Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State will afford many future opportunities to compare her performance with her predecessor Condoleezza Rice in bringing finality to the allocation of sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza - where no internationally recognised sovereign ruler has reigned supreme since Britain left in haste in 1948 with its lion’s tail firmly planted between its legs.
To be fair to Ms Rice her failure to resolve the status of the West Bank and Gaza was due to the flawed objectives of President Bush’s 2003 Roadmap - popularly termed the “two state solution”.
President Bush misguidedly envisioned the Palestinian Arabs accepting a democratic, contiguous, viable - - and 22nd Arab Moslem - state in the major part of the West Bank and Gaza between Jordan, Egypt and Israel - living in peace and harmony alongside an expanded Jewish State whose boundaries would incorporate a substantial majority of the 200000 Jews then living in the West Bank and Gaza.
President Bush also believed the Arabs would abandon their 70 years old demand for millions of Arabs to be granted permission to emigrate to Israel - opting instead to engage in the business of nation building in their own newly created state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Not only he genuinely believed this laudable and idealistic goal was achievable. The President was able to convince the European Union, Russia and the United Nations to join him in negotiating such an outcome.
He - and they - have been proved sorely wrong on all counts.
Ms Rice became the most frequent - and frustrated - foreign emissary to the region since the Roadmap’s formulation yet failed to achieve even the slightest change in the Arabs’ negotiating stance - first formulated in 1967 - which totally rejected the President’s vision and its desired result.
Israel had been prepared to make concessions in settling its claims in the West Bank and Gaza in accordance with the rights accruing to the Jewish people under Article 80 of the United Nations Charter. However in the face of entrenched Arab opposition to recognising any Jewish claims of any sort whatsoever in the West Bank and Gaza those concessions were always bound to be rejected.
President Bush’s belief that he could solve the Arab - Jewish conflict has come crashing to the ground joining the failed attempts of President Carter and President Clinton - who also thought they too had the power prestige and standing to do exactly the same.
Now President-elect Obama stands ready to follow their footsteps. He needs to be very careful in believing he has the answers to finally end the Arab -Jewish conflict where distinguished former Presidents - and even the League of Nations and United Nations before them - have failed so abysmally.
Unverified reports that President-elect Obama intends to pursue the two-state solution or perhaps even embrace the 2002 Arab League Peace Initiative will inevitably land him in the same cavernous potholes that President Bush - and those who resolutely accompanied him - encountered in their six year trip to nowhere.
The Arab League Initiative is a sugar coated pill that merely repeats the 40 years old Arab demands that have caused the Roadmap to be taken off the best seller list. Put to the Jewish people as a “take it or leave it” proposal the Initiative will be rejected - as no major political party in Israel could possibly embrace its terms unconditionally and hope to gain Government when the next elections are held in February 2009.
Peace between Jews and Arabs will not be achieved in one trip. There will need to be frequent garage stops to refuel the vehicle and even a few oil and grease changes. It is a very long journey that will require patient and very careful navigation around all kinds of obstacles and pot holes.
The overly-ambitious objective of totally solving the conflict should now give way to genuine attempts to manage and moderate the conflict - rather than bring it to a triumphant and permanent end - since Jews and Arabs remain as far apart as they were when the division of Palestine was first proposed between them by the Peel Commission in 1937.
President-elect Obama needs to prepare for his journey armed with the Congressional Resolution dated 21 September 1922 (42 Stat. 1012 PART 1, 1922) signed by the 29th President Warren G. Harding which stated:
“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled THAT the United States of America favours the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of Christian and all other non-Jewish communities in Palestine, and that the holy places and religious buildings and sites in Palestine shall be adequately protected.”
The President-elect should unequivocally affirm his support for this resolution and its clear intent.
He needs to understand where the territorial boundaries of “Palestine” were located in 1922 and what has since happened to the allocation of sovereignty between Arabs and Jews in the length and breadth of that territory.
He has to recognise that the Jews now exercise sovereignty in 17% of Palestine, the Arabs exercise sovereignty in 77% of Palestine and that sovereignty remains unallocated between either Jews or Arabs in the remaining 6% now called the West Bank and Gaza.
He must appreciate that the history of Palestine did not start in 1948, that it was part of the territorial division of the Ottoman Empire after the defeat of Turkey in World War 1 - offering the Arab nation self determination in 99.99% of that liberated land and the Jewish people self determination in just 0.01% of such land.
He must acknowledge the body of international law that exists in relation to Palestine - starting with the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 - which the Arabs now need to finally accept since continuing rejection prevents any possible prospect of a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Jewish conflict.
Armed with this body of information President-elect Obama will understand why the two state solution and the Arab League Initiative never did, never could, and never will succeed. He should be able to conclude that changes in the Arab negotiating stance are necessary since pressing for 100% of your demands can never lead to a concluded agreement with your adversary.
President-elect Obama must carefully plan for the journey that awaits him before he turns the engine on.