By Vic Rosenthal
The report of the Iraq Study Group (the Baker-Hamilton Commission) was released this morning. I haven’t had time to read it all, and I’m not qualified to evaluate the recommendations therein that directly bear on Iraq. However, the report does refer to the Arab-Israeli conflict and makes concrete action recommendations regarding it. I was struck by the way this material seemed to be ‘stuck into’ the report, justified only by the entirely unsupported assertion that “The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
The following are the relevant snippets from the 160-page report (italicized) followed by my analysis. You can read the whole report here.
Iraq cannot be addressed effectively in isolation from other major regional issues, interests, and unresolved conflicts. To put it simply, all key issues in the Middle East—the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism—are inextricably linked. In addition to supporting stability in Iraq, a comprehensive diplomatic offensive—the New Diplomatic Offensive—should address these key regional issues. By doing so, it would help marginalize extremists and terrorists, promote U.S. values and interests, and improve America’s global image.
[Iraq Study Report, p.44]
The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and particularly Syria—which is the principal transit point for shipments of weapons to Hezbollah, and which supports radical Palestinian groups. The United States does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. For several reasons, we should act boldly:
• There is no military solution to this conflict.
• The vast majority of the Israeli body politic is tired of being a nation perpetually at war.
• No American administration—Democratic or Republican—will ever abandon Israel.
• Political engagement and dialogue are essential in the Arab-Israeli dispute because it is an axiom that when the political process breaks down there will be violence on the ground.
• The only basis on which peace can be achieved is that set forth in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and in the principle of “land for peace.”
• The only lasting and secure peace will be a negotiated peace such as Israel has achieved with Egypt and Jordan. This effort would strongly support moderate Arab governments in the region, especially the democratically elected government of Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas.
RECOMMENDATION 13: There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon and Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
RECOMMENDATION 14: This effort should include—as soon as possible—the unconditional calling and holding of meetings, under the auspices of the United States or the Quartet (i.e., the United States, Russia, European Union, and the United Nations), between Israel and Lebanon and Syria on the one hand, and Israel and Palestinians (who acknowledge Israel’s right to exist) on the other. The purpose of these meetings would be to negotiate peace as was done at the Madrid Conference in 1991, and on two separate tracks—one Syrian/Lebanese, and the other Palestinian.
RECOMMENDATION 15: Concerning Syria, some elements of that negotiated peace should be:
• Syria’s full adherence to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 2006, which provides the framework for Lebanon to regain sovereign control over its territory.
• Syria’s full cooperation with all investigations into political assassinations in Lebanon, especially those of Rafik Hariri and Pierre Gemayel.
• A verifiable cessation of Syrian aid to Hezbollah and the use of Syrian territory for transshipment of Iranian weapons and aid to Hezbollah. (This step would do much to solve Israel’s problem with Hezbollah.)
• Syria’s use of its influence with Hamas and Hezbollah for the release of the captured Israeli Defense Force soldiers.
• A verifiable cessation of Syrian efforts to undermine the democratically elected government of Lebanon.
• A verifiable cessation of arms shipments from or transiting through Syria for Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups.
• A Syrian commitment to help obtain from Hamas an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist.
• Greater Syrian efforts to seal its border with Iraq.
RECOMMENDATION 16: In exchange for these actions and in the context of a full and secure peace agreement, the Israelis should return the Golan Heights, with a U.S. security guarantee for Israel that could include an international force on the border, including U.S. troops if requested by both parties.
RECOMMENDATION 17: Concerning the Palestinian issue, elements of that negotiated peace should include:
• Adherence to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and to the principle of land for peace, which are the only bases for achieving peace.
• Strong support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to take the lead in preparing the way for negotiations with Israel.
• A major effort to move from the current hostilities by consolidating the cease-fire reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis in November 2006.
• Support for a Palestinian national unity government.
• Sustainable negotiations leading to a final peace settlement along the lines of President Bush’s two-state solution, which would address the key final status issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the end of conflict.
[Ibid., pp 54-58]
1. What’s the connection?
As mentioned above, no reason is given to support the implication that ‘solving’ the Arab-Israeli conflict will improve our situation regarding Iraq, or terrorism. As far as ‘improving our image’ in the Arab world, forcing Israeli concessions would change our image from that of a strong adversary to a weak one, hardly a desirable outcome.
2. General principles
The report states that ‘there is no military solution to this conflict’. Actually, there are several possible military solutions: the Arabs could overrun Israel (with or without the help of chemical weapons from Syria or nuclear bombs from Iran) and declare it a Palestinian state. Israel could kick the Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza and officially annex the territory. Neither of these solutions is desirable, but it is Israel’s military capability that has kept the former from happening (and her morality which prevents the latter).
“It is an axiom that when the political process breaks down there will be violence on the ground”. This is a naïve view which any diplomat knows is false. In reality, the opposite is true: the political process bears fruit only when it reflects the power relationships on the ground. Israel will be able to obtain true peace agreements with the Arabs when the Arabs believe that they can’t defeat her militarily.
It’s suggested that the Arab-Israeli negotiations take place under the auspices of the US or the ‘Quartet’ (the US, EU, UN, and Russia). Three out of four Quartet members are more or less hostile to Israel. Russia is providing assistance to Iran in her nuclear project.
The report asks for negotiations with Syria to obtain compliance with resolution 1701, as well as for Syria to stop supplying arms to Hamas and Hezbollah, and to leave Lebanon alone (much of this is included in 1701). They did not do these things when told to do so by the UN Security Council, so now they are offered the Golan heights as an incentive!
The most Kafkaesque of the Syrian provisions calls for them to use their influence to get Hamas to recognize Israel. I think it’s accurate to say that the raison d’etre of Hamas is the elimination of Israel; to expect a sincere commitment to her continued existence is to live on a different planet.
Note also that Syria gets the Golan “in the context of a full and secure peace agreement”, but it is not suggested that Syria herself has to accept Israel’s right to exist! And the American troops that ‘could’ guarantee such an agreement would be deployed only “if requested by both parties”. Keep in mind that the primary importance of the Golan is military; since 1967 Israel’s possession of the Golan has been a deterrent to Syrian attack.
4. The Palestinians
The principle of ‘Land for Peace’ has been tried before – the US-purchased ‘cold peace’ with Egypt, the Oslo accords with their accompanying terrorism, and the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza with their resultant kidnappings and rocket fire. Rather than ‘land for nothing’ I would suggest the reverse approach: Peace for Land. In other words, let Syria and the Palestinians commit to Israel’s continued peaceful existence and demonstrate, over a reasonable period of time (the Palestinians have never been able to last more than a few days or so) that they really mean it before any territory is transferred.
Several times, it’s suggested that talks take place with those Palestinians who accept Israel’s right to exist. This absolutely excludes Hamas – the elected ruling party of the Palestinian authority – whose charter and repeated policy statements make their position quite clear. Nevertheless, the report calls for support of a Palestinian National Unity Government, which would of course include Hamas. As far as the weak, unpopular Mahmoud Abbas is concerned, his Fatah faction has never, despite claims to the contrary, actually affirmed Israel’s right to exist. And polls show that Palestinian support for this position is nonexistent. So it’s not clear where these Zionist Palestinians are to be found to negotiate with.
The cease-fire that is referred to is apparently a cease-fire for Israel only, since rocket attacks and other terrorist activities have continued unabated. Israel, on the other hand, has recently been prevented (by the US) from mounting an incursion into Gaza to deal with the source of the deadly rockets in the name of the ‘cease-fire’. Continuing it would only hurt Israel.
The report’s suggestions boil down to an attempt to force Israel to give up the Golan Heights and withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem as an inducement to Syria to reduce its influence in Lebanon and stop supplying Iraqi insurgents. Although Iran is not mentioned in connection with Israel, it’s clear that anything that weakens Israel will be welcomed by Iran, which also has considerable influence on events in Iraq.
The problem with this kind of deal is that while Syria can behave in accordance with the agreement – at least in some minimal way that won’t scuttle it – for some period, once Israel has relinquished the Golan and other territories, there’s no taking them back. At this point, Syria is free to resume its subversion of Lebanon (if that isn’t already a fait accompli) as well as its support for Hizbullah and Hamas. Israel will then be facing increased terrorism and probably rocket attacks from the West Bank as well as Gaza and possibly Lebanon and Syria. And Israel will be at a marked strategic disadvantage to Syria without the Golan.
The benefit to the US will also be quite temporary. Because of our defeat in Iraq and the defeat of Israel (our client) in Lebanon, the US has minimal leverage over Syria and Iran except for our ability to force concessions from Israel. After these concessions have been obtained, there will be no reason for any agreements regarding Iraq to be honored.
I’m sure that Baker, et al, understand this. However, they believe that the short-term advantage will enable us to pull out of Iraq without it appearing to be a huge debacle. Although they state that the US will never abandon Israel, they are advocating exactly that. I’m hoping that there are elements in our government who will not allow this to happen.