Bird that Sings

December 31, 2007

One Way Out—a case for nation building in the Middle East

Filed under: Politics — admin @ 9:46 pm


In the run-up to Gulf War II there was a lot of talk about nation building, especially among the neo-liberal punditry. While the Official Neo-Conservative Party Line called for an invasion of Iraq to “drain the swamp in which terror breeds,” neo-liberals proposed a seemingly more selfless approach.

The likes of Tom Friedman, George Packer, Paul Berman, Kenneth Pollack and even mad Christopher Hitchens maintained that to win the War against Terror, the US needed to live up to its own democratic ideals. An American invasion of Iraq that toppled the regime of the tyrant Saddam, they said, would send a message of liberty ringing throughout the Middle East, while simultaneously cutting the anti western ideological ground out from under the Jihadists. Though neo-conservatives also came to adopt this position—indeed as Paul Wolfowitz made clear at the time—any rationale was as good as any other when it came to invading Iraq—there was a sort of earnestness about the neo-liberals as opposed to the mephisto tinged, machiavellianism of the neo-cons.

What the constant neo-liberal references to “nation building in Iraq” always seemed to miss though, was that Iraq already was a nation. It stood to reason that to build a new nation in Iraq, you were going to have to destroy the old one first. As any fool could have told you at the time—and we tried—this was an extraordinarily bad idea.

In point of fact, there is only one country in the entire Middle East—outside the special case of Kurdistan—that was and remains a suitable case for nation building. That country is Palestine.

The case for nation building in Palestine is pretty cut and dried.
One, the Palestinians do not currently have a state of their own. Two, the Palestinians, in the West Bank at least, live in a geographically confined, more or less contiguous territory, which is currently under occupation. Three, for most Arabs—Sunni and Shia, the Palestinian cause has been emblematic of the Arab Cause as a whole through the post WWII era. Indeed the Palestinian cause has become the Islamic cause celebre in non-Arab countries from Iran to Pakistan to Indonesia.

It stands to reason that if one were trying to repair relations with the Arab and Islamic world, not to mention the former colonial world as a whole, a good place to start would be the creation of an independent Palestine.

There’s one thing standing in the way of the creation of a Palestinian State and that’s Israel. This is where the good offices of the US—or what’s left of them—come into play. For the past thirty-five years, it has been Israeli perception at least, that the US alone has had Israel’s back in a world arrayed against her. For this reason the US, and the US alone, is specially situated to assure the Israelis that their interests are also served, and will be protected, by this new US initiative.

However, beyond altruism, there is an even better, though related, reason that the US should go back into the nation building business in the Middle East.

When the Iraq Study Group of James Baker and Lee Hamilton attempted to imply there was a linkage between Palestine and Iraq, they were shouted down by the panicked neo-cons, but the time has to face the geo-political facts.

The best way for the US to get of Iraq is through the creation of a Palestinian State.

To achieve these dual ends, diplomacy, by all means, will be required. A peace conference for Iraq and the Middle East would be a good first step, with most of the countries of the region in attendance, as well as representatives of the various Iraqi communities and political/ethnic groupings. At this conference the US could submit the following proposal.

The US military will withdraw from central and southern Iraq, while twenty five thousand US troops are sent north to Kurdistan as both protection for the Kurds and to serve as an emergency strike force should the rest of Iraq devolve into complete anarchy. Eighty thousand American troops would then come back home. The remaining fifty thousand American troops—augmented by another twenty thousand soldiers representing allied forces—perhaps English, French, Turkish—or even Algerian, contingents, would be redeployed to the formerly occupied territories on the West Bank of the Jordan, and the newly declared State of Palestine.

One can envision a veritable Euphrates of positive outcomes flowing from this process. The Palestinians finally get a state of their own—along with an interim contingent of foreign forces that can effectively referee between Hamas and the PLO. Israel gets it’s ostensible dream scenario, a friendly foreign force embedded in the West Bank—and ultimately Gaza, that can both help stabilize Palestine and shield Israel from terrorist attacks.

The US meanwhile gets to disengage from Iraq, and perhaps even more promisingly, would then be in position to ask that both the Sunni and Shia Arabs of Iraq forbear from Civil War in their new role as Arab guarantors of the new nation of Palestine.

Of course some would claim this a best case scenario and they’d probably be right. There may be some difficulties, to put it diplomatically, in getting the various parties to agree to such a scheme, even if the proposals advanced here are objectively in their own best interests. It is therefore useful to take an empirical look at some of the many possible problems along the road from Baghdad to Jerusalem with an eye toward solving them.

The first problem could be getting the Israelis to withdraw and disengage from the West Bank, along with the concomitant question, what will be the borders of the new Palestinian State?

The proposed borders of a divided Israel/Palestine have generally been agreed upon for some time, though there have been crucial differences on the specifics. Suffice it to say that the Israelis will have to withdraw their military from the West Bank and take as many settlers with them as they can induce to leave. As for the probable seventy five to a hundred thousand mostly Religious settlers who will not be induced to leave for any amount of money, they can become citizens of a Palestinian State just as the million Palestinians in Israel proper are citizens of Israel. Meanwhile, the Israelis and the Palestinians—in consultation with the US, key Arab and Allied powers, all sitting together at the bargaining table—will have to work out the status of Jerusalem and other outstanding issues.

Israeli politics, of course, are not particularly rational and compounding the problem is the role that American neo-cons, notably Doug Feith, Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle and the ubiquitous Mr Wolfowitz have played in aiding the rejectionist camp in the Likud and the Israeli Right generally. Partly as a result of the American encouragement, the number of settlers in the territories has more than doubled in the years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. There are now four hundred and fifty thousand settlers in what they call “Judea and Samaria” and it is going to be difficult to entirely dislodge them for a number of reasons.

When the first Israeli settlements began appearing in the early and mid seventies, some were called “defensive” and others, “religious.” At the time there were about three million people in Israel proper, including Arabs. In the thirty odd years since the establishment of the first settlements, the population of Israel has grown to about six million people including the settlers. Aside from the political problems entailed in the resettlement of so many settlers in Israel proper, they may also present a demographic problem as well.

However to accept a permanent Israeli settler presence in the West Bank, is to indulge the same kind of circular logic that continues to fuel the US occupation in Iraq. It is the sort of logic that suggests Israel can’t pull out of the West Bank, because of the danger of Palestinian terror and also because the network of settler towns, roads and services in the territories has grown so extensive that the Israelis would be loathe to abandon it. It is the kind of logic that conveniently ignores the constant encouragement of the American neo-cons, in concert with their allies in AIPAC, that has politically insulated the Israeli colonization movement from outside criticism and sanction.

The protection of the neo-cons has also empowered voices on the extreme, irredentist Israeli Right, who call for the outright expulsion of the Arabs from all of Palestine, since in their words, the Jews only have one little state in the Middle East while the Arabs have many. Meanwhile the three million Palestinians in the West Bank live in a tightening noose of—terror breeding— poverty and desperation, while the situation in Gaza is, if anything, worse.

Taken together the politics of Palestine and the Israeli territories might seem to present an insolvable, Gordian knot of problem, but the “One way out” proposal offers a unique diplomatic tool: the sword of direct American intervention to cut right through it. As opposed to the unasked for American intervention in Iraq, American and friendly foreign intervention to create a Palestinian state is the best deal these people are ever going to get.

Beyond this, if the Palestinians are still resistant to having a state carved out for them, there’s nothing much anyone can do. However, if the Israelis are still recalcitrant, a US State Department, newly purged of discredited neo-con influence, may finally be in position to use a carrot and stick approach with Israel—especially if Israeli neo-con soul brother #1, Binyamin Netanyahu, is elected Prime Minister in the next elections.

There are many other potential difficulties for a Palestinian nation building strategy, but finally, the most conspicuous problem the “One Way Out (of Iraq)” program faces is domestic. That is, despite the obvious elegance and symmetry of the strategy, one cannot imagine the Bush Administration buying into it.

This is a big problem, but as always in politics, it’s also an opportunity. The time for a Bush administration led foreign policy is coming to an end and will expire long before Bush’s term of office is over. In the time we are now entering– all things, even impeachment, could suddenly become possible. And as Republican congressmen and senators jump overboard, swimming as fast as they can away from the unstable wreck of the Bush ship of state, they, along with their sometimes equally feckless Democratic colleagues, will need help and direction. It behooves us all to give it to them—with a carrot, or a stick.

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