Collisions for Global Security, 2011 (Part II): Israel and a Palestinian State

Chess without rules.

In Part I, I discussed the loss of US leadership that has been evident in the handling of the Libya conflict.  This lack of leadership is the central factor in the emerging scramble to get a Palestinian state declared in 2011.  Nothing, not even the “Arab spring” uprisings, is as important as the fact that US leadership in the “peace process” – and in the wider region – is increasingly meaningless.

The good news about that is that much could be averted with a change of front in Washington.  Nothing has yet gone so far that a more effective diplomatic campaign by the US couldn’t bring positive results.

But things have gone a long way already.  Events are moving fast, as with the tactical rapprochement this week of Fatah (which runs the Palestinian Authority) and Hamas (see here and here for perspective).  This move, whatever its merits as a maneuver toward Palestinian statehood, would not have been undertaken if the PA had any real fear of US objections to its rapprochement with a terrorist organization.

As I outlined in a previous series of posts from 2009, the issue of “Palestine” is a geostrategic one for key governments and non-governmental leaders in the Islamic world.  The aspirations of the Palestinian people are secondary; of primary importance is control of the territory adjacent to Israel.  That means it matters to all the rival actors whose client(s) establish a Palestinian state, and how it’s done.  The Hezbollah coup in Lebanon in January and the Arab Spring uprisings – particularly in Egypt – have thrown that up for grabs.

And that means the old analytical factors about this problem are outdated.  If the US were still an active factor, one with its own positive agenda, predictions about how the regional actors will behave would be more reliable.  But the shift of conditions has created a unique (and probably temporary) opportunity to establish a power structure on Israel’s perimeter – one that could include Egypt, a Palestinian state, Lebanon, and possibly even Syria.  The game has changed.  Old bets are off.

The question of who controls the territory adjacent to Israel is not, of course, “the” issue for the street demonstrators seeking new government in the Muslim Middle East.  For most of them, from Iran to Algeria, what they’re participating in isn’t “about” controlling the borders of Israel.  But many of those who seek to govern them, and/or to influence the outcomes in their countries, do have that objective in view.  And it is their agenda, not the less coherent aspirations of the people, that will become policy.

Four groups are vying for the future of the Middle East: the Muslim Brotherhood; Iran and her clients (Syria and Hezbollah); the old-guard Arab leadership (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the PA, the Gulf emirates), of which there are fewer in power than there were three months ago; and Turkey.  There is at present no monolithic bloc seeking to control the territory on Israel’s borders.  Instead, what we see playing out in the region is the maneuvering of rivals for regional Islamic leadership.

The Gathering Storm

The milestones being planned by the different factions this year are, in ascending order of importance, the so-called “Third Intifada,” the 2011 Gaza flotilla, and the proposal for a UN vote to declare a Palestinian state in September.  It’s important not to dismiss the Third Intifada plan or the Gaza flotilla.  They are preliminary skirmishes in the same campaign as the one coalescing for a Palestinian statehood vote.  They are intended to induce Israel to use force in self defense, and thus incur actionable condemnation.

The Third Intifada is planned for 15 May according to its now-infamous Facebook page (removed due to its violations of Facebook policies.  Groups in the US and elsewhere have launched follow-on pages at separate sites).  The Third Intifada movement bears the hallmark of a social-network insurgency, in part because it has been explicitly rejected (so far) by PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and in part because the burden of its public call is for “peaceful marches.”

If there is organized support behind it, the Muslim Brotherhood is the likely source:  the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan called in March 2010 for a third intifada, and has been active in the protests across the Arab world in the last few months, especially in Egypt and Jordan.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s disgust with existing Arab leadership has extended for some time to the PA and Fatah, and it would not hesitate to prejudice the political environment in which the PA operates if it expected to gain advantage by doing so.

A call has gone out in Egypt for mass demonstrations in support of the Third Intifada – on 13 May, two days before it’s supposed to erupt.  The whole thing may fizzle: none of Israel, the PA, Egypt, or Jordan is likely to stand by and let the “Third Intifada” get out of hand.  If it were going to be a stand-alone event, it probably wouldn’t amount to much.  But given its timing, it may function instead as a kickoff for the 2011 Gaza flotilla.

Throughout February and March, the 2011 Gaza flotilla was reportedly being planned for the latter half of May.  Bringing the Gaza flotilla in on the heels of the Third Intifada, assuming both events come off, will make for quite a difficult period for Israeli security forces.  Hamas has been the Palestinian entity principally associated with the flotilla movement; there is no evidence that a central entity coordinated the two events to coincide.  Their near-simultaneous timing would present a major challenge to Israel, however.

Two weeks ago, the flotilla’s Turkish sponsor – IHH, the terrorist-affiliated “humanitarian” group that sponsored the May 2010 flotilla – announced that the flotilla would be delayed until after Turkey’s upcoming national election in June.  But recent updates have confirmed that the IHH and other sponsors all plan to get their ships underway in May.  And although Gaza flotillas are a Hamas “deal,” Fatah officials were reported on 21 April to be planning to participate.  This effectively makes the flotilla a part of Fatah’s campaign plan for September.

The flotillas do create a serious risk of maritime havoc created by terrorist groups, but it’s unlikely that Hamas will breach the “unarmed humanitarian” profile by resorting to military weaponry.  Hezbollah could take advantage of the situation to launch a maritime attack, from its own separate motives – but while it’s in the middle of consolidating power in Lebanon, it’s unlikely to.

(The effect of that, if it’s not clear, is to sideline Iran’s client for this event.  Iran’s internal turmoil – regime infighting that appears to involve a power struggle among Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei’s son, and perhaps others – may well keep Iran out of the maneuver game through the early summer.)

The flotilla gambit is now being pushed by both the PA and Erdogan’s Turkey, political actors with a stake in the current order and a common objective: not of using overt force themselves, but of inducing Israel to use force in self-defense.

There is one favorable factor in the case of both the Third Intifada and the Gaza flotilla, and that is that simple chance has a fairly good record of preventing plans like these from coming off on schedule.  European governments may also intervene in the departure plans of the flotilla ships as well.

Push for a Palestinian State Declaration in the UN

A number of Latin American nations have recognized a Palestinian state in the last few months; the EU and some of its member states are considering doing so.  Russia and China have the diplomatic luxury of remaining strategically silent in 2011, having recognized a Palestinian state in principle more than 20 years ago.

That said, however, the plummeting effectiveness of US power changes perspectives on old questions.  Russia and China may have recognized a Palestinian state in principle years ago, but they are not so keen on the idea of a UN unconstrained by the US, peremptorily declaring the boundaries of new states on disputed territory.  Either of them could be hit by that wave.  So could Turkey, India, and a number of other nations.  In many of the cases, Muslim insurgencies are at issue; even Russia and China cannot feel invulnerable to the repercussions of a UN declaration on Palestinian borders.  If the US doesn’t look like we’ll use our veto, it’s not out of the question for them to work behind the scenes to keep a vote from occurring.

Whoever is credited with the victory in creating a Palestinian state, however, will have an unmatched notch on his belt.  Fatah has the most to lose from anyone else getting that credit, and made the first unambiguous move by throwing in with Hamas last week.  The proposal for a Fatah-Hamas unity government violates the Oslo accords – Hamas being a terrorist organization – and Israel has terminated the disbursement of tax receipts to the PA because of this move.  Congress has issued threats to cut off US aid to the PA if the deal goes through.

But it is telling that editorial opinion, in the English-language media of the Arab Middle East, has changed its tone in the last couple of months.  This op-ed pieceat Egyptian news outlet Ahram Online (“A message to congress: keep your money”) is representative in being quite open about both disdain for the US, and the objective to eliminate Israel, a sentiment reserved, not so long ago, for Arabic-language editorials (enlarged pitch in original):

Finally, some advice to the PLO and its leadership. Don’t be obsequious or complacent vis-à-vis Israel or any of its obedient dogs. These entities have not one iota of morality or honesty, let alone justice, in their general outlook. They are willing to blackmail us to the last drop of our blood. They would embark on the unthinkable to keep us in a state of enslavement to Zionism.

Hence, you should be able to seriously threaten the Zionist regime, to dismantle the whole autonomous regime once and for all. Of course, any vestige of “security coordination” — which is shameful to the Palestinian conscience — must be terminated.

Fatah has, for now, assumed the pole position in the race to establish leadership on the Palestinian state question.  The rapprochement with Hamas is a means of holding Fatah’s enemy close, hoping to prevent a separate power base from coalescing around him.  Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood – all will have to decide how much to support Fatah leadership between now and September, or how much to covertly oppose it.

But the maneuvering is in its early stages, and no one wants to end up backing the loser.  The outcome in Syria, where the Muslim Brotherhood would be a winner and Iran a loser if Assad fell, may be more decisive in lining up the scrimmage than almost anything else.  The frustrating number of moving parts is a result of the absence of US leadership, and is something we will have to get used to as long as the Obama administration is with us.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.”  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.


24 thoughts on “Collisions for Global Security, 2011 (Part II): Israel and a Palestinian State”

  1. —-The question of who controls the territory adjacent to Israel is not, of course, “the” issue for the street demonstrators seeking new government in the Muslim Middle East. For most of them, from Iran to Algeria, what they’re participating in isn’t “about” controlling the borders of Israel. —–

    for other people, friendly toward Israel, the issue is ending forty years of a belligerent occupation that serves the interests of no one, including Israel, and an end to the irresponsibility and excuses of the Palestinians and their “supporters”.

    let the Palestinians build their state, let them be responsible for feeding themselves, let them have to choose between spending whatever money they have for arms of for building up a structural spine to support themselves.
    let them be responsible for weeding out the fanatics and let them defend themselves and their property from Iranian subversion…..or face the consequence of failure.

    let the Israelis rein in their own extremists and stop spending their money and military resources protecting people living on land that is not their own. let the Israelis address their military deficiencies with what they’ll save and focus on the source of their insecurity which is not at present located on their borders.

    1. What you say has been true for a long time. The only problem is how to let the Palestinians “be” and “have” all the things you say. Because if those are not in fact the things they want to be and have, the consequences are Israel’s as well; and at a certain point what you say will no longer be true.

      The simplest thing the Palestinian leadership, or government, or whatever, could do would be to renounce, unequivocally, their responsibility for the “right of return” of Palestinian “refugees” to Israel. If a reasonably legitimate Palestinian authority did so, and retained their legitimacy (was not universally denounced as a traitor, subject to threats and violence, etc.), that would be a real sign that the Palestinians are ready to start making the kinds if choices you list. And, if the ultimate Palestinian goal is not to destroy Israel, by warfare, lawfare or whatever it takes, this should be a very easy gesture to make.

      1. yes, is and was true for a while, and the entire truth is that Israel CAN’T hold onto the occupation forever. it’s hurting them at this point, and probably more than they can afford and less than handing it to the PA is gonna hurt them.

        the truth also is that they tried to hand it to Arafat a dozen years ago and the crazy bassturd screwed everybody up by chickening out and refusing it.
        now it’s domestic politics that prevent the Israelis from giving it up as much as security concerns.

        1. But if the Palestinians are no less “crazy” than Arafat (who was their undisputed national icon, after all), and maybe by now quite a bit more, then Israel can’t simply let the Palestinians be either. I don’t agree that continuing some kind of continual supervision and intervention when required into the Palestinian areas is more dangerous than not doing so. In the end, what are the dangers of continuing what you can still call the “occupation” (even thought Israeli troops are out of Gaza and most of the West Bank)? How is it hurting them? Diplomatically, sure, but that’s better than a few hundred or more dead Israelis every year. The demographic slide? I don’t know–that doesn’t seem to be happening as fast as was once warned, and there might be various ways the Israelis can mitigate that. The “moral costs,” as the Israeli left likes to call it? Again, I’m not convinced–have the Israelis become more immoral over the past couple of decades? I really don’t think so. And why should maintaining a hostile stance towards those who wish to destroy you be morally corrupting–what stance should you take?

          I think that various external models have been used to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the colonial model, the settler colonial model, the America in Vietnam model and, more viciously, the South African and Nazi model (I may be leaving out others, of course). Except for the last two, they all contain a grain of truth, but there is something sui generis here.

          1. it’s not that I call it the occupation. that’s what it is, legally and factually.

            continuing the occupation wastes their economic and military resources as well as their moral credit.

            the settlers are bold and getting bolder. it’s gonna take more blood to uproot them the longer they’re left in place.

            the Israelis haven’t become less moral but the world has learned that the Palestinians are equally human as the Israelis despite the savagery of some of them. as well, the Israelis have become less willing to accept casualties in their armed forces and have become less well-trained and all too dependent on electronics. it’s sometimes led to the acceptance of civilian casualties in the Palestinian population that previously would have been avoided.

            the mistakes made by Sharon in the previous war in Lebanon and in the last war in Lebanon and the mistakes and dubious decisions in Cast Lead have consumed much of the goodwill of the Western world toward Israel.

            holding on to the occupation is exactly the thing to insure that the
            goodwill stays low.

            1. Well, I don’t grant all this, and certainly not that the erosion of training and skill in the IDF is caused by the occupation–but even if I did grant all this, the fact that the measures Israel needs to protect its citizens requires it to maintain what you consider “legally (who cares?) and factually” an occupation would outweigh it all.

  2. The so-called Palestinian leadership has zero interest in any kind of real settlement. Peace would mean an end to the torrent of international funding that emirs like Mahmoud Abbas pour into their own foreign bank accounts. Anything left over is used to purchase loyalty from the same proles they hold in subjugation. The tribal gangs that dominate Arab society at lower levels have their own lucrative criminal enterprises in areas ranging from smuggling to auto theft to extortion. They’re happy with the status quo. The “Zionist entity” is a gold mine for the Gazan and West Bank Arabs. Without the Jews they would receive as much international attention, and funding, as the Yemenis. Which is to say, zilch.

    1. don’t think so, chuck. the Gulf States are gonna pour money into the West Bank, some speculators already have started.

      and the G.S. Arabs also gonna being pulling all their funds, funding and vacation spending out of Lebanon and are gonna relish a place where their ready cash is gonna call the tune when the banking laws are being written, and the hotels/ casinos are being built.

      BTW, the Fatah kleptocracy ain’t what it used to be in Arafat’s days. they get audited for the US/EU funds.

  3. Actually, Israel’s troops in the West Bank do NOT constitute a “legal, factual” occupation. The disputed territories are not “occupied” by the definition of international law. Only if they were recognized as the sovereign territory of someone other than Israel would they be considered “occupied” by the legal definition.

    But they’re not. They are disputed territories where sovereignty remains to be established. By the last international decree that didn’t involve a war, the West Bank is actually part of the land designated for the “Jewish national home.” Its changes of control from 1948-67 (Jordan) and 1967 to the present (Israel) were the results of war, and neither war produced an agreement on sovereignty for the West Bank. No one has a claim to sovereignty over the West Bank that would make Israel’s presence there a legal “occupation.”

    1. Entirely, factually wrong.

      Israel is in military occupation of the West Bank (Including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. When Israel came into being in 1948 after the division of the Palestine Mandate the entirety of these areas were outside the territory of the new state of Israel. No part of the West Bank (Including East Jerusalem) or Gaza were ever “designated for the Jewish national home”. Period.

      The West Bank comprised that part of the former Palestine Mandate on the west bank of the Jordan river which became part of the soverign territory of the state of Jordan. The Gaza Strip became part of Egypt.

      At this point I should remind you of some fundamentals. One of the reasons we went to war in 1941 was to repudiate the notion of the “right of conquest”. At the end of the second world war, because of the behaviour of Germany and Japan in that war, a code of international law came into being to criminalize the sort of behaviour practiced by the former Axis powers. The Germans had a “living space” policy in which they settled the Eastern Marches with ethnic Germans, while the original inhabitants became helots in their own lands. The new code outlawed the settlement of occupied territory by the occupiers. Moreover, under international law, occupation doesn’t give title, and the safety of the occupied population is the responsibility of the occupier. Neither is the occupied population responsible for the safety of its occupiers, nor can it be made liable to collective reprisals for acts of armed resistance. Finally, confined and ghettoized populations, even where the occupier allows the ghetto to administer itself – like in Warsaw – are considered legally under occupation. This code was an American idea, and was largely the product of American and British jurists. It wasn’t dreamt up by leftists in the 1970s.

      In 1967 Israel came into occupation of East jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Subsequently, the soverign powers, Jordan and Egypt, granted autonomy to the indiginous inhabitants of those areas with the intention that they would form the territory of a future Palestinian State. The soverign powers had every right to do this. It was their territory to gift. Israel has never been more than an occupier. There is a universal rule of law called the “nemo dat” rule which applies. Israel, as occupier cannot give to its people land it doesn’t own.

      There is an even more fundamental rule. I belong to a religion which says “that thou shalt not steal”. It doesn’t say that “thou shalt not steal – except where the land, homes, and resources belong to Palestinians”. Neither does it say that the homes, land and resources of Palestinians are “disputed” and there for its ok to steal them. (Presumably, if some low life takes your car you will agree that he wasn’t really stealing it – he was really “disputing” it)

      Stealing is stealing is stealing. It is not “disputing” just because the low-life thief is a part of your favourite foreign cause. You might also refer to the US Constitution and the place given to the rights of private property in that most basic statement of American values. You might also note the claim to universality of the rights ennumerated in that sacred document.

      I detest moral relativism and the tendency of the fringe right to dine ‘a la carte’ on values and morality.

      1. I get it–the Israelis are Nazis and can be killed at will without any legal repercussions or moral restraints. If you can only get the Israelis to agree, everything will work out. Good luck with that.

        1. No. The Israelis aren’t Nazis. Read my comments. They are occupiers of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. As occupiers, they are in breach of international law by settling their people in the occupied territories.
          If members of the armed resistance to the Israelis kill Israeli occupiers (the concept of occupying “civilians” doesn’t exist) the Israelis cannot lawfully exact collective reprisals against the occupied civilian population.

          I’m glad you mentioned the Nazis. During WWII the Germans occupied the Eastern Marches and moved ethnic Germans into the conquered territory. The local resistance (including Jewish groups) killed the Germans – military, administrators, and settlers, without discrimination. In return, the Germans exacted collective reprisals against the local population without bothering whether or not they had anything to do with the resistance. I’m personally on the side of the resistance and against the Nazis. International law agrees with me. Obviously you have different views and would have supported the Nazis against the resistance.

          Good luck with that.

          1. You have a reading of international law which enables you to rule out of court all calculation, condemnation or even mention of Palestinian (and Arab and Muslim more generally) atrocities, both actual and ferevently hoped for. A shrewd move, as there is no way the death cult Palestinian society has become can stand much scrutiny, and certainly the anomalies of post-Nuremberg international law allow for such readings, but why should anyone who thinks occupation is better than death be interested in speaking with you?

            The Israelis aren’t Nazis–I stand corrected. They’re just exactly like them. Either way, you’re on the side of those who want to kill them all.

            1. Wrong again.

              I don’t agree with the killing of Israelis. Nor of Palestinians. Nor do I hold with the religious fanatics who say that God told them to kill Israelis, or on the other hand, God told them that stealing the land, homes, and resources of Palestinians isn’t stealing at all. (Isn’t it strange that God only seems to talk directly to murderous or theiving crazies?)

              No. The Israelis aren’t Nazis. Neither are the Palestinians. However, arguing the defence of degree is to implicitly conceed the defence of right.

              (p.s the killing is almost one-sided in favour of the occupiers rather than the resistance – particularly when it comes to the deaths of children. And isn’t it deliciously ironic all the (perfectly correct) calls in the right-wing press to indict Ghaddafi for using cluster bombs. The Israelis used them in civilian areas in the Lebanon and Gaza. Children are still paying for these decisions with their limbs and lives – as will the children of Libya)

              1. It doesn’t matter what you agree with, if you believe that, occupation being an evil to be resisted at all costs, no means of resistance can be deemed illegitimate.

                Such a position is implicitly genocidal, especially in this case where the “occupied” consider the “occupiers” own country to itself be occupied territory.

    2. korsehockey, opticon. the Israeli courts define the West Bank as territory held in belligerent occupation.

      there IS no ultimate dispute as to whose land that it is.

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