This is a very interesting essay even if its contents are depressingly familiar. As I was reading it, I could not get Professor Mead’s post about the violence directed against Christian Indonesians by Islamic Indonesians out of my mind. That post is only a few down from this one.
With even moderate Indonesia moving in a more intolerant and violent direction, what hope is there that a putative Palestinian state would ever end up as anything other than a launching pad for rockets against Israel? Should the Israelis take comfort from the recent rhetoric and mob violence coming out of Egypt? As the Arab Spring continues to implode how can anyone expect the Israelis to take risks for peace? For an interesting and decidedly downbeat assessment of the Arab Spring see Hussein Agha and Robert Malley’s article, “The Arab Counterrevolution” in the New York Review of Books,
I can’t help but wonder whether the fact that diplomacy is a useless tool in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has inspired Professor Mead to consider the fact that a war, fought in the old fashioned way-until one side surrenders, might actually be the preferred route in this situation.
Yes, the Israelis would certainly win that war, especially with American help, but then they would face the reality that an ultimate disposition of the Palestinian situation would need to be arrived at. The Israelis could then dictate the terms of a Palestinian state; surely it would be far less than the Palestinians desired but at least they would have their nation. With their ambitions cut down to size by the overwhelming and humiliating nature of that defeat, perhaps they would acquiesce to reality, stop making unreasonable demands and start trying to build a nation in a civilized manner.
It sounds terrible, but many nations, including France, Germany and Japan have experienced that type of humiliating capitulation and come back to be strong, vital countries. Sherman’s march through the South was pretty unpleasant, but the South survived and if Professor Mead is to be believed, they get to have the last laugh; at least if Mead is right that the Red State model really is superior to the model followed by those Blue state Yankees.
Isn’t it just possible that the international community is doing the Palestinians no favor by deceiving them into believing that they can achieve a more advantageous resolution to the conflict than they are ever likely to get?
Might the Palestinians not just be better off to lose a war and then get down to the business of building their nation in whatever land the Israelis (badgered no doubt by the international community and the United States) decides to give them?
If Professor Mead is right in his assertion that resolving this dispute by diplomacy is unlikely in the foreseeable future, for the benefit of the Israelis and the Palestinians, might it not be time to give war a chance?
Reasoned, thoughtful, insightful and informed. But in the end it will come to guns and war before such a reasoned, thoughtful, insightful and informed solution will even begin to be entertained, and then only to enable the Palestinians to regroup and rearm.
What is missing in this analysis – something that Professor Mead is uniquely qualified to explain – is how 21st century progressive morality stands in the way of any resolution to the problems of the Israelis and the Palestinians. Throughout all of human history, intractable conflicts over land have never been conclusively resolved without war (or in the case of vastly unequal forces, the near total annihilation of one side in a manner indistinguishable from war). What we see in the Middle East is what happens when outside interests attempt to make this policy option appear unacceptably expensive.
Some will no doubt say that this is a very good thing, that anything is better than all-out war. But since the Israeli/Palestinian conflict represents the first time in human history that the world has an example of a sustained attempt to resolve an intractable territorial dispute according to these values, is it not time to at least ask the question: Is this really a better solution?
One thing that is not mentioned in this essay that is the main obstacle going forward in this never-ending conflict is the refusal on the part of Palestinians to legitimately recognize Israel as state.
“Israelis don’t want a small and insecure state with a Palestinian enemy next door; Palestinians don’t want a weak microstate that fails to solve the refugee problem. There are some people on both sides who are willing to accept peace on those terms — but not enough.”
I submit that Prof. Mead is not doing justice to the motives of jihad and Jew-hatred on the Palestinian side. The refugees get a lot of lip service, but they were deliberately created in order to prevent a peace treaty with Israel. They are the only multi-generational refugees in the world. Their welfare is the last thing any Arab leader considers. In fact, the PLO ambassador to Lebanon just announced that when Palestine becomes a state, the Palestinians refugees who are actually inside the West Bank and Gaza — some 40% of the population — won’t become Palestinian citizens!
Let’s try a thought exercise: offer the Palestinians a weak micro-state next to Israel that doesn’t solve the refugee problem — but promise, as part of the deal, that a magic bomb will go off over Israel, killing all the people inside the Green Line but unfortunately rendering the area completely uninhabitable for the next 100 years. However, Israel would be entirely gone.
Do you think that offer would be acceptable? I think they’d jump at it.
Yes, as Wig Wag speculated, war is probably the best chance to bring peace on the Palestinian-Israeli problem, a real war which breaks the back of the Arabs.
And any dimension of peace cannot entail resettling any Palestinians here. That is a major no-no.
My initial inclination is to agree that war is in the cards, ultimately. But some times even violence isn’t enough to settle things. Look at Ireland. Is Israel really up for ethnic cleansing?
Some things in life are bad they can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewin’ on life’s gristle, don’t grumble give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best
And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life
[remainder of song lyric removed to avoid copyright infringement]
The U.N. voted to establish an Arab Palestinian State in 1947 — but the Arabs rejected it.
They preferred to try to annihilate — that’s the right word, annihilate — the Jews instead.
That’s still their goal.
The Palestinian “ambassador” to Lebanon has openly proclaimed that the Arabs in the UNRWA refugee camps — including the refugee camps in what he expects will become the independent State of Palestine — will NOT be offered Palestinian citizenship.
The idea of a Palestinian State is a cruel hoax.
It is foolish and suicidal for Israel to pretend otherwise.
Oslo was merely a “hudna” — a tactical truce intended to buy time and gain breathing room for the jihad, in preparation for another round of terror.
I wonder what other actors would engage in a new Palestinian/Israeli war if either side were facing annihilation or what weapons.
Dear Walter Russell Mead: Why am I a big fan of yours? What make me start reading you in the first place? Well, truth to tell, if was a video you did, and a Foreign Policy magazine article you wrote, on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict back in 2008.
What was special about it, what was fresh and attracted my attention, was your contention that in order to gain a final settlement that sticks with the Palestinian people there would have to be something in it for them and not just their leaders — something substantial, not merely symbolic, and if it could not be a right of return to the lands they lost in 1948 because there is simply not room then it would need to be something equivalent in there eyes. (Correct me please if I remember you wrong.)
I don’t see much of that idea in this discussion. Have you given up on it? Because if you have then, in my humble opinion, you have given up the magic key, the one missing ingredient, which alone can lead to a just and lasting peace between these two peoples.
I can certainly see why you might be tempted to give it up. After all, where is this magic equivalent come from ? In what would it consist?
Having thought about that problem off and on for the past fifty years I’ve concluded that the only possible answer would be the promise of a Western standard of living for the descendants of those who lost their homes in the conflict, whether they live in a future Palestinian state (or states) on the West Bank and Gaza, in neighboring Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, or even Europe or the United States (though lets leave these last two out for the moment).
Now obviously to promise a Western standard of living to six or eight million people is an expensive proposition. My back-of-the-envelope calculation is that it would cost in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars, which presumably would be spread out over a period of years, quite a few years, and would consist of a program of aid and investment designed to bring about economic parity between Israeli and Palestinian workers measured in real hourly wages.
But those are just details. The real sticking point is who is going to supply all that money. The United States? Hell, we’ve already spent a couple of trillion dollars trying to bring peace and stability to that corner of the world. Are we supposed to spend more? Can’t somebody else? Who’s got the dough?
I guess you could say Saudi Arabia has the cash. But why should they give it away to somebody else. Because they are neighbors and blah, blah, blah? Give me (and them) a break.
When you get right down to it there is only one party with the resources to do this, and by a sweet coincidence it happens to be the party which bears historic and moral responsibility for starting this conflict in the first place. You know who I mean. They do too, deep down, but are too cowardly and guilt-ridden to admit it even to themselves.
Of course I am talking about Europe. Not just part of Europe but the entire European culture area, what used to called Christendom back in the days before they lost their religion. Now why should Europe pay? Simple. It was European racial anti-Semitism, culminating in but starting a hundred years before Hitler’s final solution, that drove the Jews out of Europe in the first place; and it was European statesmen during WWI (British, French, Russian primarily, Italian a little bit) who conspired to solve their own Jewish problems (and not coincidentally secure American entry into the war on there side — maybe I should reverse these two motives?) by giving somebody else’s land away.
How do I know? Because I read the secret diplomatic history of the period in a little book titled, “The Question of Palestine” by a Jewish diplomatic historian named Friedman twenty years ago. It was meticulously documented from the recently opened archives of the British Foreign Office and leaves no doubt as to the truth of the statement I just made.
I know nations are like children, hate to admit they have been wrong, and are especially eager to duck when the moral logic is a wee bit complicated, as it is in this case. Nonetheless when A pushes B into C forcing a fight between B and C then, unless there are extenuating circumstances, A is responsible for the damages to C. (Forget B for the moment.)
We need to be honest with ourselves. You are just whistling Dixie if you refuse to admit that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the root of all our troubles in the Middle East. Like the Jewish people, Muslims have a religion based upon land, promised land as a matter of fact. Mohammad originally was inspired by the example of Moses, another war lord bent on the conquest of new real estate (the earliest Mosques were in fact oriented towards Palestine) but let’s not get side tracked on that history. The point is that the same land which is sacred to the Jews is also sacred to Islam. Furthermore, even in the absence of this religiously motivated claim, the Arab sense of honor and self-respect will never let them forget or give up on what happened in 1948 — not now, not never, not no how.
But the Arabs do believe in blood money. They are old hands at tribal conflict. They know how to settle wrongs at the heart of such conflicts. Of course we in the West call it the principle of compensation, but call it what you will it is a very civilized principle, indeed, one of the indispensable foundations of order in international relations. Let’s give Islam some credit. They practiced this principle when our ancestors were still running around in the woods of Europe as semi-civilized barbarians.
Ok, I’ve said enough. We are in the midst of a world recession right now, the first one in history by some measures, and a trillion dollars sounds like a lot of money for Europe or anyone else to shill out. But recessions don’t last forever. Instability in the Middle East threatening world peace will though unless the European community steps up to the plate.
All in my humble opinion of course. (WigWag, sit down!)
Whenever people say that war is the only solution, I hesitate.
I recall living in South Africa in the 1980s and hearing from the white side that war was inevitable and Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. The Black side’s mantra was: “one bullet, one settler.”
However, FW DeKlerk and Mandela proved that real statesmen can overcome differences and produce reform and lasting peace.
Let’s try to remember South Africa when discussing the Middle East.
But Israel has already done all of this in Gaza: Settlers removed; Turning over of economic thriving enterprises of the settlers to the Palestinians; Full political authority given to the Palestinians; and huge amounts of money transferred (still being transferred).
This should have served as a model for future peace, which in a sense, it has. The Palestinians claim they are still victims; instead of building a state, their only interests are in murdering Israelis and looting Gaza; the world doesn’t merely ignore Israel’s concessions and sacrifices, but behave as if they never occurred, pretending that Gaza is still occupied by the Israelis (One of the macabre features of the Norwegian massacre is that the children there seemed to believe they were training to expel Israel from the Gaza Strip, quote: “Many people think on the island that it was a test … comparing it to how it is to live in Gaza.”http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-07-23/norway-in-quotes/2807306
Well, that’s enough, but the point is that it doesn’t matter what the Israelis do for peace, because the Arabs don’t want peace, and neither do the Europeans.
As Vanderleun says, this is reasoned, thoughtful, insightful and informed. But useless as well because it all but ignores the role of emotion, stupidity, cluelessness and ignorance in this conflict–a role far greater here than in almost any other place. (I should add that evil in the form of Arab Jew-hatred is an important, really THE most important, part as well.)
And did WRM actually write that peace would be a “huge plus” for the Arab states? Laughable.
Well-written and thought provoking as usual, but I’m not sure the bad rap on Bush is warranted, at least for his policies from 2001-2006.
What is the evidence that the situation was worse by 2006 than when Bush became president? It seems to me that there was instead evidence that, following the construction of the separation fence and the resulting drop in terrorist attacks, a period of benign neglect by the US was coincident with economic progress in the West Bank. That would seem to me to be the first step in an establishment of civil society in that area.
Irrespective of any sort of “peace process,” I don’t see how any country can logically demand an independent Palestinian state before that the Palestinian entity develops rule of law, government monopoly on violence (no more Al Aksa Brigade,etc,) free press, respect for private property, and an independent judiciary. How can Israel reasonably be expected to make peace with an entity that has not reached these prerequisites for statehood?
Professor Mead’s analysis is logical as long as you accept his basic premise that the Palestinian Arabs’ principle goal is the creation of their own sovereign state, not the destruction of the Jewish one. From the statements of Haj Amin Al-Husseini to the present, the latter goal has always been clearly articulated. That is why well-meaning U.S. policy and professor Mead’s logical solution will continue to fail forever.
Overlooked is the expulsion of 300,000 Palestinians from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in 1991. It was done rather quickly and bloodlessly.
As for the good professor, how does one negotiate in good faith with an opponent whose core premise is that you must die? What is there really to negotiate? Israel will have to continue going along with this theater to placate the US and the west all the while incrementally establishing facts on the ground. Eventually and inevitably the Arabs will join forces and attack Israel. If Israel survives and prevails she will have at that point no other choice but to expel the Arabs in the territories and annex the territories which may ultimately include Gaza, the Sinai, the West Bank and the rest of the Golan and apiece of Southern Lebanon.
In the meantime the Israeli’s ought to consider arming the Kurds. A Kurdish intifada will certainly distract the Arabs and the West and expose Western and Arab hypocrisy.
Why not do something like this?
– Offer “Palestine” ten years of the Israeli military budget for permanent abandonment of the West Bank and Gaza.
– Negotiate a deal to buy a portion of Jordan, or some other place mutually agreed, with part of this money.
– Use the rest to build infrastructure and distribute a payment to each Palestinian that would allow them to build their own home in the new country.
Israelis could then use the West Bank and Gaza as a buffer zone to prevent attacks.
The problem with this, of course, is the mindless hatred Palestinians have towards Israelis. Rationally, it helps everyone, but it doesn’t destroy the Jews, and that seems like a real problem.
Because of that, I don’t think there is any solution to this problem and it shocks me that after all these years anyone bothers to continue the Peace Process; it is a futile waste of time and effort best spent elsewhere.
I’ll just point out that earlier in the Obama and Netanyahu tenures, Israel did freeze settlements for nearly a year. This was accompanied by Netanyahu’s unprecedented acceptance of a Palestinian state. (Remember that the much-maligned Netanyahu is head of the right-wing Likud party, and depends on even more right-wing coalition partners.) During the entire time of the freeze, the Palestinian Arab leadership did not see fit to enter negotiations. For some strange reason, this has not encouraged Israelis to support a renewed freeze.
What is the point of continued US involvement in attempts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict? At one time US policymakers were reasonably concerned that Arab-Israeli warfare might draw the USA into direct conflict with the USSR, but that issue is moot now. All we are doing by virtue of our continued involvement is rewarding Palestinian intransigence and encouraging brinksmanship that seems likely to lead to war. We would do better to stop trying to force a peace deal, and to phase out our subsidies to the PA and to the UN agencies that function as cash conduits to the Palestinian power elite. (We might phase out our subsidies to Israel and Egypt as well.) Let the parties handle things themselves.
Israel v. Palestinians is a geopolitical sideshow. The real threats now come from Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan. We need strategic clarity. Instead we are wasting scarce political and financial capital in pursuit of what is essentially an outdated Cold War agenda WRT Israel and its enemies.
BTW, why is it a given that Israeli “settlements” (a loaded term; why not call them suburbs, which is what they are) must be removed before there can be real peace between Israelis and Palestinians? I think this reverses causes and effect. Real peace is much more likely when a Palestinian state tolerates a Jewish minority, as Israel already tolerates non-Jewish minorities. The Palestinians are not there yet, and no durable deal is likely until they change their attitudes.
I would like to attempt to draw your attention that Israeli government, in fact, accepted 10 month of settlement construction freeze. So it looks like reality disprove your thesis on impossibility of the temporary settlement construction freeze.
Unfortunately, the settlement construction freeze didn’t cause the Palestinian authorities to come to the negotiation table. Perhaps, the only reasonable explanation would be that the treaty you described in the beginning of your article is completely unacceptable for FATH-centered Palestinian Autonomy rulers.
The conflict drags on because the Palestinians, who are the weaker side, feel protected enough (and well-paid enough) so that they don’t think they need the protection of a state or defined borders. So they see no need to compromise their goals to get what they don’t need anyway.
A full-scale Mideast war might change the calculation. If Israel was once more under attack from full-scale armies, the Israelis would put their own survival over the needs of the Palestinians, and no mere diplomatic pressure would change their minds. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians understand this. In a war situation, the Palestinians might have to rethink the usefulness of defined borders and official statehood.
WRM hits it on the head: the Palestinians cannot get enough land, and the Israelis cannot get enough peace. To resolve the former, propose West Bank union with Jordan. Offer the Hashemites the carrot of being the protector of the Al Aqsa Mosque, while not putting a wall through Jerusalem (divided capitals don’t work). The Palestinians get the carrot of much more land than they could hope for from the Israelis, plus space to settle refugees and their descendants, not to mention territorial depth and links to the Arab world.
To resolve the latter problem: condition aid to the Palestinians on historically accurate textbooks. Also, the Israelis get early warning stations and some type of MILITARY presence in the Jordan Valley for some number of years. To those who say this is an insult to Palestinian dignity, well, I think it’d be a hard case to argue that Japanese and German sovereignty are compromised by American bases, which have been present for decades. And no one asked them (at least initially) whether the arrangement was acceptable.
Of course land for peace won’t work. Look at what happened in Gaza – land for immediate rocket launches.
I disagree with Professor Mead only very rarely, but I have to say that I see several problems with this essay. Perhaps most importantly, WRM’s treatment of the settlement issue creates a wrong impression: as a matter of fact, all the settlements Israel has built since 1967, including Jewish building in East Jerusalem, take up about 2 percent of West Bank land. Moreover, GWB and Sharon agreed that any future building in the settlements would take place within existing construction boundaries, i.e. no additional land is taken for this construction. As far as I know, Israel has kept this commitment.
So all the laments about the settlements gradually gobbling up the land Palestinians want for their state is nonsense, even though the number of settlers is increasing. However, many residents of the big settlements are not necessarily ideologically committed settlers, but rather people who are looking for affordable suburbian apartments.
As a minor point, it’s also worthwhile noting that actually thousands of Palestinian families depend on the income earned by Palestinians construction workers in the settlements.
However, the settlement issue can clearly be resolved by land swaps, and the most reasonable land swaps, btw., would enlarge Gaza (best achieved through a 3 way deal involving the Palestinians, Egypt and Israel), because Gaza has the greatest population density, and also very good economic potential. However, this is of course a land swap the Palestinians are not interested in, because they are not primarily concerned with what would make sense for their own future development; instead, they’re trying to make the land swap issue as difficult as possible for Israel.
Another problematic point is the treatment of the “right of return” claimed by Palestinians.
Let’s look at the statement: “Palestinians don’t want a weak microstate that fails to solve the refugee problem.”
Well, let’s talk tacheles: The refugee problem was created by an Arab war of aggression, and with the help of UNRWA, the Arabs have ever since been allowed to pretend that they have no responsibility for solving the problem. It’s time to defund UNRWA, and to tell the Arabs to take responsibility for the 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who in most Arab countries have been cynically kept as “refugees” suffering scandalous discrimination.
Israel has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from the Arab states; it’s time the international community told the Arabs to finally step up to their responsibilities for the Palestinian refugees.
This is the main reason why the conflict is so intractable: for decades, the US and the UN have allowed the Palestinians and the Arabs to pretend that the Palestinians can claim a “right of return” to Israel.
WRM almost reaches a conclusion, but then seems to shy away from it for some reason.
The current peace process cannot work, since neither side can get what it wants and needs. Israel cannot get security in the proposed borders, the Palestinians cannot get a truly independent state even with 100% of the WB+Gaza. The only workable solution is to merge Jordan and much of the WB, while allowing Israel to keep the rest (no ‘land compensation’ on purpose). This solves most of the big problems – the Palestinians can have true independence, economic sufficiency, and ability to resettle their refugees. On the other hand, the outcome in the west bank would be worse than the Clinton proposal they rejected – which will be a precedent that they may end up losing land if they choose aggression vs Israel and therefor a deterrent against violation of the peace accord.
Interesting and well-written summary of the situation. I do disagree that the United States benefits from its involvement in the peace process — which has not and will not produce actual peace. Due to this involvement, the United States squanders funds and credibility for no benefit, and creates expectations that are not met.
Several of the commentators have pointed out that the nature of the problems and issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict is such as have never in history been resolved without a decisive war.
Why has that not happened with respect to this conflict? Israel and the Arabs have fought a series of wars — in 1948, in 1957, in 1967, in 1973, in the early 1980s, and low-level terror warfare continues.
Everyone in the world seems to accept that in an all-out, no-holds-barred war between Israel and the Arabs, the Arabs would lose big time.
And that is what has almost happened, time and again.
So why has Israel been unable to defeat the Arabs in a way that would convince the Arabs to live in peace with Israel?
Who has snatched the Arabs from the jaws of defeat time and time again?
The United States of America.
While the legislators of the United States seem fervently on Israel’s side, American administrations have time and time again forced the Israeli’s to relent, even making the argument, as in 1973, that allowing the Arabs to believe that they had won something would make them more peaceful.
If the United States would just get out of the way, the Arabs would be forced to face reality.
On the other hand, the Arab side is growing stronger every day. Once Iran tests a nuclear weapon, Arab perceptions of Israel’s vulnerability will change in a way that will only encourage their intransigeance. And if all-out war comes then, the consequences for both sides, and for the rest of the world, will be almost unimaginably severe. Let alone the immediate loss of life, radioactive contamination of the world’s single most important source of energy would drastically affect every industrial economy.
I believe it was Shimon Peres who said “a problem without a solution is not a problem, but a fact”. That is what we deal with regarding the never-ending middle east “peace process”.
I agree with numerous commenters above: short of active involvement of Arab governments to either merge with WB/Gaza or accept the “refugees”, this process will either continue as current or will result in war.
To quote another fine statesman, Ali G: “I’m tired of hearing people say war doesn’t solve anything. It does. For one thing, it sorts out which country is the best and which is the b**ch”
One could claim that the reason the US has prevented a natural resolution of the conflict is in order to set itself up as the indispensable power. The downside to this is that as the status quo drags on, or even deteriorates, the other parties might start tiring of they might well deem a con-game.
US (note not Western) involvement in support of Israel primarily centered on containing the Soviet Union as most Arab states had leapt into their camp by the mid 1960s. In a post USSR world the policy of containment is moot but the legacy of supporting Israel remains. Why? I would argue the Levant is not worth the bones of one Pennsylvanian guardsman or another US dollar. The US can not solve this problem, as the professor clearly states, so let’s remove our knickers before they really get in a twist. No economic or military support to anyone in the region. I think we have failed to see that we (the US) has become part of the problem and are actually hindering a solution. Once that reality sinks into the Palestinians they might be a bit more amenable to diplomacy. And to the other posts about another war: a further reason to get the heck out of Dodge.
Prof. Mead article is mostly correct. There is major element missing: the peace deal mentioned by him was actually accepted 3 times (12/2000 in Washington, 1/2001 in Taba, and 11/2007 in Annapolis) by Israel, and rejected 3 times by the Palestinians.
There is also a peculiar statement: “Israelis don’t want a small and insecure state with a Palestinian enemy next door” as a reason for unwillingness of Israelis to accept peace. Who in their right mind would accept?