One day President George W. Bush was denying a request from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for the U.S. administration to resume its active engagement in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A few days later he was dispatching retired Marine General Anthony Zinni to try once again to broker a cease-fire, or at least, a diminution of the violence. Then late on March 12, the United States sponsored a U.N. resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire and describing a vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders.
In the past, the United States has used its veto to stop any resolution referring to a Palestinian state. The willingness of the administration to sponsor such a resolution is a hopeful sign if it indicates readiness to join with the rest of the international community, particularly the Europeans, in working for peace and justice in the Middle East.
Peacemaking by the United States alone simply cannot succeed. The hatred and mistrust between the two sides has grown too deep for Israel’s ally, patron and protector to be a credible peacemaker. The moment of truth has arrived. Years of single-minded U.S. backing for Israel have corrupted American diplomatic capital in the Middle East. We have become the big brother who protects little brother while he taunts and tricks the other kids on the block. Rather than supplying little brother with more weapons, older brother has to admit that he is part of the problem and let the cop on the beat weigh in and separate the youngsters. The current enabling relationship needs an intervention.
Without new initiatives to present, the Zinni mission has little hope of achieving even its modest goals. The United States is bereft of new ideas for dealing with the region, and its alliance with Israel makes its pleas sound suspect to Palestinian ears. U.S.-made planes and helicopters mount attacks against Palestinian towns and cities. U.S.-manufactured munitions destroy Palestinian homes and public facilities. U.S. aid provides subsidies for the Israeli economy and military machine. With U.S. policy, like Israel’s, concerned mostly to put the brakes on Palestinian violence, the United States is in no position to be an honest broker between the two sides in a genuine peace process.
Both the Palestinian Authority and the European Union have repeatedly called for outside monitors to intervene. The governments of Israel and the United States have regularly opposed such proposals. Now, with the situation superheated, it is time to introduce international monitors and revitalize the international peace process begun in Madrid in 1991. The United States, of course, can be expected to block such a move with its veto in the U.N. Security Council. In the 1950’s, it was the Soviet Union’s veto that blocked concerted action by the Security Council. Eventually, the General Assembly bypassed the council and voted a police action in defense of South Korea against invasion by the North. Israel and the United States have ignored dozens of General Assembly resolutions on the Palestinian question. But such an initiative might force the United States to take a more even-handed role in peace negotiations, with a negotiator like former Secretary of State James Baker, who can be as tough on the Israelis as on the Palestinians.
Optimally, a peace initiative that, like the Madrid process, would involve the United States in concert with other leading nations and those with peacekeeping experiencelike the Canadians and Scandinavianshas a better chance to provide the basis for a just and durable peace than any effort by the United States alone.
By the same logic, moreover, any international initiative must offer the Palestinians more than a cease-fire and future negotiations. The truth is, there will be no peace for Israel if justice is delayed for the Palestinians. The Tenet and Mitchell proposals are deeply flawed in focusing on ending violence first and in giving attention primarily to Palestinian violenceto the neglect of the varieties of violence on the Israeli side. Even the Mitchell plan deals only with so-called new settlement activity, not with the illegality and injustice of the settlements as such. To think that what matters to Israelis calls for immediate acquiescence while what matters to Palestinians is subject to negotiation only compounds the injustice.
Tenet-Mitchell Plus must do five things: 1) hold Israel as accountable as the Palestinians, 2) acknowledge the illegality of the occupation and the settlements, 3) arrange an end of the settlements, 4) provide one-for-one exchanges of quality land for those few settlements that may be permitted to continue to survive under Israeli rule and 5) assure the early establishment of a viable Palestinian state with control of its own contiguous territory. Only such a plan, under U.N. auspices, acknowledges the injustice that lies beneath the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By addressing that injustice, it offers the possibility of assuaging the Palestinians’ sense of justice denied and could thus secure conditions for a durable peace between them and the Israeli people.