Will Obama Unveil a Peace Plan?

Both David Ignatius of the Washington Post and Helene Cooper of the New York Times were briefed by the White House about the possibility that Obama will come up with his own peace plan that could be unveiled soon. (See articles copied below)

Laura Rozen remarks that,

“What’s interesting is if, per the Ignatius and Cooper pieces, someone high up at the White House wouldn’t mind Netanyahu thinking otherwise, to push him to avoid that fearsome outcome by getting as close as possible to U.S. requests for putting in writing there would be no more settlement surprises, among other confidence building steps.”

This interpretation makes sense in light of the rather canned quote from the briefer:

Mr. Obama gave very little away about his intentions, attendees said. “He asked a lot of questions,” said one official at the meeting. “He didn’t say ‘great idea, bad idea.’ But he listened.”

The obvious intent of this quote is to keep all options open for Obama. He can abandon his trial balloon should Netanyahu get with the program and embrace proximity talks. I should think that if Netanyahu were half as skillful as Prime Minister Barak was he could just engage in the proximity process, make the proper noises, act serious, and drag out the process until the election season had begun in earnest and then scuttle, blaming failure on the Palestinians and claiming that Israel had no partner and that the Palestinians’ true intention is to throw the Jews into the sea, blah, blah, blah.

All the advisers mentioned in the Cooper piece — Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft Samuel Berger, and Colin Powell — are hated by Netanyahu, particularly Zbig. This is designed to goose Israel’s leadership into stepping briskly toward engaging the Palestinians and putting a real freeze on building activity.

The problem, of course, is that the proximity talks will go nowhere, as Scowcroft says. The balance of power between Israel and Palestinians is too skewed to induce Israel to make substantial concessions. If Obama is serious about wanting a real result that will get America off the hook of supporting continued Israeli expansionism and apartheid, he will have to press his finger decisively on the Palestinian side of the power scale. This can only be done by unveiling a plan that provides a modicum of justice to Palestinians and outlines borders. Then he must cajole, berate, threaten, and bribe Israel to accept it and make the painful adjustments that will be necessary to carry out any such plan.

Syria would be included in the peace plan as it was outlined by those who were in the room. Ignatius writes:

The American peace plan would be linked with the issue of confronting Iran, which is Israel’s top priority, explained the second senior official. He described the issues as two halves of a single strategic problem: “We want to get the debate away from settlements and East Jerusalem and take it to a 30,000-feet level that can involve Jordan, Syria and other countries in the region,” as well as the Israelis and Palestinians.

[Copied Articles]

Obama weighs new peace plan for the Middle East

By David Ignatius
Wednesday, April 7, 2010; A17

Despite recent turbulence in U.S. relations with Israel, President Obama is “seriously considering” proposing an American peace plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict, according to two top administration officials.

“Everyone knows the basic outlines of a peace deal,” said one of the senior officials, citing the agreement that was nearly reached at Camp David in 2000 and in subsequent negotiations. He said that an American plan, if launched, would build upon past progress on such issues as borders, the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. The second senior official said that “90 percent of the map would look the same” as what has been agreed in previous bargaining.

The American peace plan would be linked with the issue of confronting Iran, which is Israel’s top priority, explained the second senior official. He described the issues as two halves of a single strategic problem: “We want to get the debate away from settlements and East Jerusalem and take it to a 30,000-feet level that can involve Jordan, Syria and other countries in the region,” as well as the Israelis and Palestinians.

“Incrementalism hasn’t worked,” continued the second official, explaining that the United States cannot allow the Palestinian problem to keep festering — providing fodder for Iran and other extremists. “As a global power with global responsibilities, we have to do something.” He said the plan would “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security and the requirements of Palestinian sovereignty in a way that makes sense.”

The White House is considering detailed interagency talks to frame the strategy and form a political consensus for it. The second official likened the process to the review that produced Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said the administration could formally launch the Middle East initiative by this fall.

White House interest in proposing a peace plan has been growing in recent months, but it accelerated after the blow-up that followed the March 9 Israeli announcement, during Vice President Biden’s visit, that Israel would build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem. U.S. officials began searching for bolder ways to address Israeli and Palestinian concerns, rather than continuing the same stale debates.

Obama’s attention was focused by a March 24 meeting at the White House with six former national security advisers. The group has been meeting privately every few months at the request of Gen. Jim Jones, who currently holds the job. In the session two weeks ago, the group had been talking about global issues for perhaps an hour when Obama walked in and asked what was on people’s minds.

Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser for presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, spoke up first, according to a senior administration official. He urged Obama to launch a peace initiative based on past areas of agreement; he was followed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser for Jimmy Carter, who described some of the strategic parameters of such a plan.

Support for a new approach was also said to have been expressed by Sandy Berger and Colin Powell, who served as national security advisers for presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, respectively. The consensus view was apparently shared by the other two attendees, Frank Carlucci and Robert C. McFarlane from the Reagan years.

Obama’s embrace of a peace plan would reverse the administration’s initial strategy, which was to try to coax concessions from the Israelis and Palestinians, with the United States offering “bridging proposals” later. This step-by-step process was favored by George Mitchell, the president’s special representative for the Middle East, who believed a similar approach had laid the groundwork for his breakthrough in Northern Ireland peace talks.

The fact that Obama is weighing the peace plan marks his growing confidence in Jones, who has been considering this approach for the past year. But the real strategist in chief is Obama himself. If he decides to launch a peace plan, it would mark a return to the ambitious themes the president sounded in his June 2009 speech in Cairo.

A political battle royal is likely to begin soon, with Israeli officials and their supporters in the United States protesting what they fear would be an American attempt to impose a settlement and arguing to focus instead on Iran. The White House rejoinder is expressed this way by one of the senior officials: “It’s not either Iran or the Middle East peace process. You have to do both.”

April 7, 2010
In Quest to Break Mideast Stalemate, a U.S. Option Emerges

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago, Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, was holding a meeting at the White House with a high-powered array of his predecessors when President Obama dropped in.

The men gathered in the Situation Room had trolled through a number of national security issues, from China to Afghanistan to Iran. But on that Wednesday, the morning after the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had failed to resolve a standoff over new construction in East Jerusalem with Mr. Obama in White House talks, the major discussion topic was the Middle East. And the question on the table after Mr. Obama joined in: had the time come for the president to put forward his own proposal outlining what a peace deal should look like?

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and Samuel Berger, the national security advisers to Presidents Carter, Ford, the senior Bush and Clinton, advocated such a move, according to several current and former administration officials in the room. Mr. Scowcroft cast the issue in terms of United States national security and its relations with the Arab world. He argued that only American leadership would break the cycle of distrust, hostility and violence that has prevented Israel and its Arab neighbors from forging a lasting peace deal.

The fact that President Obama was willing to have such an impromptu discussion with former advisers illustrates his increasing frustration with the foot-dragging over Middle East peace talks, and a growing sense that he may have to present a specific plan, rather than wait for the two sides to come to any sort of agreement.

The White House is still pushing for Israelis and Palestinians to have the indirect talks both sides had agreed to before the construction announcement raised too much consternation to proceed. But several administration officials acknowledge that those talks, even if they ever start, may get mired pretty quickly.

In joining the discussion two weeks ago, Mr. Obama gave very little away about his intentions, attendees said. “He asked a lot of questions,” said one official at the meeting. “He didn’t say ‘great idea, bad idea.’ But he listened.”

For Mr. Obama, the issue of the status of East Jerusalem is central to his ambitions to forge a peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians during his presidency, a stated goal. But coming up with an American proposal has drawbacks of its own.

No one seated at the table disagreed with Mr. Scowcroft outright, the officials said — most of the men appeared to agree that Israelis and Palestinians, if left to their own devices, would not come up with anything. But a couple of the participants, including Gen. Colin L. Powell, who was national security adviser to Ronald W. Reagan, urged caution, arguing that the administration had to figure out what “Acts 2, 3, and 4” would be if one or both of the two sides balked at an American-designed peace deal.

So far, administration officials are still smarting from their first attempt at sticking their collective necks out, as they did last summer when they demanded a freeze of Jewish settlements, and then had to stand back with no contingency plan after Israel refused outright.

One Israeli worry is that once Mr. Obama puts American parameters on the table, the Palestinians will refuse to accept anything less. Meanwhile, Mr. Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party and whose governing coalition includes parties further to the right, might be unwilling or politically unable to make a deal, foreign policy experts said.

Still, for all of that, a consensus appears to be growing, both within the administration and among outside advisers to the White House, that Mr. Obama will have to consider suggesting a solution to get the two sides moving.

Such a move is “absolutely not on the table right now,” a senior administration official said, adding that the United States wanted to first see the start of the indirect, American-brokered peace negotiations, which diplomats refer to as “proximity talks.” But the official said those talks would “undoubtedly get mired down, and then you can expect that we would go in with something.”

What that would be remains up in the air, but most Middle East experts draw the same outline for an eventual peace deal. First, Palestinian officials would have to accept that there would be no right of return for refugees of the 1948 war that established the Israeli state, and for their millions of descendants. Rather, the Palestinians would have to accept some kind of compensation. Second, the two sides would have to share Jerusalem — Palestinians locating their capital in the east, Israelis in the west, and both signing on to some sort of international agreement on how to share the holy sites in the Old City.

Third, Israel would return to its 1967 borders — before it captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the Six-Day War — give or take a few negotiated settlements and territorial swaps. Fourth, the United States or NATO would have to give Israel security guarantees, probably including stationing troops along the Jordan River, to ease Israeli fears that hostile countries could use the Palestinian state as a springboard for attacks. And finally, Arab neighbors like Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Robert Malley, director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group, the Brussels-based organization that seeks to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts. “And a lot of people who have looked at this have reached the conclusion that the parties won’t reach there on their own. If the U.S. wants it done, it will have to do it.”

Still, Mr. Malley said, “it’s not simply a matter of ‘put a plan on the table and see what happens.’ ” He said the administration must work on getting both Mr. Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to believe that their best option would be to go along with an American peace proposal — a tall order.

April 7, 2010
West Bank Growth Seen as Imperiled

JERUSALEM — The International Monetary Fund is preparing a report on the Palestinian economy that praises the actions of the West Bank government and the large donations of Western countries, especially European ones, but argues that healthy recent growth rates are imperiled by the parties that claim to have the most at stake — Israel and the Arab states.

“There is a very high risk that the growth of the last year will not last,” Oussama Kanaan, head of the fund’s mission to the Palestinian territories, said in an interview ahead of a meeting in Madrid next week of donor countries where he will present the report. “There has been no additional significant easing of restrictions by Israel so far in 2010. And there is a lack of donor support, especially among the Arabs, who need to give in a more systematic and predictable way to build investor confidence.”

Following the violent uprising of late 2000 and fierce Israeli countermeasures, an economic crisis began that lasted until 2007 when mild growth began. For 2009, Mr. Kanaan said, the economic growth rate for the West Bank and Gaza was the highest in years, 6.8 percent, of which 8.5 percent was in the West Bank and 1 percent in Gaza.

He attributed the growth for the West Bank to improved security, institution building and transparency from the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an Israeli easing of restrictions on movement and access and substantial donations from foreign governments. All three needed to continue in a predictable way in 2010, Mr. Kanaan said, but so far the Palestinian Authority was the only player clearly living up to its promises.

The challenge of economic growth for Gaza is of a different order of magnitude than for the West Bank. Gaza, ruled by Hamas and shunned by the international community, has been suffering under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for several years. There is an underground economy dependent on smuggler tunnels as well as daily truckloads of donated goods permitted by Israel with the intention of staving off a humanitarian crisis.

But there is only a skeletal economy there now — unemployment, according to the fund’s report, stands at 39 percent — and the report is said to call for a complete lifting of the blockade. Israel’s war in Gaza 15 months ago destroyed some 4,000 homes and a number of factories and facilities that have not been rebuilt because the blockade bars most building materials.

Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has made clear that it wants to help create a big gap between the economies of Gaza and the West Bank, depriving Gaza of anything much above sustenance and helping the West Bank prosper. The goal is to drive home to Palestinians that they should favor the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority over Hamas in future elections.

But Mr. Netanyahu’s relations with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah have grown strained as he has declined to freeze settlement growth in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Palestinians have declined to join Israel in direct peace negotiations.

Further substantial easing in the West Bank, the report says, will come through direct negotiations.

“Obviously, many of the projects are not moving as they should because of the political atmosphere,” said Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. “We have called on the Palestinian Authority time and again to renew direct peace talks. In the context of such direct talks many problems can naturally be solved more quickly and with improved efficiency.”

An Israeli official involved in reviving the Palestinian economy said roadblocks were still being removed, crossing points for goods and people continued to be upgraded and expanded industrial zones planned.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was helping to prepare Israel’s report, said that further easing had been slowed by an increase in terrorist attacks in the West Bank in the last month.

Mr. Kanaan said that among outside donors the European Union had been the most generous in its aid to the Palestinian Authority, with $329 million earmarked for 2010. The United States has so far promised $75 million. But the Arab states have not clarified what they will give. The Palestinian Authority is expected to need $1.24 billion for its 2010 budget, and $700 million for public investment.

The Palestinian Authority needs to be able to export its goods for its economy to grow, and the Israeli restrictions make it difficult, the report said, especially because the West Bank has no seaport or airport. West Bank unemployment is at 18 percent.

Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian national economy minister, said in a separate interview that exports were a serious problem.

“The cost of shipping goods from here to Tel Aviv is higher than to Brussels,” Mr. Abu-Libdeh said, because of Israeli security measures. He also accused Israel of failing to live up to promises to expedite industrial parks and large-scale projects, something the Israeli official denied.

Mr. Kanaan of the International Monetary Fund said his report would urge Israel to remove impediments to public and private Palestinian investment in the 60 percent of the West Bank currently under strict Israeli control.

He added that the 250,000 Palestinians of East Jerusalem needed far more assistance than the Arab world had provided, despite recent promises at the Arab League summit in Libya.

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Comments (3)

almasri said:

President Obama can go down in history as the President who liberated the US from Israeli lobby blackmail by accepting the fact that he’ll be a one-term president and then seek to impose a solution during his one term.
By doing so, he will serve the US interests like no other President did and before doing any good for the Middle East.
All future US Presidents will feel indebted to his achievement if he takes this courageous step and go for an imposed solution rather than seeking re-elections. He should know he can only do one or the other.

April 8th, 2010, 2:54 am


Syrian Nationalist Party said:

So much money pouring into the media now, paid for all those childish op-ed printed in trashy newspapers all over Israel and America, the ones that only geeks read. It is obvious you can pay for anything you want to say to Israeli and American newspaper reporters. They ought to start top fortune500 wealthy reporter list and find out who is selling his wife and words. It is all dust in the wind, keep in mind that it takes brains, not money, to change the world. That is where SNP is in master control, babies. Born Loooooooooooooosers pay.

April 8th, 2010, 3:52 pm


Oudemos said:

The comparison with Northern Ireland is very tempting, particularly since Sen Mitchell spent much time and effort getting a solution acceptable to all parties.

However, perhaps the more aposite solution is Kosovo?

April 9th, 2010, 10:03 am


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