“A preoccupation with the future not only prevents us from seeing the present as it is but often prompts us to rearrange the past.”Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983), The Passionate State of Mind, 1954
US special envoy George Mitchell has turned American foreign policy on its head following his latest visit to the Middle East.
In the space of 24 hours Mr Mitchell presented conflicting statements on President Obama’s supposed policy to settle the 130 years old conflict between Jews and Arabs over the territory once called Palestine.
Standing next to Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on 16 April 2009 Mr Mitchell declared
“U.S. policy favors in respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a two-state solution which will have a Palestinian state living in peace alongside the Jewish state of Israel”
Speaking after his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the next day Mr Mitchell said:
“The US is committed to the establishment of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state, where the aspirations of the Palestinian people to control their own destiny are realized. We want the Arab peace initiative to be a part of the effort to reach this goal… A two-state solution is the only solution”
1. a favoured solution becomes the only solution.
2. the Arab peace initiative of 2002 (already having been rejected by Israel) is to be part of the effort to reach this goal when it was not mentioned the day before.
3. the new Palestinian state to be established must be sovereign and independent (though apparently now not necessarily democratic or contiguous because of the presently irreconcilable dispute between the rival Hamas and Fatah Governments operating in Gaza and the West Bank) and
4. Mr Mitchell just happened to overlook mentioning to President Abbas that this newly created Arab State would have to live in peace alongside the Jewish state of Israel.
As an exercise in saying to his respective hosts what they each wanted to hear, Mr Mitchell may have been doing an excellent job.
However as an attempt to bring some resolution to the current conflict by telling both Jews and Arabs what the new American administration’s policy actually is - his visit can only be seen as a complete disaster and a waste of time.
America may not want to talk to Hamas but they can certainly find out what effect this mealy mouthed effort by Mr Mitchell had on Hamas by reading the reported remarks made by Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar on 17 April 2009 in his first public appearance since the Gaza offensive four months ago:
“We cannot, we will not and we will never recognize the enemy in any way shape or form”
His comments would no doubt be enthusiastically endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the 1.2 million Gazans who elected Hamas to power in 2006 and saw Fatah routed in Gaza in 2007. The enemy for Hamas is not only Israel, it is also Fatah.
If America now believes the two state solution is the only solution - then it can only come about if America brings pressure to bear on the Palestinian Authority and Israel to answer the following questions.
1. Is the Palestinian Authority prepared to recognize Israel as the Jewish National Home reconstituted pursuant to the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the United Nations Charter?
2. Does the Palestinian Authority intend to persist with its demand that every square centimeter of the West Bank be ceded to it by Israel or is it prepared to accept less in exchange for an equivalent land swap by Israel?
3. Is the Palestinian Authority still committed to former Arab residents of what is now Israel being given the right to return and live there and if so what would be the appropriate number Israel should accept?
4. Is Israel prepared to allow the creation of a 22nd Arab State between Israel and Jordan with full and unfettered access and control over its air space and maritime waters?
5 Is Israel prepared to remove all the Jewish residents of the West Bank. If not what number are they prepared to remove and from where?
6. Is Israel prepared to accept the return of any former Arab residents to live in Israel and if so how many?
7. Is Israel prepared to reconsider its stance on adopting the Arab peace initiative?
America - unequivocally and unambiguously - needs to present its own answers to both parties on these questions after first gauging their responses and then lay down its own terms as the price for America’s continuing involvement in helping the parties achieve a final resolution of their conflict.
Failure by America to elicit satisfactory and positive responses to these questions from the Palestinian Authority and Israel will only ensure that one can continue to predict with absolute certainty that the two state solution is not going to be the solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict.
Living the dream but experiencing the nightmare that has preceded this vision for the last 61 years has proved a dismal failure. How much longer will this farce continue to be paraded as the only solution to the conflict? It is about time that the parties put up or shut up.
Ignominious visits such as that undertaken by Mr Mitchell this week only underscore America’s need to get some answers from the parties to the above questions or vacate the scene - unless it completely revamps its thinking and starts to look at options other than the two state solution.