Jul 23rd 2013

It's Just the Beginning

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

Two events jolted the Israeli/Palestinian arena this past week: Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement that, after a three year hiatus, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will once again meet to begin peace talks, and the European Commission announced guidelines that will ban European assistance to Israeli enterprises, institutions, or individuals operating from the occupied Palestinian territories. There are those who see the two efforts at cross purposes with one another. The Israelis denounced the European stance as "interference", while the US termed the European action "unhelpful". In fact, it is quite helpful and can provide a useful assist to the negotiations.

It took Kerry six visits to the Middle East to secure the agreement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to begin direct talks. Details of Kerry's strategy have not yet been made public but there have been some press reports which indicate that the Secretary utilized a combination of incentives and a bit of creative ambiguity in his efforts to finesse an agreement. The centerpiece of his approach appears to involve a statement that he will issue detailing the US's "terms of reference" for the negotiations. It will apparently be clear that this is the US position and will allow for the parties to raise objections.

Handling the "terms of reference" in this manner will provide the Palestinians the opportunity to agree with US insistence that the negotiations should be based on the 1967 borders with allowances for "land swaps", while the Israelis can claim that they are not bound by these terms. Additionally, the Israelis will latch onto the US's acceptance of the view that the outcome of the negotiations should include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, while allowing the Palestinians to insist that they have not so agreed. Despite the effort it has taken to get to this point, Kerry notes that now the hard work begins. This is an understatement, since the parties have, as yet, agreed to nothing other than the fact that they will meet.

All this reminds me of then Secretary of State James Baker's use of creative ambiguity back in 1991 to get Israelis and Arabs to attend the Madrid Peace Conference. Baker pushed and prodded, and, when needed, he threatened. Because the Israelis would not agree to even sit with the PLO or any "Palestinian" delegation, and because the Arabs, of course, insisted that the Palestinians be present, Baker cooked up a rather creative plan to include the Palestinians in the Jordanian delegation with no flags or signage present. This would allow the Palestinians and other Arabs to insist that there was the Palestinian delegation in attendance, while the Israelis would continue to refer to them as Jordanians.

It took two years and 11 rounds of failed negotiations before frustrated Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, on their own and in private, produced the Oslo Accords—which was itself an exercise in creative ambiguity. In the agreement they signed, Israelis and Palestinians fudged or delayed action on most of the critical issues that divided them. They did agree to recognize each other—but even this now appears to have been of limited value with Israelis upping the ante with the demand that they be recognized as a "Jewish State" and most members of the current government in Israel continuing to refuse to acknowledge the right of Palestinians to a state of their own.

Much the same problems exist on the Palestinian side. And while the terms of the Accord envisioned a five-year plan of implementation, the document stated that during this period both sides would agree not to take any unilateral steps that would prejudice the outcome of the negotiations. Even here there was no consensus as to what that phrase meant. For Palestinians, it meant that the Israelis would refrain from building any new settlements in the occupied lands since that would clearly prejudice the final outcome. For the Israelis, it meant no such thing. The result was that in the first 10 years of the Oslo process, the number of Israelis living in settlements in the occupied lands doubled to almost 400,000. 

The problem, therefore, with creative ambiguity is that while it may get you to "Go", it doesn't necessarily get you past "Go".

Here is where the bluntness of European Commission's decision can be extraordinarily helpful. By reminding the Israelis that their settlement enterprise is illegal and not recognized by the international community they provide important balance to the negotiating effort. 

Since the occupation of the territories in 1967, the Israelis have disregarded international law and conventions which specifically prohibit the acquisition of property and the settlement of people by the occupying power in lands seized in time of war. The Israelis have refused to acknowledge the applicability of these laws and conventions maintaining that it is their right to populate these lands. Over time, US objections to Israel's settlement policy have been frustrated and then muted by domestic pressures. As a result, the Israelis have ignored US appeals to end settlement construction.

It should be noted that despite the US acknowledgment that the negotiations would be based on the 1967 borders allowing for "land swaps" (implicitly giving the Israelis the opportunity to keep many of their settlements), the Israelis reject even that formula. And, as demonstrated by the reaction of US Congress when President Obama articulated the same position two years ago, it is difficult to imagine how the Palestinians could have the confidence to proceed. 

Hence the importance of the European position. While a letter sent to the EU by some Members of Congress criticizes the European position, arguing that it "will only serve as a disincentive for the Palestinian Authority to engage in serious final status negotiations", in fact, the impact of the European action will be the opposite. The Palestinians may now feel that while the Israelis have the US Congress in their corner, they now have someone supporting them, helping to balance the scales. 

 In the days to come we will learn more about the US "terms of reference", the incentive packages that will offered to advance the process, and the reactions of the deeply fractured Israeli and Palestinian publics to the effort itself. We will also learn the degree to which the US, the Europeans, and the Arabs will actively put their weight behind the effort. There will be difficult days ahead. Getting the parties to "Go" is just the start, since, as Secretary Kerry has noted, the hard work has just begun.



--------------------------
Facts & Arts is a platform for owners of high quality content to distribute their content to a worldwide audience.

Facts & Arts' objective is to enhance the distribution of individual owners' content by combining various types of high quality content that can be assumed to interest the same audience. The thinking is that in this manner the individual pieces of content on Facts & Arts support the distribution of one another.

If you have fitting written material, classical music or videos; or if you would like to become one of our regular columnists, a book reviewer or music reviewer; or if you wish to market or broadcast a live event through Facts & Arts, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "