Yet another Western solution

It was through Donald Douglas, aka the Americaneocon, that I read the long article in Foreign Affairs by Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A Kissinger Senior Fellow for U S Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dr Mead is a distinguished scholar and a man oft-listened-to — as is true of anyone Foreign Affairs would publish — and his writings always bear reading and close attention. His current article, Change They Can Believe In, is thorough, well reasoned — and almost wholly misses the point.

Dr Mead takes us through a brief history of the conflict in the Levant, from both the Jewish and Palestinian perspectives, and notes what neither side is always willing to admit: that both the Jews and the Palestinians have suffered through a hard past. Peace is not possible without that being addressed.

I have been reading articles in that august journal for many years now, from important people like Walid Khalidi to Henry Kissinger, and one common thread runs through all of them: the problems of the Levant are described in Western terms, addressed to a Western audience, with proposed solutions which work very well in a Western mindset, yet are just so much garbage to the people who must actually make peace and live together.

Once you convert the problem to one of Western definitions, it becomes very simple: everyone splits the difference, and agrees to give up part of what they’d like in order to secure what they want most. It is simply assumed that, in the end, everybody really wants peace.

Foreign Affairs position as the most prestigious scholarly journal on the subject naturally means that it draws the articles from the top names, the most influential people. They are willing, and eager, to put forth Their Solution, the one they have pondered carefully, and fine-tuned diligently, the one which just might succeed where all others have failed.

But it’s an illusion. The Western solutions have simply not been very different over the past 41 years. They all involve some form of Palestinian state, guarantees of security for Israel, mutual diplomatic recognition — albeit occasionally delayed — and one form or other of great power guarantees. Two decades ago, some expected the Soviet Union to have some major role in the pushing for and guaranteeing of peace. Now, with the USSR gone, we see proposals for the UN to take over, or US guarantees, or the so-called “Quartet,” but those are simply the minute details, the slightly different brush strokes on what is the same paint-by-numbers picture.

What we have missed is that the people and culture of the region are so foreign to our Western concepts and logic as to make Westernized solutions ridiculous.

Let’s specify one thing here, something that is never really considered by our learned Western scholars: right now, and for the foreseeable future, the Palestinians primarily, and some of the Israelis as well, are much more interested in victory than they are in peace, especially a split-the-differences negotiated peace.

What we have are two sides in a long, bitter, usually low-level war, one with an occasional flare-up, but a war that nobody has won — and nobody has lost. The great Israeli victories in 1967 and 1973 were not victorious wars, wars which actually defeated their enemies, but strong pushes that were ended not with defeat by anyone but simple agreements to stop fighting for a time. Why should the Arab irredentists surrender in the pursuit of their stated goal — the expulsion of Israel — when they have never truly been defeated?

Dr Mead never puts it that bluntly, but he does note that the Israel and Palestinian needs are mutually exclusive. The two-state solution that seems oh-so-logical to us in the liberal West is, in effect, a victory for the Israelis and a defeat for the Arabs. To agree to such means that the most important demand of the Palestinians, the one on which Yassir Arafat finally walked out of the Camp David talks at the end of the Clinton Administration, the so-called “right of return” of the Palestinians to property they lost in the various Israeli victories, must be abandoned. Dr Mead comes up with that most Western of solutions: he proposes buying them off.

The U.S. government should build on this historical reality to craft an international body that can assume all claims arising from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adjudicate them in accordance with existing international precedents and law, and pay appropriate compensation to the claimants. Claims would include the losses suffered by Palestinians as well as those sustained by Jews forced to flee their homes in the region, but the system should be set up so that Jewish and Palestinian claimants do not compete for limited funds. This entity should be funded by the international community, with Israel making a substantial payment as part of whatever negotiated legal agreement creates the new body.

The expense will be significant; according to the Aix Group, an economic forum comprising Israeli, Palestinian, and international economists and policymakers, the total potential costs of compensation to Palestinian refugees can be estimated at $55-$85 billion. The Obama administration should work with U.S. allies and partners to fund the claims authority. The United States’ contribution should be appropriately large, in order to demonstrate Washington’s renewed determination to lead the effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The exact U.S. contribution should be determined as part of Washington’s diplomatic effort to establish and fund the claims organization, but one possible model might look to a division of responsibilities in which the United States, Europe, Israel, member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the rest of the world (principally Japan, other East Asian countries, and other countries with strong interests in resolving the conflict, such as Australia, Canada, and Norway) would each assume a roughly equal share of the financial cost involved in funding a combination of compensation and humanitarian programs for the victims of the conflict. Under this program, the United States would make the largest contribution of any single country (with the possible exception of Israel), but the burden would also be widely shared among the many states that are concerned with stability and justice in this vital part of the world.

Although the certification and payment of claims will require complex procedures, and although the payment of compensation should be part of a multistage implementation of a final and comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the claims entity should begin to review and certify claims while negotiations are still under way. As quickly as the legal and institutional frameworks can be agreed on and established, refugees ought to be able to submit their claims, and those claims should be assessed and certified in a timely fashion. This will help assure the refugees that justice will be done and that the conclusion and implementation of a comprehensive peace agreement would result in tangible benefits.

Setting aside the big question of where we get the money, given that were borrowing to bail out everybody else around, it assumes that the Palestinians can be bought off. He recognizes that some would not take the option of being paid off:

Palestinians who choose not to exercise their right of return or whose right is in some way restricted in the final Israeli-Palestinian agreement should be substantially compensated by the international community (including Israel) to acknowledge that the right to return is indeed a right and that its loss or restriction entitles the holder to just compensation.

Let’s be blunt here: “Palestinians . . . whose right (of return) is in some way restricted in the final Israeli-Palestinian agreement” means that they can take the money or leave it, but they are not going to get their land back.  Dr Mead’s solution is that they’ll just have to be happy with the cash. But it does not mean that they will be happy with the cash.

Part of this stems from an underappreciated fact of the Middle East conflict. The Israelis inflicted serious beatings on the Palestinians, in 1948-9, in 1956, in 1967, in 1973 and in 1982. But for soldiers, seven years might as well be a generation: after seven years, the boys who were in adolescence and too young to fight — a bit of an amorphous distinction in the Middle East — have become young men, who are old enough to fight; the soldiers who fought in 1956 were, in large part, not the ones who were defeated in 1948, and the ones who fought in 1967 were not the ones beaten eleven years earlier.

If we manage to impose a solution that involves buying off the Palestinians who must surrender their right of return, just what will that mean in ten years, when the ten-year-old boys whose parents were bought off become young men of military age themselves? Will they remain bought off, as their parents (supposedly) were?

Dr Mead takes the position that the incoming Obama Administration needs to approach the whole problem from another perspective, sound advice at least when you consider that the approaches employed by every past Administration since President Truman’s have not led to a solution.

But it might be sounder advice to point out that Western ideas and Western solutions are not likely to provide any answers, because the people involved simply have a different language, a different culture and a different logic than those of the liberal West. It is entirely possible, and I would argue that it is very probable, that there is no Western solution to the problem. Dr Mead won’t like this idea, but it seems more likely to me that the Arabs and the Israelis will have to fight it out again and decide this on the battlefield, in a manner which leaves one side thoroughly defeated.

That isn’t a Western notion, isn’t one with which we are in the least bit comfortable, but it may well be the only possible outcome.


  1. What about the shadow world on this?

    Another aspect that is also never in the talks is the constant twiddling by a certain state to maintain a constant destabilization in the whole area (and african continent keeping competitive resources off market).

    Read in all those articles and your not going to read what mitrokhen and others provide. In fact everything on this world stage for public consumption is always without that component included. (Even when later on we find out that it was a very key component!)

    If you look at this with a microscope your not going to see the larger picture, and why it has not stabilized and why things have happened the way they have. its really not that hard, if one just looks at a map, and then figures out cui buono with historical leopards maintaining their spots if they haven’t actually changed.

    it all has to do with how each country makes its money, and who is orchestrating is who benefits the most from such things. how many people talking about this do so over the map and try to paint a big picture that shows more than hundreds of little close ups that prevent forming a image.

    First is to make the distinction between two different types of economies. first order raw materials, and such, and second order economies that make and trade products. the second usually is both, and also purchases from the first. the first sells its materials in exchange for raw materials.

    yes they all have some economies that do more than raw materials, but there is a big difference between the economy of turky and that of Iraq. so different that when you look at a satellite picture you can find the border by seeing the levels of development and infrastructure.

    raw materials majority countries favor destabilization of competitors. uncertainty raises prices, sudden stops in supply raise prices, etc.

    second order countries favor stability. they need to plan, know the future, etc. they want stability so that they can maximize productivity of work. they benefit from many suppliers and stable production. RM countries need them to be more stable, but they do benefit from destabilizing them if they are competitors.

    its not hard to understand this. the next part to understand is flow. material has to flow from place to place. while above board movement is what is the norm, its the below board movement that is a whole other story.

    if one benefits from instability, then one is going to seek to destabilize things and maintain that so as to maintain the higher price for ones product. one is going to seek to keep competitors offline, and seek to maintain a higher level of uncertainty and constant crisis to maintain higher price, and never have them resolve, while also never having them escalate till they destabilize the second order countries you sell to at the higher price. (it also helps if your operatives, friends, fellow travelers, useful idiots, and propaganda has kept the purchasing states from developing away from the addiction)

    Such large scale constant destabilization is going to require moving a lot of material, and since its constant, moving that or being able to move that has to be maintained.

    You have three methods. Ships, planes, and land.

    ships can carry a large amount, but the world watches shipping and so others can make educated guesses as to what’s going on, and have docs watched, and you may have a problem with local natives refusing to unload the weapons and your ship has to go back. (or Somali pirates might just nab your large radioactive ship from Iran – that’s why they have been a major focus, besides their normal nuisance and us being unaware of them as a population). also ships let one estimate how much might be moved, and of course they are vulnerable to piracy, as well as storms, and boarding, along with being sunk accidentally on purpose.

    planes are also watched, they crash, they carry much less, you can guess limits of supply, etc..

    so land is most favored. that would mean that the state that was doing this kind of thing to maintain prices and incoming money (a state whose political system at the core validates manipulation for its end goals), would want to maintain land routes between it and the end results (while making water routes more favorable in case land is closed off).

    If you apply this to the middle east area, and Africa over the past decade or so, you can see a chess game being played, between fomenters, and preventers.

    Look at a map. whose weapons supply all these areas and have done so for half a century? What land bridge is available to a friendly proxy country? Which country is that?

    Weapons have to move in large quantity in a safe way from point of manufacture to destination of use. If the point of manufacture is Russia, then they have to move from Russia to point of use.

    Look at a map, and this route was avoiding the sea and either Georgia, turkey, or the others. Want to know why these tiny little nothing countries are one of the hottest properties on the globe? they are the highway to supply the weapons that then maintain instability so that profits can be maintained since a second order economy either doesn’t exist, or is prevented from doing so (so as to prevent the churning of power that happens in capitalist countries. power lovers are not happy with having lots of money and time in a leisurely life, they like the game).

    When GW said he was going to go after Iraq, and Afghanistan.. What did that do for the potential conduits? No longer could weapons move through Iraq. And they can’t go through Afghanistan. (And the US presence emboldens turkey to stay out and not help)

    Turkey wants stability, so it walks a tight line between two systems.

    So turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan basically make a one country wide line in the sand that would prevent weapons from being transported through Georgia, Iran, then Arab states into Israel, or Africa.

    Israel is the key to destabilization. So they just keep that going, but that takes weaponry. and they always use proxies, and so the only proxy left was Iran.

    Once we were in the two other countries, and were sharing intelligence with turkey (which prevented a bomber from Sweden hitting them). Spain was bombed to make a friendly country so that shipping wouldn’t be searched if ships went through the straight. While Chavez was given license to make weapons in that he can ship to Africa from there as a backup.

    Every burner was turned on and all the crap hit the fan when we were about to cork the bottle by going into Iran. If we had gone into Iran, there would no longer be any proxy on the land route that could deliver tons of weapons, that couldn’t be tracked (trucks in the stream of normal business), and would then go to be a thorn in the side with Israel. and its surrounding states who you maintain the game with as was done going all the way back to middle of last century.

    The Arab countries will help; they get to make more too. And by helping they avoid being part of the targets to destabilize to remove competition. They too are raw materials countries and their infrastructure is not very strong. not much choices.

    if that bottle was corked what would happen very quickly in darfur? Somalia? Kenya? Zimbabwe? How long would hammass and others be able to constantly resupply after they lose supplies?

    they were poked so hard that they dropped their pretenses and we haven’t yet noticed how much and what it means as we haven’t decided to really assess what’s going on.

    There is always a lot more..

    but for me. the reason that Israel and Palestine will not have peace is that not having peace serves a purpose more so than peace.

    The destabilization and the despots in Africa keep raw materials off market. The Israel conflict keeps her and the surrounding states in conflict. And the surrounding states don’t actually develop higher business and remain raw materials states. The US is constantly wasting resources and manpower and all manner of nice juicy things that can make them look bad. but no way to really resolve it without corking the bottle.

    with Iran pretty much over. and forces moving to Afghanistan, that would lend stability and a force covering their backs and could have led to Pakistan moving away from china, and India moving away from Russia. The operation in Mumbai allows for a lot of things to happen.

    The most dangerous one is that it may allow Iran to acquire or appear to acquire a nuclear weapon in record time while washing blame of who provided it with technology over all these years.

    if Pakistan is busy with India, Iran may mount a blitz move to reach a nuclear weapon, grab it, and run with it. Even if they don’t go that far, but they get plans and technology that would be almost as good.

    Right now, tactically speaking, Iran knows that to be very secure it’s critical for Iran to get a nuke to prevent the ability of an invasion from corking the bottle (such possession makes changing leadership much harder). However, given the way things are, the source can’t be the country that has been incrementally supplying/teasing them with such, and so another way to make it work, or appear to be, needs to happen.

    This might have been Mumbai. At the very least Mumbai ups the destabilization equation. and it may affect supplies being shipped to the US and so we may start to feel higher prices for the goods we need that we don’t make anymore while we are in an economic ouch period.

    There is always a lot more.

    Israel and Palestine will settle down and have peace when the situation changes so that them not having peace isn’t so valuable to some players (and their pocketbooks). Then they will stop, things will settle, and many people will write books trying to explain why after so many years the miracle occurred.

  2. Permitting and encouraging the expansion of the settlers is representative of a state of mind that certainly is not looking for peace.

  3. Pingback: Common Sense Political Thought » Blog Archive » The war that cannot end

  4. Pingback: Common Sense Political Thought » Blog Archive » Israel, the Palestinians, and the useful idiots

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