Palestine End Game?

If this means anything, it is that the situation continues to fester.  I am always hesitant to comment on the conflict centered in the historic Levant, if only because so many have strong feelings and no end of a historic sense of grievance.  I personally feel none of that and can attempt to be a somewhat objective if such is even a practical possibility.  Let me rephrase this then.  I personally feel a sense of sadness in the face of such an ongoing out pouring of hatred and animosity on all the sides involved.

So let me say what might be said.  I was born in the year in which Israel was born or reborn if you like.  I do not expect to see the conflict produced fully resolved in my lifetime and that is the measure of the human folly involved.  It is generational.  Yet real progress has been made and also key hatreds sustained.

The Levant has prospered several times over the ages.  However, it is a harsh arid land that needs military security and a large population to work well agriculturally.  This has happened once before under Herod and the Romans allowed it to be plundered and diminished.  Yet he showed it could be done.  The early twentieth century immigration of Jewish settlers began a restoration of local agriculture on lands abandoned for centuries or operated at a low technical level.  The Holocaust accelerated this process of immigration and settlement by European Jews who bought into the idea that only through a Jewish state could they have security.  In 1948 it culminated in the establishment of the state of Israel, effectively seizing geography under British political control created as a result of the ending of Turkish political control at the end of the First World War.

I would like to make a comment here.  By all known historic forms of international law, Britain controlled these lands by right of conquest and had they been so inclined could have established a colony of Zulus as Imperial policy to maintain possession.  Everything else about the process was an artificial façade having little to do with the realities on the ground.  On the ground indigenous peoples worked with a new set of masters a lot less brutal than Istanbul had ever been and found ways to get along.  Remember that the Levant had not been independent of foreign masters since the time of Herod.

The British chose to exit the responsibility as soon as possible as imperial policy after the Second World War  It is difficult to say if this was the correct thing or not but at a time in which India was been cut loose, additional imperial entanglements were viewed as impossible.  We may all think otherwise today with the benefit of hindsight but that is how they thought.

As British involvement wound down, this meant abandoning any responsibility to the Jewish community in the Levant, both recent and long standing.  Just after the Holocaust, this was hardly reassuring.  The Jews then did what any sane and vulnerable ethnic group has done throughout history.  They armed and carved out their piece of the geography.  In this case they also made it stick because they were a fully modern society with modern military capabilities.

Unsurprisingly their neighbors with designs on the same lands resented this sudden emergence of a European colony in their midst.  These neighbors were Egypt, Syria and Jordan.  They each at one time or the other over thousands of years owned this strip of valuable sand and had every reason to feel a sense of entitlement. Not least, of course, because they were now been freed from foreign control themselves for the first time in centuries.  And of course they went to war and got humiliated.

We will never know what imperial policy aims were in the time and place, and what evidence we have suggests muddling at best or more colorfully SNAFU at work.  Yet the result produced could hardly be more mischievous.

The acceptance of Israel in the Levant as a colony of European Jews continues to be resisted fitfully to this day but that resistance is now greatly diminished.  This has occurred in several steps.

The first step was that after two sharp wars in which Egypt suffered appalling losses, it became possible for Egypt to open discussions with Israel resulting in a settlement of their mutual borders with the appropriate international support.  This took Egypt firmly out of the conflict and unless something awful happens, it will remain settled.

During these two wars, Jordan found that maintaining control over their Palestinian minority in the west bank portion of the Levant to be a dire treat to them.  Refugees in Jordan proper were forced out into southern Lebanon and ownership of the West Bank was outright renounced.  This freed Jordan of any further involvement whatsoever.  This was the second step and I also think that formal agreements now exist between Jordan and Israel.

The third major player in the original conflict was Syria.  The point of contention is the ownership of the Golan Heights which Israel will not return until a proper peace treaty is signed.  This has been impossible for the present masters of Syria, yet I suspect that the present impasse will not survive a proper regime change.   The present government is long in the tooth and lacks any legitimacy.  If it fell, a settlement strongly beneficial to Syria could be quickly arranged.

The reality on the ground is that all three parties to the original conflict have settled and are at worst merely looking for a political excuse to acknowledge the fact.  Also, Israel’s population has boomed and the opening of Israel’s borders to general regional trade would put the Levant back into its historic role as the center of trade and commerce for the Middle East.  Everyone does have a common interest in actually ending this conflict even if it means accepting a strong European colony as a mythic restoration of a Herodian Imperial past.   These folks can get along with this curious idea when it puts a powerful ally between them all who makes adventurism unattractive.  

Which returns us to the real problem that today remains.  There is now one conflict only.  It is between Palestinian hotheads pushing an anti Israeli chauvinism that is also presently been taught to children in order to perpetuate the hatreds towards the State of Israel.  This conflict has nothing to do with real or imagined historical grievances most of which are at best invented or at the least misspoke.  It is about the deliberate enslavement of the Palestinian people by their own leaders to an ideology that is an obscenity in itself.  The Palestinian leadership state that their following will never accept compromise, yet they teach exactly that in their school system.  Hitler faced exactly the same constraints in his negotiations.  The first step is to tone down the teaching of hatred through out their society.  That must be the first mandatory step toward real negotiations.

The moment that occurs, men of good will can easily resolve the rest.  Everyone realizes that the Israelis are not going anywhere, anymore than the whites in North America are returning to Europe or the blacks are going back to Africa.  They also can see that peace will benefit everyone.  The Levant can hold a population equal to that of Japan and be just as rich.

My argument of course in this short essay, is that we are actually surprisingly close to a final resolution.  An occupation of Palestine to provide security by US forces while enforcing a new moderate language for dialog including the Palestinian schools is not a stupid idea.  The US or NATO presence becomes the honest broker and provides cover for moderate Palestinian leaders to arise while the hotheads are finally neutralized.  It could be done.  After all, we ended the hatred machine of Nazism in less than five years after the war.

Could it ever really be this easy?

The Petraeus briefing: Biden’s embarrassment is not the whole story
Posted By Mark Perry
Saturday, March 13, 2010 - 11:05 PM  

On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) "too old, too slow ... and too late."
The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus's instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. "Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling," a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding." But Petraeus wasn't finished: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command -- or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus's reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged  in the region's most troublesome conflict.
[UPDATE: A senior military officer denied Sunday that Petraeus sent a paper to the White House.

"CENTCOM did have a team brief the CJCS on concerns revolving around the Palestinian issue, and CENTCOM did propose a UCP change, but to CJCS, not to the WH," the officer said via email. "GEN Petraeus was not certain what might have been conveyed to the WH (if anything) from that brief to CJCS."
(UCP means "unified combatant command," like CENTCOM; CJCS refers to Mullen; and WH is the White House.)]
The Mullen briefing and Petraeus's request hit the White House like a bombshell. While Petraeus's request that CENTCOM be expanded to include the Palestinians was denied ("it was dead on arrival," a Pentagon officer confirms), the Obama administration decided it would redouble its efforts -- pressing Israel once again on the settlements issue, sending Mitchell on a visit to a number of Arab capitals and dispatching Mullen for a carefully arranged meeting with the chief of the Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi. While the American press speculated that Mullen's trip focused on Iran, the JCS Chairman actually carried a blunt, and tough, message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that Israel had  to see its conflict with the Palestinians "in a larger, regional, context" -- as having a direct impact on America's status in the region. Certainly, it was thought, Israel would get the message.
Israel didn't. When Vice President Joe Biden was embarrassed by an Israeli announcement that the Netanyahu government was building 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, the administration reacted. But no one was more outraged than Biden who, according to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, engaged in a private, and angry, exchange with the Israeli Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, what Biden told Netanyahu reflected the importance the administration attached to Petraeus's Mullen briefing:  "This is starting to get dangerous for us," Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. "What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace." Yedioth Ahronothwent on to report: "The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism." The message couldn't be plainer: Israel's intransigence could cost American  lives.

There are important and powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association, the lawyers -- and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military. While commentators and pundits might reflect that Joe Biden's trip to Israel has forever shifted America's relationship with its erstwhile ally in the region, the real break came in January, when David Petraeus sent a briefing team to the Pentagon with a stark warning: America's relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America's soldiers. Maybe Israel gets the message now.
Mark Perry's newest book is Talking To Terrorists

[UPDATE 2--from Mark Perry: A senior military officer told Foreign Policy by email that one minor detail in my report, "The Petraeus Briefing" was incorrect: a request from General Petraeus for the Palestinian occupied territories (but, as I made clear, not Israel itself), be brought within CENTCOM's region of operation was sent to JCS Chairman Mullen - and not directly to the White House. My information was based on conversations with CENTCOM officials, who believed they were giving me correct information. It is significant that the correction was made, not because it is an important detail, but because it is was inconsequential to the overall narrative. In effect, the U.S. military has clearly said there was nothing in this report that could be denied.]

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