Making Lemonade in the Middle East

Jun 22, 2011 Published under Mideast Negotiations, United States

Tom Friedman describes the Obama Administration’s difficult position vis a vis the peace process in the Middle East.  With suspicious and unyielding partners to work with, as well as the interests of American constituents to consider, the administration is in a tricky position.  However, as the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade;  Friedman posits that establishing a two state solution granting Palestinian Statehood alongside the recognition of a Jewish state would satisfy most parties involved, ultimately sweetening the currently sour peace process.


Spotted by Daniel Lubetzky; by Adeena Schlussel


New York Times

June 18, 2011

What to Do With Lemons


While President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have gotten a lot of things right on foreign policy, they’ve made quite a mess in Israeli-Palestinian relations, where they’ve alienated all sides and generated zero progress. They’ve been inconsistent — demanding a settlements freeze then backing down — unimaginative and politically wimpy. Then again, the actors they’ve had to work with were both lemons — a Palestinian government that was too divided to make any big decisions and an elusive right-wing Israeli government that was strong enough to make big decisions but had no will to do so.

But you know what they say to do with lemons? Make lemonade.

The Obama team is in a fix. The Palestinian Authority, having lost faith in both Israel and the U.S., is pushing for the United Nations to recognize an independent Palestinian state, within the 1967 lines in the West Bank and Gaza. Once that is in hand, the Palestinian Authority could then start a global push to pressure Israel into withdrawing its settlers and security forces, or face sanctions and delegitimization. Israel is obviously opposed to this move. The U.S. has no desire to support such a one-sided resolution, which would alienate Israel and American Jews. But it also has no desire to veto such a resolution, which would only complicate America’s standing in the Arab-Muslim world.

As an alternative, the U.S. is trying to get the parties to resume peace talks on a comprehensive agreement based on terms laid out by the president in mid-May — two states for two peoples, with the 1967 lines as the starting point, and then whatever land swaps Israelis and Palestinians mutually agree to beyond that. But if the parties won’t accept this — and for now they are resisting — then we’re headed for a real train wreck at the U.N. in September.

How about a different approach?

If the Palestinians want to take this whole problem back to where it started — the U.N. — I say let’s do it. But let’s think much bigger and with more imagination.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the U.N. passed General Assembly Resolution 181, partitioning Palestine into two homes for two peoples — described as “Independent Arab and Jewish States.” This is important. That is exactly how Resolution 181 described the desired outcome of partition: an “Arab” state next to a “Jewish” state.

So why don’t we just update Resolution 181 and take it through the more prestigious Security Council? It could be a simple new U.N. resolution: “This body reaffirms that the area of historic Palestine should be divided into two homes for two peoples — a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state. The dividing line should be based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed border adjustments and security arrangements for both sides. This body recognizes the Palestinian state as a member of the General Assembly and urges both sides to enter into negotiations to resolve all the other outstanding issues.” Very simple.

Each side would get something vital provided it gives the other what it wants. The Palestinians would gain recognition of statehood and U.N. membership, within provisional boundaries, with Israel and America voting in favor. And the Israelis would get formal U.N. recognition as a Jewish state — with the Palestinians and Arabs voting in favor.

Moreover, the Palestinians would get negotiations based on the 1967 borders and Israel would get a U.N.-U.S. assurance that the final border would be shaped in negotiations between the parties, with land swaps, so theoretically the 5 percent of the West Bank where 80 percent of the settlers live could be traded for parts of pre-1967 Israel.

Both sides would have the framework for resuming negotiations they can live with. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel told the U.S. Congress that he was prepared for a two-state solution and painful compromises, but wants Israel accepted as a Jewish state with defensible borders. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has insisted that the 1967 border be the basis for any negotiations, and he wants to negotiate with Israel as a sovereign equal.

Meanwhile, the U.S., rather than being isolated in a corner with Israel, can get credit for restarting talks — without remaining stuck on the settlements issue.

“September can be a confrontational zero-sum moment with potentially disastrous consequences or a transformative breakthrough, if it is done right,” argues Gidi Grinstein, the president of the Reut Institute, one of Israel’s top strategy groups. “Israelis and Palestinians are playing chicken. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank doesn’t really want this U.N. resolution, which could unleash populist forces that might overwhelm them. The Israelis know that going all-out to block the Palestinians at the U.N., without any counterproposal, could have enormously damaging consequences in a Middle East already in turmoil. A deal that recognizes the Palestinian state in terms that address Israel’s concerns could not only help both sides walk back from the abyss but also pin down a historic two-state solution in 2011.”

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