peace treaties.
So what happened?
This might have been a happy ending for all involved, if not for the problem of the Palestinians who ended up living under Egyptian, Jordanian or Israeli rule, or as refugees primarily in Jordan with smaller populations in Lebanon and Syria. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War by the UN under resolution 302 of December 8, 1949. It is the only refugee agency the UN has ever established that is dedicated specifically to refugees created by a particular natural disaster or war.
UNWRA also has a unique definition of the term “refugee.” Its definition also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948 regardless of whether they reside in areas designated as refugee camps or in established, permanent communities. This is a major exception to the normal definition of the term. According to UNWRA’s 1950 census, Palestinian refugees numbered 711,000. Today, due to UNWRA’s unique definition of the term, Palestinian Arab “refugees” now number close to four million.
Regardless of the semantics or juridical appropriateness of the term, UNWRA’s unique status and unique definition have created a self-perpetuating global welfare program that has, for over sixty years, in large part subsidized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is global in nature because the Arab states, that have insisted on UNWRA and its peculiar definition have never contributed more than 2% of its annual budget. The rest of the world, through its annual contributions to the UN and other donations, has effectively been subsidizing the refugee problem.
Over the course of sixty years, Palestinians have internalized the notion that they are entitled to return to their “home,” even though this supposed home is one that over 70% of them have never set foot in even once! Palestinians, first on the basis of UN Resolution 194 then as a tenet in their political organizations, have claimed a “right of return” to “Palestine.” Resolution 194 states that:
The refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.
Israel, which absorbed close to 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries after 1948, has obvious problems with this. It has contested the meaning of the wording almost since its adoption. Most objections center on the phrase “and live at peace with their neighbors.”
Palestinian Arabs, with the support of Egypt and Jordan began organizing as fedayeen – resistance fighters – and raiding Israel’s border communities. Civilian airlines, buses, pizza parlors and supermarkets in Israel have been attacked for sixty years, with thousands of casualties. Setting aside the obvious inability to “live at peace,” there are several practical difficulties associated with Palestinian Arabs “returning.”
First, the influx of 700,000 – let alone four million Palestinian Arabs – would seriously upset the demographic applecart. Israel would cease to be a Jewish state. Second, in all likelihood, it would cease to be a democratic state. One only has to watch the newsreel footage of Hamas “activists” tossing Fatah “activists” off the roofs of high rise apartment buildings in the summer of 2007 to glean how Palestinian political movements treat the loyal opposition. Third, Israel lacks the carrying capacity to absorb such numbers. Its economy would simply collapse. Finally, based on statements that Palestinian leaders have made since signing the Oslo accords committing themselves and Israel to a diplomatic solutions to the problem, they still do not accept the existence of Israel.