Excluding rarities, the Palestine policy of successive US administrations have been erratic, ambiguous and, may be, mischievous, aimed at maintaining status quo. No serious efforts have been made to reconcile the operational level contradictions of this policy. Though halfhearted diplomatic efforts were launched, with pomp and show, by most of the administrations, these were crookedly pre-programmed to look busy while ensuring that nothing worthwhile accomplishes. One exception to this was President Jimmy Carter. No wonders, American people did not return him for the second term.
Back in 1978, Carter brokered historic Camp David Accords based on the UNSC Resolution 242, which was adopted just after 1967 war. The focus of resolution was on “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East in which every state in the area can live in security,” and the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
Though not much is known how Trump would handle Palestine’s statehood issue, it is pertinent to see how Obama did it. It has been President Obama’s stated aim to support a negotiated end to the conflict based on two states, living side by side in peace. He stated from the of UNGA podium on September 23, 2010 : “…when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel”. And before his return to podium the following year, he had been duly defanged; in September 2011 he articulated from the UNGA forum: “…Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us –- who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem…And that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state — negotiations between the parties”. He washed his hands off, and let Secretary of State(s) keep making useless trips to the Middle East.
Now Jimmy Carter has stood up again for the Palestinian cause after a hiatus of 38 years, he penned an OP. ED in New York Times on November 28 under the caption: “America Must Recognize Palestine”. The loud thinking in Israel about revoking two state solution is on the rise since Trump’s election. Hawks in Israel are of the view that rise of Trump to presidency is a God sent opportunity to get out this strait jacket. Even though Israeli Prime Minster has not stated this, his cabinet colleagues have gone public about this desire. Probably that’s why Carter has chosen to desperately caution: “I fear for the spirit of Camp David. We must not squander this chance”.
Yet he is hopeful: “I am convinced that the United States can still shape the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before a change in presidents, but time is very short. The simple but vital step this administration must take before its term expires on Jan. 20 is to grant American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, as 137 countries have already done, and help it achieve full United Nations membership”.
Billion dollar question is whether President Obama is ready to make a history by listening to his senior predecessor, that too from his own party. Probably he won’t pick the courage. His track record on Palestine has been erratic, full of confused messaging. For example, when UNESCO admitted Palestine to its fold as a state on October 31, 2011, Obama administration reacted by blocking UNESCO’s annual funding of US$ 800 million.
Camp David agreement was endorsed overwhelmingly by Egyptian and Israeli parliaments. Even though Arab World did not embrace it quickly and smoothly, slowly it began to live with it; only comforting point was a commitment by all towards a two state solution. Camp David agreement and Resolution 242 have ever since been the two foundational concepts for the policy of the United States as well the international community at large.
At the beginning of his first administration, Obama had reaffirmed the crucial elements of this policy by calling for a complete freeze on the building of illegal settlements. Later, in 2011, he made it clear that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines,” and added, “negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.”
President Obama and his chief mediator, Secretary of State John Kerry, failed to take into account the psychological dimension of the conflict, especially from religious, historic, and ideological perspectives. Throughout the two sets of intensive negotiations in 2009-2010 and 2013-2014, the failure to mitigate the psychological aspect has further deepened the stalemate.
Today, Camp David accord stands much eroded, Israel has since been building more and more illegitimate settlements, pushing Palestinians out of its territories and consolidating its usurpation of Palestinian lands. It will not be an overstatement to articulate that the accord may even be in the in danger of practical annulment. President Carter points towards this likelihood: “Over 4.5 million Palestinians live in these occupied territories, but are not citizens of Israel. Most live largely under Israeli military rule, and do not vote in Israel’s national elections. Meanwhile, about 600,000 Israeli settlers in Palestine enjoy the benefits of Israeli citizenship and laws. This process is hastening a one-state reality that could destroy Israeli democracy and will result in intensifying international condemnation of Israel”. Certainly, this process is leading towards one-state reality.
The Carter Center hosted discussions, in November this year, with Israeli and Palestinian representatives, searching for an avenue towards peace. Based on the positive feedback from those talks, President Carter has recommended recognition of a Palestinian state: “I am certain that United States would make it easier for other countries that have not recognized Palestine to do so, and would clear the way for a Security Council resolution on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.
Carter Centre is also of the view that the UNSC should pass a fresh resolution for resolving the conflict. Resolution should “reaffirm the illegality of all Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 borders, while leaving open the possibility that the parties could negotiate modifications”. Moreover, “Security guarantees for both Israel and Palestine are imperative, and the resolution must acknowledge the right of both the states of Israel and Palestine to live in peace and security. Further measures should include the demilitarization of the Palestinian state, and a possible peacekeeping force under the auspices of the United Nations. A strong Security Council resolution would underscore that the Geneva Conventions and other human rights protections apply to all parties at all times. It would also support any agreement reached by the parties regarding Palestinian refugees”. The concept is practicable and could evolve into a viable strategy.
Though Trump administration inherits a deep seeded stalemate, it must first focus on a process of reconciliation to mitigate the profound mutual distrust, and instill a sense of mutual security. For this the US should promote the Arab Peace Initiative to provide an overall framework for peace, based on a two-state solution. Trump administration will make a mistake of historical proportions if it allows unhinging of two-state solution.
Uneasy calm amongst Palestinians should not be taken for granted. If pushed against the wall, the Palestinians would, in all probability explode. If Trump is concerned about Israel’s future security and political integrity, he must not hesitate to pressure Israel to seek a two state solution and abandon the destructive path making single state configuration a fait accompli.
We in Pakistan join our Palestinian brethren to commend President Jimmy Carter for his sagacity at this critical time.
[The Nation December 05, 2016]
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.