The peace agreements reached in Northern Ireland are proof that “there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended,” George Mitchell, the man widely touted as US President Barack Obama’s choice for new Middle East envoy, told The Jerusalem Post last month.
Mitchell, Washington’s special envoy to the Northern Ireland peace negotiations that led to the Belfast Agreement in 1998, spoke to the Post during a visit here last month to take part in a conference on US-Israeli relations at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).
“I understand the people in the Middle East are discouraged,” Mitchell said. “I understand your feelings. But from my experience in Northern Ireland, I share the feeling that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. Conflicts are created by human beings, and can be ended by human beings. It may take a long time. But with committed, active and strong leadership, it can happen here in the Middle East.” (my emphasis)
This is one of those propositions which is either true but trivial or interesting but false. The trivial interpretation makes it appear plausible, until you realize that what is really intended is something else.
Of course all conflicts are created by human beings and therefore can be ended by them. This is the true, uninteresting part. The expansionist designs of Adolf Hitler created a bit of a conflict in Europe, and as a matter of fact this conflict was ended by human beings. But I don’t think Mitchell wants to see that kind of conflict resolution applied to the Middle East.
What I think he is suggesting is that all conflicts can be solved by diplomacy, leading to compromise. And this proposition is false. It is false when the needs or desires of the two sides contradict one another, when there is no common ground on which to find a compromise.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is such a case. One side desires to keep its autonomous Jewish state in historical Palestine, within some to-be-negotiated borders.The other side cannot accept such a state of any size, within any borders. For example, a sticking point has always been the almost 5 million Arabs that claim refugee status, because their admission to Israel would end the Jewish state.
I believe that the approach of the Obama administration will be this: assume that the Jews and Arabs will not work it out by themselves, and impose a solution.
The formula for it will be something like the Clinton-Barak plan, comprising near-1967 borders, Jewish withdrawal from Arab areas, division of Jerusalem by populations with the Arabs getting the Har haBeit [Temple Mount] with some arrangement for Jews to visit the Kotel [Western Wall], and a recognition of the refugees right to ‘return’ with a limit on the number that will practically be allowed into Israel.
The ax will fall despite protestations from both sides. But this doesn’t mean that the consequences for or the behavior of both sides will be the same. The blow will be quite painful for the Jews in a concrete sense, while perhaps only in an ideological one for the Arabs.
At least ten times as many Jews will be relocated from the West Bank than were from Gaza. The security situation will be far worse than it is today, and if there is a successful Hamas takeover in the West Bank, Israel will be surrounded by hostile Iranian proxies on three sides. If the Golan heights is returned to Syria, then a whole new front for terrorism — the Israeli towns and kibbutzim in the valley below — will be opened up.
Israel will not be an ‘occupier’ of the West Bank, but as in the case of Gaza and Southern Lebanon, pretexts will be found to insist that Israel is still ‘oppressing’ Palestinians — any security measure, in proportion to its effectiveness, will be deemed ‘oppression’ — and terrorism against Israel will continue.
If international forces are used to guarantee security, they will be far more effective at preventing Israeli responses than terrorist attacks.
Politically, the Jews will find that the goalposts have moved. Any settlements that remain outside the 1967 boundaries, even if the Arabs have been compensated in some way, will become sore points like the Shabaa Farms in the Golan Heights. Refugees who have not been allowed to enter Israel — although they have the theoretical ‘right of return’ — will petition (and ‘resist’) in order to actualize that ‘right’. Left-wing Israelis and others who have been saying all along that the problem is ‘the Occupation’ will have to find another explanation for Arab terrorism (they will).
Israeli Arabs will become more and more radicalized, and Arabs and their international supporters will press the case that this “captive population” is also being denied its natural rights to self-determination and freedom while it lives in a Jewish state whose anthem is Hatikvah and whose emblems are those of Judaism.
But (unlike the Jews who will have evacuated ‘Palestine’) they will not accept another nakba or a ‘transfer’, so the only solution can be that the specifically Jewish character of Israel must change — the flag, the anthem, the law of return, etc. Arabs inside and outside the state of Israel will become more and more ‘frustrated and angry’ at this colonialist oppression, and will express themselves in the usual way.
Huge quantities of money will have to be provided to compensate Arab ‘refugees’ who can’t enter Israel and Jews who can no longer live in ‘Palestine’. Ineffectual UN or NATO troops will also need to be fed. Until donors realize that Palestinian leaders do not actually want development, large sums will be squandered and stolen in an attempt to create a Palestinian economy. The US Treasury seems to be able to produce astronomical sums ex nihilo to fertilize banks with, so one presumes that this will come from a similar source, at least until the US economic crisis causes it to turn inward. Military assistance to Israel will drop precipitously, since it is assumed that it will not be needed in the new era of ‘peace’.
While all this is going on, Iran and Russia will not have been idle in their campaign to reduce American influence in the Mideast and ultimately to push the US out. The US will be less and less able to pay for the projection of power in the region and more and more willing to think about withdrawal. After all, by now Iran will have nuclear weapons.
Have I left anything out?
Perhaps at this point the Obama administration — or the next one — will wish for a strong ally, someone to depend on in the Middle East.
But it won’t find one.