Brown: So here we are at that Plan B moment
The other day, I mentioned that I would be interested to hear what Nathan Brown thought about the current Israeli-Palestinian situation, given that a year ago he argued powerfully that there were no serious prospects for negotiations and it was time to think of a Plan B. He has obliged with an excellent Carnegie brief, ...
The other day, I mentioned that I would be interested to hear what Nathan Brown thought about the current Israeli-Palestinian situation, given that a year ago he argued powerfully that there were no serious prospects for negotiations and it was time to think of a Plan B. He has obliged with an excellent Carnegie brief, and with this short commentary, which I'm calling...
The other day, I mentioned that I would be interested to hear what Nathan Brown thought about the current Israeli-Palestinian situation, given that a year ago he argued powerfully that there were no serious prospects for negotiations and it was time to think of a Plan B. He has obliged with an excellent Carnegie brief, and with this short commentary, which I’m calling…
OK, here we are at Plan B. Guest commentary by Nathan Brown.
The collapse of US diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian front—too obvious now for even the most starry-eyed optimist to deny—has provoked predictably partisan sniping in Washington in which the Obama administration’s critics (and actually even some of its friends) charge it with incompetence.
There have been tactical mistakes aplenty, though to be fair to the current US leaders, their predecessors could be stunningly maladroit as well. But the problem goes beyond clumsiness. The commonalties between the late Bush approach and the early Obama approach far outnumber the differences: they amount to a “West Bank first” strategy of building up the Ramallah government, pursuing Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy in support of a two-state solution, and ignoring Hamas on the assumption that allowing the impoverishment of Gaza will bring Palestinians there to their senses.
Seen this way, the Obama administration’s embarrassments of the past month have served a vital public service: they reveal that the basic US approach leads only to political decay. In a short commentary for the Carnegie Endowment, I argue that this is the time to abandon rather than tweak failed policies.
One of the long-denied realities is the deep state of institutional decay on the Palestinian side. Just as Voltaire famously described the Holy Roman Empire as “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire,” there are reasons to describe Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority as neither Palestinian nor an authority. It is an internationally-sponsored and partly internationally-financed protectorate administering some Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank. Its shelf life was supposed to be five years, starting with its creation in 1994. To regard its moldy remains as the germ of a Palestinian state ignores the unhealthy dose of antibiotics that Israelis, Americans, and Palestinians themselves have administered to the Palestinian national movement over the past ten years.
Is there a way out?
No. Or at least not now. The best we can do is to make sure that things don’t get worse and begin creating the raw ingredients for fresh new approaches. This will not be easy. Elsewhere I have proposed a “Plan B” that focuses less on conflict-ending diplomacy and more on working to contain the damage and create the basis for moving to a solution in the future. I still stand behind that proposal, but I acknowledge that it has its own weaknesses and may be based on excessively optimistic hopes of what can be achieved. So for now, let me restrict myself to a few pointers. In the Carnegie commentary, I argue that whatever approach is adopted should not ignore the following realities, among others
- “West Bank first” has failed. One of the proposals buzzing around Washington is to give fuller backing to Salam Fayyad’s “plan” for Palestinian statehood. Fayyad is an admirable figure in many respects, but he his plan is really a hopeful vision rather than a workable set of policy guidelines. We should back him if we like, but that’s no substitute for a comprehensive policy review.
- Palestinians—like Americans and Israelis—have domestic politics. Palestinians have some pleasant leaders now and we should work with them. But our bungling of the Goldstone report and the settlements issues should remind us that they are weak and have serious problems with domestic legitimacy.
- Don’t forget Gaza. The focus on Goldstone report on the Gaza war makes us forget that the Gaza economy was wrecked before December 2008. This matters—maybe not to us, but to almost everybody in the Arab world and many people elsewhere. This looks like a rerun of our Iraq sanctions policy of the 1990s—when the ground shifted slowly under our feet without us noticing it.
- There are no quick fixes to the challenge of Hamas. Hamas won’t go away quickly; it is dug in very deeply in Gaza. It has taken a hit in public opinion polls (and for good reasons—it has delivered blood, toil, sweat, and tears but little food and less hope). But let’s be careful about extrapolating that into the future—Hamas has been an agile movement in the past. And even if people grumble, someone has to explain how to make Hamas lose elections that aren’t going to be held.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark
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