Toward a New Foreign Policy Agenda
Terrorism in the Middle East is not the cause of the violence we face,
but the response to occupation by those too weak to use any other tactic.
By Robert V. Keeley
Robert V. Keeley retired from the Foreign Service in 1989 with the rank
of career minister after 34 years. He served three times as ambassador:
to Greece (1985-1989), Zimbabwe (1980-1984) and Mauritius (1976-1978).
In 1995, he founded Five and Ten Press, a small, independent publishing
company dedicated to bringing out original articles, essays and other
short works of fiction and non-fiction that have been rejected or
ignored by mainstream outlets.
The latest round of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon
this past summer only reinforces the urgent need for the Bush
administration to adopt a new diplomatic approach, both toward the
Middle East and in all its foreign relations. In this essay I would like
to offer some thoughts on what such a new framework should encompass.
The most obvious change we should make is to emphasize the role and
effectiveness of diplomacy, while resisting the inclination to seek
solutions through the threat or actual use of force abroad. As a
corollary, we need a major shift in tone and style in our practice of
diplomacy, away from criticizing, cajoling, denouncing and threatening
toward greater reliance on consulting, listening, and negotiating --
both with allies and with potential or actual adversaries.
For example, in many situations unilateral action has been of limited
effectiveness at best. I would hope we have now learned that some of our
armed interventions abroad, while demonstrating our overwhelming
military power, have also made matters worse rather than better.
Instead, let us rely more on alliances and multilateral organizations to
police threats to international stability and order.
A second overall change would be to abandon the so-called “war on
terror” or the “war on terrorism.” We should cancel this so-called war —
the term, the concept, the project. Terrorism is not an ideology,
program, movement or organization, so by definition it cannot be an
enemy –- and, therefore, it cannot be a target. It is a tactic, a
violent one to be sure, used mostly by the weak against the strong in an
effort to alter the odds in a struggle: for example, in a struggle by
the occupied against the occupier (e.g., Vietnam, Palestine, and now
Iraq), or by the colonized or oppressed seeking liberation (e.g.,
Algeria, South Africa). So long as the underlying grievances persist,
such a “war” will never end. It should also be abundantly clear, as the
most recent National Intelligence Estimate (slated to be partially
declassified and released as I write in late October) acknowledges, that
the tactics used to fight such a “war” have only succeeded in creating
more terrorism and more terrorists in more places.
A “war on terror” makes as little sense as a "war on bombing,” or on
artillery, or on invasion, or on occupation, or a “war on
assassination.” Intelligent people have been asking when the “war on
terror” will end. The answer usually offered is that it will end only
when all the terrorists are killed or captured or convicted and sent to
prisons. When will that be? Never, of course. We might as well ask when
will all the new enemies we have created give up the fight against us
and surrender to be incarcerated in our prisons. Who would like to
predict the date of that outcome?
Moreover, terrorism in the Middle East is not the cause of the violence
we face. It is primarily the response to occupation by those too weak to
use any other tactic. We simplistically label groups fighting against
occupation (e.g., Hamas and Hezbollah) “terrorist organizations” because
they resort to the only violent tactic available to them. Once those
occupations end, we will see a great reduction in violence, as Louise
Richardson explains in her new book-length study, “What Terrorists Want:
Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat.”
Richardson cites the case of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem
Begin. That he became a statesman in the 1970s does not alter the fact
that he was a terrorist in the 1940s. But Richardson uses that term to
describe, not demonize. As she points out, it is simply a fact that
Begin, like his counterparts in the Red Brigades, the Tamil Tigers,
Hamas, al- Qaida and countless other groups, was a terrorist. This does
not mean that he was an evil monster forever beyond understanding, or
that he was insane or a criminal, or that he had no legitimate motive
for the violence he committed. It means simply that he used violence
against civilian targets for political ends; i.e., he was a terrorist.
Used in this fashion, of course, the word “terrorist” has quite a
different value than it does in the way it is customarily used in the
American press, where it is a virtual synonym for “evildoer.” Richardson
rejects the widespread notion that “to understand or to explain
terrorism is to sympathize with it.” She makes it clear that she regards
the intentional targeting of civilians as profoundly immoral. But she,
in effect, brackets or suspends issues of morality, focusing first on
other characteristics of terrorism. This astringent, detached
perspective allows her to situate terrorism in a larger historical and
social context without falling into facile judgments or generalizations.
True Support for Democracy
A third general change would be to deep-six the current administration’s
democracy promotion program, in the Middle East and elsewhere, at least
until we have resolved some of the conflicts that are destabilizing
whole areas of the world. Where serious and longstanding conflicts are
unresolved, our insistence on democratic elections--an admirable goal in
the abstract--has brought to power more extreme groups that are
antagonistic to the U.S. (with justification) and has marginalized those
we might find more amenable to compromise.
Some thoughtful people feel strongly that it is wrong to try to
refashion other societies in our own image. But even idealists shouldn’t
ignore the often deleterious consequences of such uninvited
interventions. The democratization program risks the destabilization —
even overthrow — of regimes we need to work with to resolve ongoing
conflicts. This can easily happen prematurely; that is, before the
states have achieved the status of civil and secular societies in which
real democracy can flourish. Free, fair and democratic elections are
necessary, but only after the terrain has been prepared, something that
can only be done by the people concerned themselves. It cannot be
imposed by outsiders.
In some cases free and fair democratic elections have brought to power
or participation in governance Islamist groups that we consider hostile
to our interests and therefore refuse to recognize or deal with. But if
we truly support democracy, we have to accept the outcomes of the
elections that we promote. We should not ostracize the winners, boycott
them, try to starve them or encourage their ouster.
The best recent example of the hypocrisy that characterizes our policies
was the U.S reaction to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections
of January 2006. Nearly a year later, we still refuse to recognize and
deal with the victors unless they agree to three preconditions we insist
upon: recognize Israel; renounce violence; and accept all previous
agreements signed by your Fatah opponents. But which Israel, with what
borders? Hamas had already observed a truce for more than a year in
order to join the political competition. Those agreements they are told
to accept have been mostly ignored or violated by the other signatory,
Similarly, we refuse to deal with other Islamist parties that have
achieved some electoral success: Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt. What about the undemocratic, authoritarian regimes
in the region that are not our allies, such as Iran and Syria? Both are
major actors who need to be engaged if peace is ever to be established
in the Middle East. We have had no relations with Iran for 27 years, and
have recently threatened that country with regime change. The same goes
for Syria, where we have an embassy (but no ambassador for more than a
year), but constantly criticize and threaten its government.
We have followed a policy that says merely talking with them would be a
reward and therefore must be earned through their good behavior. This is
a remarkable change in the fundamentals of diplomacy, which
traditionally considered talking with potential and actual adversaries
as being as important as exchanges with one’s allies. This is not
rewarding them, but keeping them engaged in a useful dialogue.
A New Madrid Conference
Now would be a good time to organize a repeat of the Madrid Conference
of October 1991, but with an expanded membership and host list. That
conference, coming after the first Persian Gulf War, did not bring peace
to the Middle East, but it did achieve new measures that facilitated the
process. For the first time there were direct official talks between
Israelis and Palestinians before an international audience, though some
fictions were maintained. These talks were a prelude to the later Oslo
negotiations that for a while advanced the cause of peace. The Madrid
conference also led to an actual peace treaty between Israel and Jordan
three years later.
This time the hosts should not be the U.S. and the USSR, but rather the
U.S., U.N. and E.U. The negotiators should be Israel and all of its Arab
neighbors — Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, plus Saudi
Arabia. The agenda should be the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by
the Arab League — with all 22 members approving, including the
Palestinian delegation — at the League summit held in Beirut in 2002.
The goal would be final implementation of U.N. Security Council
Resolutions 242 and 338 and the “land for peace” formula that has been
the foundation concept for any final peace agreement since 1967.
Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel, so the primary
interlocutors on the Arab side would be the two states that still have
outstanding land issues with Israel -- Syria and Lebanon -- and the
Palestinians (most of all), who need to end the occupation and establish
their new sovereign state on what remains to them of the land of the
British Palestine mandate--that is, the 22 percent of the land of that
entity that Israel occupied in the 1967 war. Saudi Arabia should be
included both because it was then-Crown Prince, now King, Abdullah who
proposed the Initiative at the 2002 summit, and in recognition of that
country’s close proximity to Israel and its prominence in the Arab world.
The Arab Peace Initiative is in fact the very best offer still on the
table and could provide the basis for a fair, just, legal, comprehensive
and permanent resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as
peace between Israel and all of the Arab states. There is no doubt that
the Palestinian delegation fully supported the initiative at the time.
In a speech to the summit by video feed (because Israel would not
guarantee Arafat’s return to Ramallah if he left to attend the summit)
president endorsed the offer. (How many people know that in his speech
Arafat also censured the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. as “the terrorist acts
of aggression against New York and Washington, condemned first by us and
then by the rest of the world”?)
Four years on, Israel has yet to respond to the Arab initiative, so far
as I am aware. Is it not about time that it did so, particularly because
it is doubtful that the Arab states will collectively and unanimously
ever make a more generous offer? While the concessions required of
Israel may seem distasteful to it, are they not outweighed by the reward
of peace treaties with all of the states of the Arab world, and full and
total acceptance of Israel as a legitimate, permanent state?
In any case, these steps are actually obligations for Israel, pursuant
to United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which have
never been repealed or abandoned. The essential and complete elements of
the Arab Peace Initiative are the following (quoted from the resolution
in its final form, text available on the Arab League website):
Expectations from Israel:
A. Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the
Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still
occupied in southern Lebanon.
B. Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be
agreed upon in accordance with the U.N. General Assembly Resolution No 194.
C. Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian
state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
In return the Arab states will do the following:
Consider the Arab Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with
Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region.
Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this
comprehensive peace. (End of quotation.)
It is important to understand that the reference to “the problem of
Palestinian refugees” does not mean that millions of Palestinian
refugees would return to Israel, which would then no longer be a Jewish
state, as some media commentators have argued. The statement about the
refugees, with its reference to United Nations General Assembly
Resolution 194, was carefully worded and negotiated and was no doubt a
disappointment to many refugees, but the Palestinian leadership accepted
it. What it calls for is an agreement, obviously by negotiations among
the parties concerned, most importantly Israel, and it was well
understood that Israel would never agree to massive repatriation of
large numbers of refugees to its territory. But the “right of return”
would be recognized (as stated in 194) and compensation would be paid to
those not returning (also as called for by 194).
Here is the relevant part of UNGA Resolution 194:
11. Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live
at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the
earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the
property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to
property which, under principles of international law or in equity,
should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible;
Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation,
resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and
the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the
director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of
the United Nations.
Dealing with Hamas
There has, of course, been concern that Hamas, the winner in the
Palestinian elections in January 2006, is committed to the “destruction”
of Israel, and therefore there is no longer any serious support by
Palestinians for the Arab League Initiative. That is something we should
be exploring; but instead, we refuse to talk to Hamas, dismissing it as
a “terrorist organization.”
We and other powers have admonished Hamas to recognize the right of
Israel to exist, to renounce violence and to accept agreements
previously signed by the Palestinian authorities. A rational response by
Hamas might be: “We will recognize Israel if it accepts the Arab Peace
Initiative and withdraws to the June 1967 lines, cancels the illegal
annexations of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the portions of the
West Bank included in expanded Jerusalem, returns the Golan Heights to
Syria, recognizes the right of the Palestinians to establish their own
state in the 22 percent of the Palestine mandate not included in Israel
prior to 1967, renounces violence against the Palestinians and all of
the other Arab states, and begins implementing all of the agreements
made with the Palestinian authorities that it has ignored or violated.”
This would be a balanced outcome, not a one-sided proposal that requires
the Palestinians to do lots of things and requires Israel to do nothing.
A sweetener to this peace agreement would be the release of thousands of
Palestinian and other Arab prisoners Israel is holding, and the return
to Israel of the three Israeli soldiers taken prisoner by the Gazans and
Hezbollah. When conflicts end there is supposed to be an exchange of
prisoners of war-- which is what these people are.
Is this proposed peace plan unfair to Israel? The U.N. Partition Plan of
1947 awarded 52 percent of British mandate Palestine to Israel, at a
time when the Jewish population owned about 6 percent of the land, and
they were perhaps one third of the territory’s population. At the end of
the 1947-1949 War, Israel held 78 percent of the territory. How can
Palestinians be reasonably expected to find this fair?
UNSC Resolution 242 forbade the acquisition of land by force of arms.
Contrary to the phraseology employed by our media, the West Bank and
Gaza Strip were not “captured” or “conquered” by Israel. They were
occupied by Israel. This land does not belong to Israel and cannot
belong to Israel. Israel is not free to dispose of it as it pleases. It
must be returned to the millions of stateless Palestinian people, many
living as refugees for the past nearly 60 years.
Israeli scholar Mark Heller long ago made an interesting suggestion for
what to do with the Israeli settlements on the West Bank in the context
of a permanent peace. He estimated that 80 percent of the settlers were
not fanatic “redeemers” of land promised by their God to the Jewish
people, but were there because of nice, inexpensive housing from which
they commuted to jobs in Israel proper. So, they would be happy to be
bought out handsomely so that they could move to equivalent housing in
Heller proposed that Saudi Arabia buy the settlements for, say, $10
billion. While some might object to compensating people for something
illegal they had done, it could be palatable if presented as a project
to provide housing for Palestinian refugees returning to a new
Palestinian state rather than to their former homes in Israel.
A Just, Permanent Peace
The compromise offered in the Arab Peace Initiative is not designed
simply to “appease” the Arabs or Muslims in general. Rather, it provides
the only means of ensuring the near- and long-term security of Israel as
a normal, legitimate state in the Middle East. It would also help restore
the standing of the United States as an agent of peace rather than of
conflict in the world.
These results cannot be achieved by legitimizing Israel’s annexation of
East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and the incorporation into Israel
of still more Palestinian land in the West Bank now occupied by hundreds
of thousands of Israeli settlers. A return to the 1967 borders is the
sine qua non of any comprehensive solution.
But the most difficult element to resolve is no doubt the status of
Jerusalem. Israel claims it all, even expanded far beyond its previous
boundaries, as its sole and eternal capital. Is this just? Is it fair to
the adherents of three great religions with indisputable ties to the
city that only one of them have it all? Would it harm anyone’s faith to
share it with others of a different faith?
The city has had a long history marked by struggles over its possession.
So would it not cement a general peace in the area to end the struggle
and make it truly a city of peace, to be shared by all who hold it dear?
Is there any rational reason why Jerusalem could not be the shared
capital of two states living in peace with each other?
It is essential that any comprehensive peace agreement designate at
least some part of Jerusalem as territory to serve as a capital city for
the Muslims and Christians of Palestine. Such a gesture would enlist
adherents of those two religions all over the world as strong supporters
of a just, permanent peace, increasing the chances it will take root and
Robert V. Keeley