by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH
Numerous websites are reporting that Israel has the "permission" of the U.S. to do what it is presently doing to and in Lebanon and Gaza. (In terms of the Middle East I have for some time wondered who is the dog and which is the tail, or if both parties are tails of different colors being wagged by a big dog in a big cave somewhere, but that is the subject for another Comment.) Whether or not that is so, certainly the US, as of this writing on Friday, July 28, has refused to sign on to the call for a cease-fire that has been issued by just about every other major power, and most of the minor ones too. Condi Rice has put the U.S. position thus: that any cease fire should be in the context of an over-all long-term solution to the "Middle East problem." Many observers view such a long-range solution as, at the least, beginning with a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the resultant end of the Israeli occupation of much Palestinian territory, on the basis of a fair, rational, and viable two-state solution.
Most governments around the world support this approach as do many Israelis and many Jews outside of Israel who are vitally concerned with the future of that country, including this one. It was the focus of the failed Oslo Peace Process, which would likely have come to a successful conclusion had not a right-wing Jewish religious fundamentalist assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the mid-90s. Exactly what happened at the "Taba" talks at the end of the Clinton Presidency will likely never be known for sure. However, if they had been kept going by the Georgites, even in the face of the election of Sharon, a peaceful resolution might have occurred. (Such a matter was of course totally anathema to them [see "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," by Richard Perle, et al, The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, 2000]). The unofficial negotiations between two of the leading Taba participants, Saed Erekat and Yossi Beilin, produced the very complete "Geneva Accord" in October, 2003. It is considered by moderates on both sides to be an extension of Taba and productive of a workable two-state solution.
In 2002, the Saudi royal court had itself issued a draft peace plan at the center of which was the recognition of Israel as an independent nation, within the "pre-1967" boundaries (more or less) as stated in the famous UN resolutions 242 and 338. Apparently there was no interest shown by either the Sharonist government in Israel or the Georgites. In the Spring of 2004, the Arab League actually considered endorsing the Geneva Accord. A long-time reason given by the Israeli Right for not negotiating an end to the conflict has been the statement that the ultimate goal of all the Arabs nations and other Arab groupings want to "push Israel into the sea" (formerly but no longer the official Palestinian Authority position, but certainly that of such militant organizations as Hezbollah and an element of Hamas. The famous statement to that effect purportedly made by the current President of Iran has been reported to be the subject of a mis-translation of his remarks.) To deal with the Israelis at this time and to increase the pressure upon them to enter negotiations, I believe the Arab world, hopefully bringing major non-Arab Muslim powers with them, could seize the high-ground in the current conflict, starting from the foundation established by the Saudis in 2002.
Very briefly, (and it would need much more fleshing out, in space not available in this space) my proposal for the Arab League is as follows:
- They would address the US position, as put forward by the Secretary of State, agreeing with her that any cease fire should be imposed in the context of an over-all long-term solution to the "Middle East problem,"
- The Arab League would move to formally adopt the position that Israel is an independent nation, within the "pre-1967" boundaries (more or less) as stated in the famous UN resolutions 242 and 338.
- The Arab League would formally take the position that negotiations for a final resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict should take place immediately and that the Geneva Accord should form the foundation for those negotiations.
- "Terrorism," like "obscenity," is in the eye of the beholder. Commonly the definition includes the waging of random violence against civilian populations, whether by rockets or the destruction of olive groves. Making it clear that this is what they mean, the League could issue a broad denunciation of terrorism.
- Part of any settlement would be that all signatories would simultaneously endorse and commit to adhere to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
- The League would make every effort to make their effort unanimous among its members, thus bringing along Syria and Iraq. They would also make a major overture to the major non-Arab Muslim power in the region, of course. Getting Iran to agree to fully commit to the NNPT would be essential to achieving an overall settlement.
To repeat, the primary excuse for never being able to "find a legitimate negotiating partner" put forward by the Israeli Right is that "all the Arabs really want to do is push us into the sea." Rice then says, no cease fire without a long-range plan. The Arab League is the organization that so many years ago declared that Israel had no right to exist and launched the failed invasion in 1948 that eventually lead to the modern State of Israel. What an opening for them, provided by none other than Condoleezza Rice. One wonders if they will take it.
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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) a weekly Contributing Author for The Political Junkies (www.thepoliticaljunkies.net) and a Columnist for BuzzFlash.