Via Steve Walt, I was directed to these remarks by retired American diplomat Chas Freeman to the staff of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s a decent summary of much of the dysfunction with the American-led “peace process” over the past few decades, and like Walt I’ll just encourage people to read it rather than try for a summary. At the end of his talk, he gives four suggestions for game-changing action, the last of which is by his own admission the most controversial:
Fourth, set a deadline linked to an ultimatum. Accept that the United States will frustrate any attempt by the UN Security Council to address the continuing impasse between Israel and the Palestinians. Organize a global conference outside the UN system to coordinate a decision to inform the parties to the dispute that if they cannot reach agreement in a year, one of two solutions will be imposed. Schedule a follow-up conference for a year later. The second conference would consider whether to recommend universal recognition of a Palestinian state in the area beyond Israel’s 1967 borders or recognition of Israel’s achievement of de jure as well as de facto sovereignty throughout Palestine (requiring Israel to grant all governed by it citizenship and equal rights at pain of international sanctions, boycott, and disinvestment). Either formula would force the parties to make a serious effort to strike a deal or to face the consequences of their recalcitrance. Either formula could be implemented directly by the states members of the international community. Admittedly, any serious deadline would provoke a political crisis in Israel and lead to diplomatic confrontation with the United States as well as Israel, despite the Obama Administration itself having proclaimed a one-year deadline in order to entice the Palestinians to tomorrow’s talks. Yet both Israel and the United States would benefit immensely from peace with the Palestinians.
I think it’s an interesting idea, and frankly at this point I’m all for other actors taking some leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Freeman that American domestic politics on the issue are likely too dysfunctional for the United States to play a constructive role (though I’d be happy to be proven wrong on that point). I wonder, though, how realistic Freeman’s suggestion is. Putting aside the fact that I’ve seen no evidence it’s being seriously considered by anyone, I wonder who he’s addressing. In other words, Freeman acknowledges that the strategy he proposes would set up a diplomatic confrontation with the United States. Which powers does he imagine have the desire, leverage and credibility to prevail in such a confrontation, ultimately productive though it might be?