Council on Foreign Relations Proposal Far From PLO Demands

Excerpts from "U.S. Middle East Policy and the Peace Process"
Report of an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.
Henry Siegman, Project Coordinator
IMRA note: On Monday, June 16, the Council on Foreign Relations released a Task Force report calling for final status talks based on a new declaration of principles. While the proposed "DOP" is far from what is acceptable to Israel - or even the dissenting members of the Task Force whose comments also appear below - it is light years away from the position of the Palestinian Authority.

It is particularly noteworthy that even the Arab members of the Task Force appear to assume that Israel will retain sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem.

The majority opinion which appears below was approved by the following Task Force members: U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham, Lester Crown, Kenneth Duberstein, Richard M. Fairbanks, III, former Editor-in-Chief of Time Inc. Henry A. Grunwald, Rita Hauser , former President of the American Jewish Congress Robert K. Lifton, Richard W. Murphy , Louis Perlmutter, Robert L. Rosen, George Salem, Brent Scowcroft, former National Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress Henry Siegman, Gordon Sullivan, Shibley Telhami, John Waterbury and Dov Zakheim. Hermann Eilts, Rashid Khalidi and Phebe Marr addressed the Task Force and endorsed the Report.

As such, this report provides strong evidence that even those Americans who would be "generous" to the PLO hold positions regarding the final status which are remote from those of the PLO.

There is however one distressing element of the majority report. In the section describing American interests, support for a secure Israel is based exclusively on what might be termed altruistic considerations with no reference to Israel's strategic value ["historical ties... shared Judeo-Christian religious sensibilities, and common democratic values. Israel enjoys the strong and emotional support of a large segment of the American population. The base of this support is broader based than the Jewish community, although this community's ties with the Jewish state are especially close."].

IMRA thanks the Council on Foreign Relations for providing the text of the report.

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"For the majority of the Task Force, the following are the major features of the proposed Declaration of Principles:

REFUGEES

The United States could also take the lead in organizing funds for the dispossessed of the Middle East conflict. Humanitarian considerations aside, it is clear that an enduring settlement must deal with the outstanding claims of refugees (both Palestinian and Jewish refugees from Arab countries), many of which will be financial...

COMMENTS:

Shibley Telhami: Director of Near Eastern Studies at the Department of Government, Cornell University.

It is conceivable, for example, that there will be parts of al-Quds over which the Palestinian state will not be able to assert sovereign authority, even after final settlement is reached. Palestinian access to these parts would have to be guaranteed together with property rights, religious rights, and residency rights....
Henry Grunwald: former Editor-in-Chief of Time Inc. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Austria.
In my view, the majority recommendation on Jerusalem should be understood to mean that Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem would be partly symbolic, confined to the Moslem holy places, and a limited, separate entity, probably outside the traditional city limits, which would function as the Palestinian capital.
Rashid Khalidi: Director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago.
Regarding Jerusalem, the principle of reciprocity should operate as well. Thus if the location and boundaries of the Palestinian capital district are to be negotiated by the parties, so should the location and boundaries of the Israeli capital district. Similarly, Palestinian (and Arab) recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel should include such specifications, and should be matched by Israeli recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, with locations and boundaries to be likewise specified. Incidentally, calling the Palestinian district al-Quds is preposterous: al-Quds or al-Quds al-Sharif to give it its full name, is Jerusalem, which for Arabic-speakers means and can only mean the Old City and its immediate environs, centering on the Haram al-Sharif, the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque; any other use of the term, for example to describe distant Arab suburbs of the city to which a Palestinian capital might be relegated, would rightly be considered ludicrous and insulting.

Dissenting Views

Lester Pollack: Managing Director at Lazard Freres & Co. LLC. He is former Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The basic position of the Report is that the Oslo process of incrementalism has come to an end and that a new approach involving what is in effect final status talks should begin. While this is a legitimate view which we share, what we don't agree with is that the United States should take any kind of explicit positions on the critical issues that divide the parties. It is far better for the parties to seek to negotiate their own agreements, for only if they have negotiated and compromised on their own will they live with the consequences of the decisions and concessions they have made. For the United States to propose its solutions would be to drastically reduce the effectiveness of the American role in the negotiations. It might make us feel good at home, but it is bound to create suspicions on one or both sides and inhibit the role of the United States as the interlocutor and communicator between the two parties.

So much for process in a part of the world where process is critical. As to the substance, this Report advocates an approach that ostensibly meets the aspirations of both sides, a tradeoff whereby incentives to both sides would be such that each side could gain so as to absorb the pain of the other side's gain. No pain, no gain.

The problem is that the incentives do not extend to both sides. The Palestinians have much to gain from the proposals put forth here. But where is the gain for the Israelis?

The great Palestinian incentive is for the United States to recognize statehood for them in Gaza and most of the West Bank. The tradeoff originally was to have the United States acknowledge Israel's full sovereignty over Jerusalem with the exception of symbolic Muslim sovereignty over the holy sites and symbolic Palestinian sovereignty in an outlying area of Jerusalem such as Abu Dis. Instead, the issue of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has been deferred, and Israel is being asked to make further concessions in the interim period by limiting what it can do in Jerusalem under the terms of the present Oslo agreement regarding its rights and its role. The Israelis are being asked to negotiate functions and rights with the Palestinians and, as well, to restrict what they, the Israelis, can do in and for the city. The notion of functional spheres of authority and rights the Report describes for the Palestinians in Jerusalem would surely be seen by the Israelis as a step towards divided sovereignty, to be negotiated at the end of the process when all the pressures would be on the Israelis to make such a compromise. Such a delay would not resolve the conflict. Rather, by deferring it, it would instead inflame the Israelis and make it even more difficult for them to make the concessions necessary to reach a final agreement. Therefore, both as a matter of process, that is deferring the issue of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem until the end, and as a matter of substance that is formalizing Palestinian rights and restricting Israeli control in Jerusalem, the Israelis would see this approach not as an incentive but as another disincentive.

The Report also stipulates that the Palestinian state in the West Bank would provide "secure and recognized boundaries" for the Israelis, and that it should also provide for maximum territorial contiguity for the Palestinian state and minimal disruption of the Israeli population. It then states that since eighty per cent of the Israeli settlers reside on less than ten per cent of the West Bank territories, mostly along the Green Line, that the border adjustments should be minimal and mostly along the Green Line. Since these borders essentially did not provide Israel with security prior to 1967, it will hardly satisfy the Israelis' need for secure boundaries. The standard should not just be the issue of relocation of Israeli populations. Secure and recognized boundaries have a lot more to do than with just where people live. There are military considerations of time and space, which are relevant to where borders are located so as to provide security.

In this regard, the Report implies that the Israeli government is unprepared to make the territorial concessions necessary to insure Palestinian cooperation. One could just as easily say that the Palestinians are unwilling to make territorial compromises on the West Bank to insure Israeli cooperation. It is precisely a comment such as this that reveals the disputed burden being placed on the Israelis as different from that being placed on the Palestinians.

The Report refers to providing Israel with the assurance that the Palestinian state would be demilitarized, that appropriate security arrangements will be implemented to insure the security of Israeli citizens, including benchmarks for Palestinian measures against terrorism. Palestinian obligations to combat terrorism have existed since Oslo I and were repeated in Oslo II and in the Hebron agreement. They have failed to meet those commitments. It seems unlikely that this will provide an incentive for the Israelis, who undoubtedly are being asked to buy the same bridge for the fourth time. What the Israelis will seek for their security, of course, is not to have it dependent on Palestinian enforcement of their obligations. Rather, the Israelis will seek borders that the Israelis feel are secure, or as secure as they can be given the deep emotions in the region.

The more viable approach, then, is to allow the parties to meet and themselves agree on a Declaration of Principles without such proposals from the United States. Such an agreement can only be accomplished out of the public focus that is implicit in the approach proposed by this study. Furthermore, it is in this quiet back channel negotiation where the United States could play a much more constructive role if it has not offered its own proposals, but seeks to be an intermediary dealing with both parties in an attempt to bring them together. This is exactly why the United States was effective in bringing about the most recent agreement in Hebron. To advance its own set of principles would greatly diminish the effectiveness of the United States, and to imply that the United States can deliver one side to the other on certain terms would be a huge mistake.

Finally, the United States for decades has sought to limit the involvement of others, including Russia and the Europeans, in the Middle East peace process. To involve the Europeans at this stage, in a new dialogue, would seem to be as counterproductive in the future as it has been in the past.

Robert Satloff: Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

...Third, as for the bargain outlined herein, it doesn't sound like a bargain to me. Palestinians win Israel's commitment to "statehood" ( a major historical achievement for the Palestinian national movement) and some "rights" in Jerusalem (a foothold for later advances) while Israelis get in return "security" (which they have already been promised) and a postponement of the negotiation over Jerusalem (which will ensure that this remains a festering sore) coupled with restrictions on Israel activity in the city. Where is the bargain?

Reading the text, one expects the rest of the bargain to come in the form of some mandated pan-Arab normalization with Israel, along the lines foreshadowed with the reference to a "broadest possible circle of Israel's Arab neighbors." The convening of the Arab League to amend its Charter by outlawing war between the 22 Arab states and Israel (individually and collectively), offering a termination of all claims and full diplomatic recognition and establishing an all-Middle East mutual non-aggression pact with detailed annexes on security cooperation, political coordination and economic and trade relations might (I say might) have been the countervailing incentive to the Israelis to entice them into a deal virtually any government - Labor or Likud - is otherwise sure to refuse. But instead, "for these bold moves," the Report argues, "all Israelis get in return is the 'reopen[ing of] the prospect for increased cooperation between Israel and Arab states.' " Thin gruel indeed.

This Report skirts two fundamental issues. First, for better or worse, the Labor government which negotiated Oslo and implemented its provisions, was turned out of office a year ago. The Israeli people have spoken, and while the message of Prime Minister Netanyahu's victory is not fully clear, at least a piece of it reflects the Israeli people's dissatisfaction with the pace and manner of Oslo's implementation, especially vis-a-vis Palestinian compliance with its treaty obligations. In urging a bold American initiative that asks Israel effectively to renegotiate the core Oslo bargain - changing the formula of "security for recognition + self-government + a promise of final status negotiations" to a new formula of "security for statehood" - this Report does not address that changed reality. Instead, the Report refers to the objective of a "revived peace coalition," which sounds awfully like a heaving sigh for the bygone days of a Labor-led government. While that may be self-satisfying, it is also irrelevant in the current circumstances.

Second, it is true that a vigorous internal Israeli debate - reflected in the Beilin-Eitan discussions - have pointed out significant areas of common ground between Labor and Likud. Regretfully, however, no such debate has occurred on the Palestinian side. In my view, the most interesting aspect of the Beilin-Abu Mazen "understanding" referenced in this Report is that it has been publicly repudiated by Abu Mazen. The reality is that no Palestinian public figure has yet ever suggested publicly any willingness to accept anything less than 100 per cent of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in a "final status" agreement. As a result, we are left with the fact that, on "final status issues," the difference between Labor and Likud is less than the difference between any Israeli government and the PLO. It may not always be so, but it is so today.

Forcing the issue before the circumstances have ripened is, in my view, a formula for failure. Oslo needs to be repaired but this Report offers American activism and Israeli concessions as the principal forms of "improvements." As luck may have it, the ideas proposed in this Report may have the consequence of frightening the parties into an early compromise lest they face the heavy hand of Washington's intrusiveness, but any sort of progress along those lines will be purely serendipitous.

IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)

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