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Will Obama Adopt a Dangerously Simplistic Peace Plan?

A new conventional wisdom is
rapidly taking shape that the United States can resolve the
130-year-old conflict in Palestine by advancing its own peace plan.
Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former US
Congressman Stephen Solarz outlined such a plan in The Washington Post
recently, and argued that President Obama could boost its prospects
with a "bold gesture" -- a trip, to Jerusalem and Ramallah in the
company of Arab and other leaders to unveil it ("To achieve Mideast peace, Obama must make a bold Mideast trip," 11 April 2010).

Strong supporters of Israel have pushed back that "imposing peace"
would not work, but few Palestinian voices have been heard. Indeed,
from a Palestinian perspective, this idea is dangerously simplistic,
and more likely to deepen festering injustices and fuel, rather than
resolve conflict.

The "comprehensive solution" Brzezinski and Solarz propose is nothing
of the kind because the conflict cannot be reduced to a mere border
dispute between Israel and a putative Palestinian state. They propose
for example "a territorial settlement based on the 1967 borders, with
mutual and equal adjustments to allow the incorporation of the largest
West Bank settlements into Israel."

This is deceptive; the West Bank and Gaza Strip constitute just 22
percent of historic Palestine between the Jordan River and
Mediterranean Sea, in which Palestinians formed the overwhelming
majority prior to their expulsion and flight as Israel was created in
1948. Official Palestinian acceptance of the two-state solution was a
concession unprecedented in the history of any nation because it
involved surrendering the 78 percent of the country on which Israel was
established. To demand that Palestinians further divide the remainder
represents no compromise by Israel. It merely ratifies Israel's
systematic colonization of West Bank land since 1967 in flagrant
defiance of international law.

The proposed "land swap" to compensate Palestinians for annexed Israeli
settlements is illusory. The majority of the half million Israeli
settlers are concentrated in and around Jerusalem -- the heart of the
would-be Palestinian state. Yet the lands that Israel might consider
handing over in compensation are small barren tracts far away from
population centers. If there are such lands that could compensate the
French for Paris, the British for London or Americans for New York
City, then there might be lands that Palestinians could accept instead
of Jerusalem.

Even more devastating to Palestinian rights, Brzezinski and Solarz
float "a solution to the refugee problem involving compensation and
resettlement in the Palestinian state but not in Israel." This they
call "a bitter pill" but argue that "Israel cannot be expected to
commit political suicide for the sake of peace."

Palestinian refugees have an internationally-recognized legal right to
return to their homes and lands, but Israel has always denied this on
the sole grounds that Palestinians are not Jews. Thus Gaza, where 80
percent of the population are refugees, is essentially a holding pen
for humans of the "wrong" ethno-religious group. Would Brzezinski and
Solarz be so sanguine about accommodating Israel's discriminatory
character if its grounds for refusing the return of refugees was that
they had the "wrong" skin color?

I write from downtown Pretoria, once the all-white capital of the South
African apartheid state, which also argued that ending white rule would
be "political suicide." The notion that people of different groups
cannot or should not mix is belied by the vibrant multiracial reality
in the streets of Pretoria outside my window today.

And precedents for the actual return of refugees abound. Under the
US-brokered 1995 Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnia war, almost
half a million refugees and internally displaced persons returned home
with international assistance, to areas that had become dominated
demographically and politically by members of another ethno-national
community -- an enormous achievement in a country with a total
population of 3.5 million and deep traumas as a result of recent war.

Other than Israel's discriminatory aversion to non-Jews it is difficult
to see why Palestinian refugees could not also return to their lands
inside Israel, the vast majority of which remain uninhabited.

By endorsing Israel's self-definition as a "Jewish state," Brzezinski
and Solarz not only ratify the violation of the fundamental rights of
refugees, but consign another 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of
Israel to permanent second-class status within an increasingly
intolerant and ultranationalist Israel. A more likely outcome than "two
states living side by side in peace" is that Palestinian citizens of
Israel will come under increasing threat of expulsion to the
Palestinian state -- in other words, a new round of ethnic cleansing.

The vision of a truncated, demilitarized mini-state in no way fulfills
basic Palestinian aspirations and rights and would bring no more peace
or dignity than the bantustans which apartheid South Africa tried to
establish for its black citizens to forestall and delay demands for
equality and democracy. Nor would a trip by Obama do anything to revive
shop-worn ideas that have gained little real support either among
Palestinians or Israelis since they were first proposed at the failed
Camp David summit in 2000.

Margaret Thatcher once said that partitioning South Africa to create
separate black and white states would be like "trying to unscramble an
egg," and could lead to tremendous bloodshed. It is time to recognize
that this truth also applies to Palestine/Israel and to seek political
solutions similar to the one here, or the settlement in Northern
Ireland, that embrace rather than attempt to deny diversity, equality
and justice for all who live in that land.

© 2021

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