The Middle East Channel

An immodest – and dangerous – proposal


Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, recently startled his fellow cabinet ministers -  and Middle East analysts everywhere -  with a proposal that Israel end its status as an occupying power in the Gaza Strip and allow Hamas to establish an independent Palestinian state in that enclave.

Most everyone dismissed Lieberman's suggestion out of hand, coming as it did from a man derisively referred to by his Israeli critics as "the bouncer from Kishinev" (having in fact been employed as a night club bouncer in the Moldavian capital before emigrating to Israel). 

Lieberman proposed that Israel fashion a border regime that removes Israel's effective control over Gaza's economic lifelines while satisfying legitimate Israeli security requirements - hardly an idea expected from an Israeli leader who has distinguished himself by his contempt for democracy and xenophobia towards Arabs, whether Israel's own citizens or under Israeli occupation.

Geoffrey Aronson has been a lone dissenter from this general reaction to Lieberman's proposal. In a posting here at The Middle East Channel, the highly respected director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace endorsed Lieberman's idea. He noted that in 1974, the PLO committed itself "to establish the independent combatant national authority for the people over every part of Palestinian territory that is liberated." Aronson argues that if Israel and the Palestinians are unable to achieve this objective in the entire West Bank, "that is no reason to prevent [the creation of a territorially contiguous area under sovereign Palestinian control] in Gaza, or anywhere else where such an opportunity exists." He believes that an independent Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip "cannot but positively transform both the internal Palestinian and the international diplomatic landscape."

My respect for Aronson's exceptionally thoughtful analyses of the Israel-Palestine conflict   notwithstanding, I believe his take on the Lieberman proposal to be mistaken.

The PLO's 1974 commitment referred to by Aronson speaks of the establishment of an "independent combatant national authority."  I take the term "combatant" to mean an authority that would continue to struggle by all means for the recovery of Palestinian territory - or at least all territory within the pre-'67 borders.  This would certainly be inconsistent with the condition Lieberman attached to the ending of Israel's status as an occupying power in Gaza, namely "satisfying legitimate Israeli security requirements."

The expectation that Hamas would agree to end its own efforts to roll back Israel's occupation of the West Bank in return for Israel's recognition of Gaza's independence is utterly unrealistic.  Hamas won't even satisfy Israel's "security requirements" if Israel were to offer to withdraw from Gaza and 95% of the West Bank. Indeed, even the "moderate" Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, which declared its willingness to consider equal exchanges of territory on both sides of the pre-1967 border, rejected the Israeli proposal for Palestinian sovereignty in temporary borders.

Hamas has offered to renounce violence against Israel in return for Israel's acceptance of a long-term Hudna and a withdrawal of its occupation forces to the pre-1967 border. But it   would never agree end its "resistance" in return for an arrangement that frees Israel to continue to deepen its colonial project in the West Bank.

Imagine if Israel's War of Independence in 1948 had ended differently, with Palestinians in control of 99 percent of Palestine, and the Jews confined to an enclave comparable in size to that of Gaza. Imagine further that the Palestinians had offered the Jews statehood in that enclave, but on condition they cease all activity that might compromise Palestinian "security requirements." Would the Jews have agreed?

Lieberman has advanced this proposal because he favors any measure he believes would relieve U.S. and international pressure on Israel to withdraw from much more than about   half of the West Bank, the rest of which he and Netanyahu want to annex to the Jewish state - and for all practical purposes have already done so.

He and Netanyahu are desperately in search of strategies that would distract the outside world long enough to enable them to anchor the settlement enterprise even more deeply  and more irreversibly than they already have; and what better way of doing that than by getting the international community (i.e. George Mitchell, Dennis Ross, the Quartet) to busy itself for the next five years with arrangements for Gaza's independence and statehood that satisfy "Israel's legitimate security requirements" - as Israel completes its "Judaization" of East Jerusalem and of much, if not all, of the West Bank.

Lieberman's idea may indeed "transform both the internal Palestinian and the international diplomatic landscape," but I fear only in a way that spells the death of what hope there still exists for something other than a cataclysmic outcome of Israel's unrestrained land grab to achieve an "Eretz Yisrael Hash'lemah" (the Whole Land of Israel).

It is an idea that has been rightfully ignored.

Unfortunately, however, so has the idea that President Obama finally renounce the "incrementalism" that has enabled both Israel and the Palestinians to prolong the agony called a "peace process" that has turned the goal of a two-state accord into an empty slogan, and instead present both parties with an outline of an agreement he and the international community are prepared to enforce.

The half-life of that so-far ignored idea is about to run out.

Henry Siegman, director of the U.S./Middle East Project, is a consultant for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre (Noref) in Oslo.


The Middle East Channel

Daily News Brief -- August 9, 2010

Netanyahu testifies on the Gaza-bound flotilla raid
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu testified to the inquiry into Israel's naval raid that Turkey ignored Israeli warnings from "the highest level" days before the Memorial day clash. "The state of Israel and the IDF operated according to international law," said PM Netanyahu, who was the first to testify in the inquiry. The Prime Minister also reiterated what he believes is the importance of Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, explaining that it's purpose is to keep arms shipments from getting to Hamas. "Hamas has transformed the Gaza strip into a terrorist enclave sponsored by Iran," he said. Excerpts from Netanyahu's testimony can be found here.

  • An Israeli man who has been jailed for five months in Libya is released.
  • Israeli navy fires on a Lebanese fishing boat.
  • The U.S. downgrades Saudi arms deal over Israeli concerns.
  • Iraqi PM Maliki meets with Kurdish leaders to build a coalition government and remain PM. 
  • Blackberry maker and Saudi officials reportedly struck a deal to avert the Blackberry ban.

Daily Snapshot


Blind Palestinian children read the Quran in the West Bank city of Jenin on August 9, 2010. The holy books were donated from Palestinian charity associations ahead of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. (AFP/Getty Images).

Arguments & Analysis
'Israel/Palestine and Iran: Linkage Should be Hard Wired by Obama Team'
(Steve Clemons, The Washington Note)  The Obama administration should a take a "strategic leap" in its Middle East policy in order to restore American power in a "Post-American World." To this end, the administration should articulate the linkage between progress on Israel/Palestine and containing a nuclear Iran rather than siloing these region challenges. Clemons writes, "Solving the Israel-Palestine conflict will not solve all the political and identity tensions which will continue to boil in Arab and Muslim-dominant states -- but the echo effect of resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will knock down many walls in these societies that have been resisting change."

'The Illusion of a 'limited war' against Iran' (Mahan Abedin, Informed Comment)  Admiral Mike Mullen's blunt talk about the war option with Iran poses a challenge to the status quo policy of 'no war no peace' with Iran. While leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have dismissed such threats, it's clear that Mullen's statement has affected Tehran's strategic calculations. Abedin analyzes what a military option would look like for the U.S. and writes, "...U.S. military aggression will likely accelerate the actualisation of the very scenario that American political and military leaders insist they are determined to prevent, i.e. a nuclear armed Iran."

'Whichever government Iraq has, indecisiveness lies ahead' (Saad N. Jawad, The Daily Star) Over four months since the elections, political gridlock continues in Iraq. Jawad takes stock of the parliamentary power-broking that has "opened the door wide for foreign and outside actors to interfere," including Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

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