05.21.12 5:30 PM ET
Palestine Good Enough
Two-State-Solution activists have not given up on their faith-based belief that Obama will do in a second term what he has not done in his first: insert America aggressively, relentlessly and successfully into the (so-called) peace process and not allow Israeli and the Palestinians negotiators to leave the room without a full and final peace agreement. They have not entirely given up hope that Obama may yet do so in what remains of his first term.
But a more likely scenario is this: Just as Obama has moved away from any American attempt to re-make Afghanistan, he will move away from an attempt to remake Israel-Palestine. Just as he has settled for a reality-based policy of "Afghanistan Good Enough," he may well settle for "Palestine Good Enough."
It is dogma among liberal pro-Israel American Jews that a Jewish democratic Israel can be assured only if the American president steps in to makes it happen. But there are no signs that President Obama has any intention of doing so. He has not made this a campaign promise, much less developed a strategy or laid groundwork. If he did any of these things, he would surely antagonize at least as many voters as he would please. But beyond the simple politics of it, beyond the J Street Jews who want it and the AIPAC Jews who don’t, there is another, perhaps even more decisive, factor: heavy-handed intervention is contrary to what is emerging as “the Obama Doctrine.”
In an influential essay in the New Yorker in March 2011, titled “The Consequentialist: How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy,” an Obama aide, quoted by the article’s author Ryan Lizza, characterized the president’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” The likes of Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and John Bolton had a field day for weeks, accusing Obama of all manner of dithering and retreat. (Too late to be of much help, David Remnick, later wrote that the phrase should have been “leading from behind the scenes.”)
Apart from targeted assassinations, there is a certain modesty to Obama’s foreign policy goals these days, Afghanistan being the best example. Although in the 2008 campaign, Obama said this was a war (unlike Iraq) we had to “win,” he concluded shortly thereafter “that the Bush-era dream of remaking Afghanistan was a fantasy.” Obama then set about to shrink the goal, declare victory and prepare to exit combat operations whether the generals liked it or not. This evolving adjustment of policy is what advisors called “Afghanistan Good Enough.”
But what would Palestine Good Enough look like?
It will not be a final status agreement, acknowledged by all to be an end of all claims as two-state theologians would have it. With Palestine Good Enough, we likely won’t know when we are “done.”
There are parties to the conflict who are not uncomfortable with such open-endedness, and might even prefer it. Settlers, for example, especially through their Yesha Council, have advocated for years that the conflict should be “managed” and not settled. Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s new deputy prime minister, has himself proposed the creation of a Palestinian state with temporary borders. A group of former senior Israeli officers and diplomats who form the organization Blue White Future advocate “constructive unilateralism” including provisional boundaries, pending ultimate resolution of the border question in final-status talks. Left-leaning Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger has endorsed the Mofaz approach (and presumably would do the same for Blue White Future). And it is no secret that Hamas, if it is seeking peace at all, is seeking a hudna, a truce, not a full and final peace treaty.
Palestine Good Enough would likely depart substantially from the ideals of a two-state paradigm in another significant way: the Palestinian "state" would look nothing like an actual state. First, "Palestine" (I am tempted to call it "Palestine-iness") would be demilitarized, of course, and would not be in charge of the security of its own (indefinite) borders or airspace. Further, it would lack territorial contiguity, even in the West Bank. The northern West Bank's separation from the southern West Bank (bisected by Israel-controlled land) will be even more severe than it is today. The Good Enough Palestinian "state" would thus be a series of cantons, connected to each other by Israel-controlled roads and check points. And Palestinians in Gaza will remain cut off from the West Bank unless all three authorities—Israel, and the two parts of Palestine—align now and then to grant permission of movement to a particular individual. And forget about the Jordan Valley. That will remain Israeli under Palestine Good Enough.
The Obama administration is choosing Palestine Good Enough by simply doing nothing, as it has for the last twenty-one months while continuing to issue vapid statements.
Will the Palestinians accept Palestine Good Enough? Of course not, certainly not as a final status, certainly not until they get a real state. Would it mean a third intifada? Perhaps. It is simply impossible to predict or rule out violence. But the American president could reduce the risk of such agitation by taking the positive steps to improve the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. This would mean increased US investment in Palestinian infrastructure and business, and a serious insistence upon human rights protection.
Might Israel cooperate with at least these? It is plausible to think it would, especially if the quid pro quo is an understanding that the US will not push for more for a while. Might such interim solutions lead to a decade of peace and prosperity as Haaretz’s Strenger suggests? A two-state solution is the best solution but, in its absence, we are left searching for one that is Good Enough.