Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Here We Go Again: Mr. Lieberman's Wrongheaded Grandstanding in the Israel-Palestine Wars

It appears that the foreign Minister of Mr. Netanyahu's new government in Israel, as short lived as it is expected to be, has already staked out a claim to difference from the prior government's position. Israel FM Reject Annapolis Deal, BBC News Online, April 1, 2009. And that is a shame. The Israel Palestine war will not be resolved on the battlefield (though military victory or the threat of victory will be an effective aspect of the overall war's outcome); it will be resolved within those fields in which global elites mold public opinion that in turn is used to justify the positions of democratic states. Those fields include transnational courts, the courts of certain notorious European judges, sovereign wealth fund ethics councils, news stories and the tugging of particularly acute heart strings, especially for the increasingly soft European population, sham international conclaves that like those held in South Germany in the early 1930s combine a certain pagan ceremonial with a bureaucratically memorialized blood lust, the nazification of certain segments of Muslim racializing intellectual metastasis, and the increasingly permission that Latin American elites have given their populations to revert to the old anti-Jewish canards. But there you have it.

And into this stew the new Israeli Foreign Minister, flush with his own self absorbed sense of the importance of his own views, and buttressed by the legitimacy of a position in a cabinet made necessary by the lack of consensus within Israeli politics (but misinterpreting that lack of consensus as a mandate for an extravagant elaboration of the more curious of his views). The result is predictable if lamentable--the provision of yet another opening for substantial advances for a Palestinian offensive within media circles to paint the Israeli cabinet with the same brush used more discretely within the labyrinths that constitute the Palestinian State apparatus in Ramallah, Damascus and Gaza (and effectively with a wink and a nod from the EU and capitals elsewhere). "Palestinian officials described Mr Lieberman as an "obstacle to peace" whose policies would rebound negatively on Israel. Nothing obliges us to deal with a racist person hostile to peace such as Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Lieberman," Yasser Abed Rabbo said in comments to AFP news agency." Id. And the necessary fodder for the European campaign to reduce the legitimacy of the Israeli state and its apparatus. See, e.g., Israeli FM Questioned Over Fraud, BBC News Online April 2, 2009. If, indeed, the Jews are no better than the Palestinians as corrupt peoples, then the value of their claim to exceptionalism (the only democracy in the middle east) is reduced.

And so, in the spirit of the day, and because the current principal dramatis personae have used the current situation to the usual ill effect, I thought it might be useful to offer a different version of what Foreign Minister Lieberman might have proposed if he sought to effectively contribute to the war effort in those fields of combat in which he operates:

The story might have headlined: "Lieberman Proposed Comprehensive Peace Plan." And in it, Mr. Lieberman might have indulged his disgust with the pathetic theatre that marked the end of the Second Bush Administration leading to the so-called Annapolis deal. But he might then have suggested an alternative more useful than the equally pathetic and churlish criticism of a status quo of the parties' own making. That alternative--

1. Golan Heights--Israel would propose the purchase of the Golan Heights from Syria. Not the purchase of all sovereign rights in the Golan Heights, but only a right to share sovereignty. Syria would retain, along with Israel, sovereignty over the Golan Heights, but their respective claims to sovereignty would be different. The Syrians would retain a non-operational sovereignty over the Golan, but not the power to manage the territory. That right would revert to Israel. The Golan could fly both flags and appropriate face saving ceremonials could be devised for broadcast to home populations eager to assuage pride. The benefit--Syria would regain sovereignty but the reality on the ground would be formalized. Even better, the details might provide for de militarization, for an open economic zone in which Syrians and Israelis would be permitted to operate businesses and live, while retaining their respective citizenship and the like. And the Americans could have the satisfaction of paying for the deal, and opening a door to communicating with their Iranian adversaries.

2. Palestine--Israel would immediately recognize the Palestinian State constituted through the government in Ramallah, and forthwith remove all military presence within the territories recognized as such. The initial territorial settlement would include those territories marked by the wall (and thus a defining instrument of de facto borders as the International Court of Justice correctly worried it would become). There is certainly the, in this context, embarrassing model of the 1975 Helsinki Accords that ratified the 1945 land grabs sanctioned by the victors of another war. But there would be room to trade territories to arrive at something that both sides could be made to live with.

3. Jerusalem--Between 1948 and 1967, the Jews recognized Jerusalem as their capital, but without the Old City, a place to which Jews were forbidden entry. After 1967 the Palestinians claimed Jerusalem as their capital, but without the Old City, a place to which Muslim and Christian Palestinians were not categorically forbidden entry. There is both irony and justice here. But beyond that, it is possible for the Palestinians to build a capital in a Jerusalem of their own making beside the Old City, as the Jews had, in their time, done as well. Of course, the wall would have to be finessed, but Israel ought to be prepared for that in a realistic way. Both Palestine and Israel, then, could claim Jerusalem as their respective capitals. And in this way the real issue can be crystallized--not Jerusalem itself, but the Old City. If Lieberman were really bold, he might then suggest that the oversight of Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem be vested in the Saudis, as keepers of the holy sites in Mecca. Again a parsing of sovereignty: the Israelis would have a passive sovereignty in the entire Old City, the Palestinians would have an operational sovereignty over Muslim Holy Sites but that sovereignty would be exercised by the Saudis--with a caveat--open access to individuals who also claim the sites as religiously significant to them. Religious chauvinism over holy sites should be avoided. And in return the Saudi lift the religiously based restrictions on entry to the Kingdom.

4. The Jewish Settlers in Palestine--leave the settlers in place. They might have the option to become citizens of Palestine, and Palestine would assume an obligation under international law to protect them as minority citizens subject to punishment for violation of the settler minority's human rights. Or they might retain their Israeli citizenship but be permitted to own land in Palestine subject to fairly administered Palestinian law. Conversely, Palestinians might be free to purchase and exploit land within Israel without restriction (other than in the usual course--national security and the like). Of course Palestinian intransigence about absorbing Jewish citizens might suggest the sort of racism that they have been so freely ascribing to their Israeli counterparts for years. But Israel would also have to more fully integrate its Muslim population within all of its governance structures.

5. Palestinians citizens of Israel--ought to have the right to chose citizenship, as Israeli or Palestinian nationals, without coercion, and to live in either state without molestation.

6. The Palestinians warehoused in so called camps--Palestinians in camps in Palestine proper Lebanon, and elsewhere ought to have the right to return to Palestine. They also ought to be compensated for their years in the so called camps, a needless exercise in brutality in which their Arab hosts and the United Nations were tragically complicit for their own less than honorable purposes. It would seem fair that the Arab League contribute to the settlement by funding the compensation of these refugees for their time in the camps and for the lands they lost as a consequence of the ill advised war their host states launched in 1948. And they might be permitted to obtain citizenship in the countries in which they or their children have lived for over half a century.

7. The European Union--much of the problems in this region is a legacy of European colonialist excess. It seems only fair that the Europeans clean up their mess. In this case they might even make money and friends int he process. Europe ought to move aggressively forward on its program of Mediterranean economic integration. While Israel and its neighbors ought to work for integration directly, that may be impossible for the moment. Integration through the mediation of the EU would provide a stable foundation through which trade might be effected. And the legal framework for trade offered through Europe might be useful for the region as well.

8. Hamas; Hezbollah, etc.--would become the responsibility of the Palestinian state. Failure to control them, of course, would open the Palestinian state apparatus to charges of complicity in the commission of crimes against humanity or against human rights. It is unlikely that the Palestinian leadership would like to be the next sitting functionary indicted by the International Criminal Court.

Now this would be a Liebermann that might make a difference to the Israeli state. It would certainly provide something other than the by now stale formula for managing a dispute no one seems to be interested in resolving. Yet it is only to exercises in whimsey on the first of April, a day reserved in the United States for these sorts of jests, to which such opportunities are relegated.

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