Attempts to return the Israeli government to the 1967 borders will lead to a new war in the region.
The old joke that the best cure for a headache is the guillotine has never better illustrated U.S. President Barack Obama’s suggested option to regulate the conflict in the Middle East.
Obama proposed to Tel Aviv the old-as-Earth solution, which has been a fixture in many resolutions previously adopted by the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly. However, until now not one American leader had resolved to bring a radical “trimmed” Israeli territory to the table, in order to avoid conflicts with the influential Jewish lobby in America.
Obama is not afraid of the potential argument. Although, it is possible that he simply did not have a choice. The timetable is in months, not years. The situation in the Middle East is changing so rapidly that any delay in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and establishing a Palestinian state can turn into the most unpredictable consequences. The so-called democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, where elections for new leadership will soon take place, will probably lead to fundamental changes in the foreign politics of these countries. And, they will create a real threat to the safety of Israel; that is, of course, if nothing changes the “status quo” in the increasingly complicated region.
Obama assures his interlocutors, both in Israel and in America, of the fairness of this logic. He suggests that Israel officially return to its 1967 borders “with mutually agreed [land] swaps.” Thus, Tel Aviv will have to “surrender” the settlements on Palestinian lands, where, incidentally, many immigrants from the former Soviet Union live, and abandon the Golan Heights, which shelter Israel from the Syrian direction and have strategic importance for its defense.
Under these circumstances, where the “Russians” living on these lands will go is unclear. Their resettlement will deeply cost the Israeli government money it simply doesn’t have. The money is hardly likely to exist in the scant U.S. budget. And this is not even addressing the psychological and political effect of appropriately caring for the population. The current generation of Israeli leaders knows well that implementing Obama’s plan would be political suicide for them. For the sake of fairness it is necessary to say that Israel has never considered most of the occupied Palestinian lands to be their own. However, Israel has never pulled out due to security concerns.
“And why wouldn’t the U.S. return lands for which they fought 200 years ago to their previous occupants — Spain, France or Britain?” several commentators spitefully ask. In their opinion, returning territories to the Palestinians or to the Syrians, land for which Israelis paid with their blood, will not lead to peace, insomuch as it will demonstrate Israeli weakness. And in the East, weakness is not forgiven.
For Israel, Obama’s initiative is akin to the guillotine; avoid the headache along with the head. The U.S. president is absolutely right when he says “the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories … [T]echnology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace. And third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders,” Obama said, as he explained his vision of the future geopolitical picture of the world to listless Jewish students. The same questions were probably discussed by those in Rome during the time of the Roman Empire, when deciding what to do with their eastern province — satellite Jerusalem, which was being attacked from all sides by its Arab neighbors.
However, the option proposed to the Israelis to “swap territories,” in the unstable circumstances of the ongoing political process in the Arab world, is no more than an illusion of the peace process. From the public relations point of view, Obama set forth a strong path. But from the point of view of realistic politics, he proposed a solution that neither the Jews nor the Palestinians would accept.
It is difficult to dispute Obama’s thoughts on this matter. The situation in the Middle East and in the region in general is evolving according to its own unpredictable and critical way. But, the hurried creation of a Palestinian state, which will hardly foster friendly political relations with Israel, will only aggravate the opposition. Much depends on whether Washington will be able to exert its influence over the newly formed governments in Northern Africa, or gradually occupy a more radical position than previous administrations in relation to Tel Aviv.
The White House understands that any careless sparks could ignite a new war in the region against Israel. Too many Arab countries are interested in using a new foreign enemy to distract their people from revolutionary fervor. And then the Americans will be involuntarily tangled up in a new conflict, as Obama stated the U.S. responsibility to “do all that’s necessary to ensure Israel’s security.”
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