A New Middle East Approach | The Nation


A New Middle East Approach

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The March 18 issue features a collection of readers' comments on this article, "New Mideast Approach": Flawed?

Political Dynamics

About the Author

Jerome M. Segal
Jerome M. Segal, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security...

The reader may ask how this plan can surmount the political opposition of territorial and religious absolutists on both sides of the conflict. The answer lies in the political dynamic created by such action by the Security Council.

First, by resolving the territorial dimension of the conflict EDS/ETC removes the most fundamental motivation for violence among those Palestinians prepared to live at peace with a Jewish state. Thereby, it isolates the true maximalists from the bulk of the Palestinian populace. And second, by giving rise to an established Palestinian state, it removes from the various factional forces any legitimization of their claim to be independent decision-makers on issues of war and peace. Both factors will increase the capability (and thus the accountability) of the new Palestinian government with regard to preventing any continued violence. A Palestinian state can act to achieve a monopoly over the means of violence not because of Israeli or US demands but simply because that monopoly is a normal constitutive feature of any state. While Hamas and Islamic Jihad may hope to resist the authority of the Palestinian state, they will find--as did the Irgun in its 1948 confrontation with Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion--that once statehood is achieved, the ability to do so is severely limited.

There is, of course, the possibility that the PLO will not agree to the various conditions for statehood required by the Security Council. In particular, it may resist recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, because this would have relevance to the issues arising when the question of refugees is negotiated. In effect, the international community would be saying to the Palestinians that accepting Israel as a Jewish state is a condition of their own statehood. With this coming from the Security Council there is a strong chance it would be accepted. However, were the PLO to refuse this, there would be no directive to Israel to withdraw. Internationally, the situation would, however, be transformed. The responsibility for continuing occupation would rest upon Palestinian unwillingness to meet Security Council conditions.

Similarly, there is the possibility that the Sharon government would refuse to obey a Security Council directive to withdraw. Indeed, if the Security Council directed unconditional withdrawal, there might be widespread support in Israel for standing alone against the world. But the above plan is conditional on the PLO (and the putative state of Palestine) recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and accepting that this withdrawal ends the territorial dimension of the conflict. On territory, it is not radically different from what Clinton proposed. Coming from the Security Council, under US leadership, it is unlikely that Sharon would choose to disobey such a directive, but if he did, a totally new dynamic would arise within Israeli politics. The Labor Party would withdraw from the national unity government and would be in a position to make the next elections a referendum on whether to accede to the Security Council and end the territorial dimensions of the conflict. Central to winning such a referendum would be the demonstration by the PLO/State of Palestine that it exercises and will continue to exercise a monopoly over the use of force within the Palestinian polity. It will be the moment of truth for both peoples.

The real difficulty facing the EDS/ETC idea is that it can't succeed without strong US leadership. Thus far the Bush Administration has not been willing to play that role. There are three conditions under which this might change. First, if an Israeli government were to signal its desire for an imposed solution. Today this is, of course, impossible. Second, if the conflict became so heated as to generate a major threat to America's fundamental security interests. And third, if there developed within Israel a substantial body of public opinion calling on the United States to play this role. Such appeals would have to be sufficiently forceful to win significant support within the US Jewish community and the larger US public. It is with this last option that hope resides.

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