May 15, 2010
Arab Israeli Peace: One Last Chance?
If the Arab Jewish conflict in all its phases is to be looked upon as a continuum then its duration is getting very close to becoming the longest war in History. It could eclipse the Hundred Year Wars between the British and France which lasted from 1337 to 1453. Jews had started immigrating to Palestine under the Ottoman Empire rule late in the 19th century but the Zionist movement picked up support as a result of the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
The UN plan of 1947 recommended partition; under the infamous UNSCR 181; but on the day that the British mandate ended May 14, 1948 Israel was declared as an independent state. The Arab league declared war against the new state of Israel but its forces were defeated which resulted in having the Israeli forces in control of most of mandated Palestine and forced the Arab states to sign an Armistice agreement which still represents the internationally recognized borders of Israel. The tentative peace that followed lasted less than seven years. Israel joined the British and the French in their Suez Canal War by attacking and capturing the Sinai and the Gaza strip in October of 1956.
An uneasy peace lasted this time 11 years. On June 5, 1967 the Israeli Air Force launched a preemptive attack on Egypt followed by one on Iraq, Jordan and Syria. When the six day war ended Israel had added to the Sinai, and Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan. This was followed by the 1973 war which started with promise for the Egyptian and Syrian forces but ended up in a cease fire.
Egypt managed to get the Sinai back as a result of the Camp David Accords signed in 1979 which were followed by a Jordanian peace agreement in 1994. Meanwhile Israel attacked Lebanon in 1982 in an effort to force the PLO forces that had been thrown out of Jordan. The PLO withdrew to Tunis and Lebanon signed a ceasefire agreement with Israel in 1983.
In spite of all the misery inflicted by all of these wars there was a genuine chance for peace. Besides Camp David of 1979 the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 followed by the already mentioned Jordanian peace treaty of 1994 NS OSLO II in 1995. Unfortunately most the promise faded when Israel, in 2003, retook some Palestinian land in contravention of Oslo II. This has been followed by Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Lebanon war of 2006 in addition to the Gaza war of 2008.
So what has been achieved in almost a century of conflict besides the constant change of positions? The Israelis start in accepting a partition that is rejected by the Arabs and we move to the point when the Arabs accepted a two state solution which has not been accepted by the Israelis. The situation looks as hopeless as ever, if not even more so. But is it?
I saw today the rough outline of a suggestion by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security advisor for Jimmy Carter, that is simple straight forward and I believe vey promising if the political courage is found to adopt it: President Obama must declare in a press conference that the US will spare no effort to forge an agreement along the following four points
(1) Declare that the right of return for the Palestinians will not apply to the pre 1967 Israel
(2) West Jerusalem will become the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem is to become the capital of Palestine.
(3) The 1967 borders with very minor modifications are to become the internationally recognized borders. Any agreed upon modifications will be based on a one to one ratio.
(4) The new Palestinian state will be demilitarized with NATO forces on the border.
The only question that is worthwhile speculating upon: If President Obama is to make such a commitment then would the rejectionists have any rational excuse to turn such an opportunity for peace down? What do you think?