(This article was originally submitted to the op-ed page of The New York Times on April 25, 2009.)
“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Balfour Declaration as communicated to Walter Rothschild
[His Majesty’s] Foreign Office,
November 2nd, 1917
[Reprinted in the Times of London, November 9, 1917]
“Today, the ‘peace process’ is over, finished. What we’re talking about is an endgame–direct to negotiations”
King Abdullah of Jordan
As Reported by David Ignatius in PostGlobal
washingtonpost.com, April 24, 2009
King Abdullah of Jordan may have communicated in a much unheralded interview, perhaps its gravity lost in the flux of change of the news media from newsprint to e-print, a breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli peace process that may turn out to be as significant as the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
The breakthrough is a quid pro quo, which offers Israel recognition by the 20 of the 22 Arab League states in exchange for a Palestinian state. It represents substantial and critically important progress from the intransigent Arab stance over the very existence of Israel so far, essentially marginalizing the militancy of Hamas and Hezbollah and perhaps even Iran.
The apparent implicit positive overtures by Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu in response to King Abdullah’s quid pro quo to please both his potential hard line voters within Israel on the one hand and the United States on the other are suggestive of a strategy of Israeli alignment with the Arabs who are also concerned about Iran. This delicate dance perhaps also explains the softening of Ahmadinejad’s position on talks over Iran’s nuclear program, especially given Israel’s willingness to talk to Syria through the recent Turkish mediation.
What could emerge from a potential success of this quid pro quo peace, which is very likely and perhaps good for the region, is the United States providing an umbrella of military security to the Arab League through weapons sales as was done during the Cold War, Israel having the capability to defend itself and Iran seeking to balance the Arab League and Israel with its own domestic capabilities in the near term, at least hopefully until it normalizes its relations with the West.
This regional balance of power between the Jews, Sunnis and the Shias, none of whom are willing to give up their religious states in the near term, would still require denuclearization, including a commitment from Israel on the issue.
King Abdullah’s approach would bring the regional Arab consensus to the table that is willing to accept the right of Israel to exist in return for negotiating the final status of a Palestinian state revolving around a contiguous territory for the Palestinians and the status of the Holy Lands, in particular Jerusalem.
The risk however still remains that until these questions are resolved Israel will not be recognized by the Arab League because any a priori recognition of Israel by the Arab League would only make matters worse on the ground if the Palestinian problem continues to persist. The quid pro quo must be a quid pro quo as a permanent solution. Meaning, a Palestinian state and Palestinian dignity as a people ( for example, Israeli check points curtailing the freedom of movement of Palestinians between parts of their own country) cannot follow the recognition of Israel’s right to exist by the Arab League. A partition is a partition that has to be respected by both sides under the norms of international law.
Any implicit unilateral Zionist contention by Israel that recognizing Israel is a Hobson’s choice for the region because of its Biblical claim, whatever the outcome of the Palestinian question, would be a return to the circumstances in the region at the time of Israel’s founding , which failed to create a Palestinian state at the same time Israel was created, hobbled of course then by the region seeing such a state as being fundamentally unfair, which appears not to be the case now, at least going by what King Abdullah is saying.
If now, a viable Palestinian state is not created, all hell will break lose, especially after Arab concessions to recognize Israel overcoming their intransigence of more than six decades, since the end of the Holocaust in Europe, the genocidal culmination of European anti-semitism, perhaps whose eerie anticipation motivated the Balfour Declaration in 1917- the Jews becoming a problem for the Middle East after the Holocaust and not for Europe after the Holocaust, a point Ahmadinejad never fails to not emphasize.
Continued resistance by Israel that it would only give Palestinians their territory when the terrorist attacks on Israel stop from the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah may no longer carry water if the Arab League offers Israeli recognition in exchange for a Palestinian state.
In a similar vein, both the Arabs and Israeli people, deeply wounded by generations of destructive and painful conflict, have to understand that recognition of Israel’s right to exist does not have to mean diplomatic engagement. It is the equivalent of saying that your neighbor can live without feeling obligated to saying hello to you every morning. The Arab League states do not need to have embassies in Tel Aviv and vice versa or engage in trade and so on in the immediate term with the exception of the ability to visit parts of either Israel or the West Bank that are of religious importance to both.
The Arabs appear to be giving in good faith and Israel likewise has to give in return because Israel not doing so and appearing to manipulate the Muslims among themselves between the Arabs and the Persians and the Shias and Sunnis will lead to regional Islamic unified anger against Israel, strengthening Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, posing grave risks for the survival of Israel and for the prospect of non-fundamentalist states in the region.
King Abdullah is saying all the chips are in in the poker game. Israel will either survive (win in the end game) or die (lose in the end game), because the Arabs will not go away. The Hobson’s choice is Israel’s, not of a Biblical right, but one of compromise or death. Israel and Palestine is not India and Pakistan. “Palestine” with Muslim support is a much larger entity than what Pakistan is to India and this is the heft that King Abdullah wants to project onto Israel.
A stalemate at this point ending in more of the same could mean an Israel on death row, and a remilitarizing world divided three ways: the industrialized, de facto Christian West, the Muslims (orthodox to moderate) and post-Communist authoritarian state capitalists from Russia and China to Venezuela.
The interest of the United States in the Middle East is in regional stability. Regional stability implies, consistent with the strategic goal of this administration since the President’s Prague speech, as a foreign policy objective, zero nuclear weapons in the region, Israel, Iran or any other country, antipodal to any Israeli or the American right’s fantasies of a regional nuclear arms race to keep a Hobbesian peace.
The interests of the United States should not be binding with the regional interests of Israel as a sovereign state. If Israel sees Iran as a serious emerging threat, Israel must engage its neighbor to resolve the threat diplomatically first where it can expect considerable international assistance and then if necessary go to war, but the United States should not see, as a first step, it being advantageous to be drawn into a war for the security of Israel.
Any Israeli implications or arguments that a threat to Israel is equivalent to a threat to Western Civilization is not only intellectually dishonest but counterproductive to resolving the problem at hand. In other words, it can complicate the relations with Russia and Europe because of missile defense in central Europe.
Regionally, the United States should see any efforts by Israel to manipulate anti-Shia and Persian sentiments among the Arabs against Iran as also just as counterproductive to the diplomatic process of the rest of the world gradually normalizing relations with Iran.
Hypothetically, as a matter of pragmatic material national security and global stability interests, Israel is clearly the superior country in the region, politically, economically and technologically and the rest of the world would have more to lose trying to defend a country that is perceived as an aggressor than to gain.
In fact, the world could have unhindered, peaceful and less costly access to the resources in the Muslim world neighboring Israel if all the Israelis migrated to the United States and the world would be safer for it, in complete contradiction to the U.S foreign policy since Harry Truman or the European sentiments on the issue since Napoleon Bonaparte and the publication of Theodor Herzl’s Judenstaat, announcing the birth of Zionism in 1896.
The United States is working with all the countries in the region to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue amicably and permanently which should abate any Israeli-Iranian tensions. If Israel sees demographic problems in relinquishing Zionism as the reason for Israel to exist -Jewish fears that they could be outnumbered by Palestinian Muslims in a secular state-then perhaps Jewish women should have more children.
Barring returning to the original United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947, the United States has no options besides mediating a two-state solution, with a secular and not a Zionist Israel, a new country called Palestine extending into the West Bank to the Jordan River, with Hamas and other Palestinians who do not wish to live in the West Bank forming a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza strip much like the secular India and the Muslim Pakistan.