There is a report in this morning’s ‘Times’ that Barack Obama is going to support a 2002 Saudi peace initiative for Palestine/Israel that has already received backing from the Arab League and Israel’s ruling Kadima Party.(1) This proposal will see Israel withdraw to the pre-1967 borders for which there will be recognition of Israel from the Arab world. It will also give the Palestinians an opporunity to establish a state with its capital in East Jerusalem, while at the same time it will give Israel an effective veto on the right of return of the Palestinians expelled in 1948. Well, you are not going to have many of the refugees from 1948 negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians, or at least not many who live outside the West Bank and Gaza and for those living in the West Bank and Gaza this must seem as good as it is going to get. The question still remains though, what exactly will they get? One thing is for sure though, with chronic malnutrition having arrived in Gaza, any peace deal can only make things better.(2)
Therefore, what will Barack’s “ambitious peace plan” mean if implemented? Well, there will be a complete ignoring of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 with the rest of the world being told that ethnic cleansing can pay, there will be a Palestinian state of sorts with its capital in East Jerusalem, Israel will be recognised by all of its neighbours and the wider Arab and Islamic world and the brakes will be put on a zionist settler movement that a lot of Israelis find difficult to live with. Where it will leave those Palestinians living in Israel, some 20% of the population, I don’t know.
What are my own reservations regarding the intiative? Well, firstly what does it mean for the rest of the world if we give our seal of approval to an ethnic cleansing and secondly what kind of state will the Palestinians get? Regarding, the first part of that question, if there is real compensation for those who were forced off their land in 1948, if the Palestinians in the diaspora were brought into a settlement that would ultimately be condusive and acceptable to them, then as bitter as it is, it wouldn’t be the first ethnic cleansing that the world community has accepted. Indeed, we only have to go back to the Dayton Accords of 1995 to see an example of such an ethnic cleansing being facilitated by the United States. Secondly, if the Palestinians were offered real sovereignty “inter pares” and a viable state to go with that sovereignty then, I believe, peace in the Middle East might, indeed, be possible. Perhaps, the ‘Draft Permanent Status Argreement’, from December 2003, better known as the ‘Geneva Accord’ or Geneva Initiative’ could form the basis of a settlement. Of course, such a settlement those Palestinians living in Israel would also have to have their rights protected not only by the Israeli state but also by the international community.
Finally, Obama’s proposal does not de facto mean a further humiliation for the Palestinians. If the Palestinians can get and, indeed, are allowed to get a negotiating team together that can represent the interests of all Palestinians, a negotiating team that is everything that the one that went to Oslo in 1993 wasn’t, and if that negotiating team prepares itself properly, it might, indeed, be that the Palestinians will get their viable state at the negotiating table. Whatever, the nature of that state, it will inevitably fall short of what they are legally and morally entitled to. The compromise is theirs to make, it is for them to be generous. Of course, the question has to be asked, can the Palestinians transcend their differences and build a negotiating team that can take on the Israelis and their American backers, that can make them aware that it is they, the Palestinians, who are being magnaminious? If they can, but only if they can, would the evidence seem to suggest that at least superficially Obama is for once representing hope instead of hype.