Monday, December 4, 2017

A New Saudi Peace Plan

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that Saudi Arabia has floated a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan—radically different from the one that was handed to Thomas Friedman years ago—that would end the conflict on terms that are largely favorable to Israel.

Even the New York Times, in reporting the story, seems shocked to see the extent of the diplomatic realignment. The shift is so radical and so shocking that even Western diplomats, who have spent their careers pretending that one more Israeli concession would solve the problem, barely know what to think.

Anyway, the Times reports:

On a mysterious trip last month, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, traveled to Saudi Arabia’s capital for consultations with the hard-charging crown prince about President Trump’s plans for Middle East peace. What was said when the doors were closed, however, has since roiled the region.

According to Palestinian, Arab and European officials who have heard Mr. Abbas’s version of the conversation, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presented a plan that would be more tilted toward the Israelis than any ever embraced by the American government, one that presumably no Palestinian leader could ever accept.

The Palestinians would get a state of their own but only noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory. The vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal, would remain. The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

As has occasionally been noted on this blog, the Palestinian cause, such as it was, has become too costly to the major players in the region. Palestinian leaders have wagered that by appealing to tribal loyalty and Western idealism they could destroy Israel. Now they are seeing a future in which they do not emerge victorious:

Even if the account proves incomplete, it has gained currency with enough players in the Middle East to deeply alarm Palestinians and raise suspicions about Mr. Trump’s efforts. On top of that, advisers have said the president plans to give a speech on Wednesday in which he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, even though both sides claim it, a declaration that analysts and regional officials say could undermine America’s role as a theoretically neutral broker.

Naturally, the French President Macron has rejected the Saudi proposal as too pro-Israeli:

An adviser to President Emmanuel Macron of France, speaking on condition of anonymity, said French officials had heard a version of some of the Saudi proposals, which sounded very similar to Israel’s opening bid and not acceptable to Palestinians.

He said that France had told the Americans that if they wanted to start discussions, they should proceed, but should remember that France and many other countries also have interests and concerns in the region.

Mr. Abbas was alarmed and visibly upset by the proposal, the Fatah official said.

Those who are alarmed to see that theirs has now become a lost cause see collusion between the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and Jared Kushner. Already this rouses suspicion:

Prince Mohammed, 32, is very close to Mr. Kushner, 36, both young men without much foreign policy experience who see themselves as creative reformers able to break with the ossified thinking of the past.

And the Saudi prince has made clear that his top priority in the region is not the Palestinian-Israeli issue, the fulcrum of Arab politics for generations, but confronting Iran.

Regional officials and analysts say they believe he might be willing to try to force a settlement on Palestinians in order to cement Israeli cooperation against Iran.

Whatever you think of MBS the truth is, his nation has far more to fear from Iran than it does from Israel. Forging an alliance with a powerful state like Israel would clearly work to his advantage. By shifting the balance of power.

Western and regional officials said Saudi Arabia’s main goal seems to be normalization of relations with Israel, which would be difficult if the Palestinian struggle remains a regional cause. Saudi Arabia currently has no official relations with Israel but they have been widely reported to have secretly cooperated for years on security issues.

We do not know whether Trump will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel this week. The danger to foreign policy elites is so grave that they are trying to influence the presidential decision with threats and intimidation… basically supporting the Palestinian position:

But the news on Friday that Mr. Trump would recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital suggested that ideas once considered beyond the pale are now seriously being considered.

Recognizing an Israeli capital there, even without explicitly denying the Palestinians one, would overturn decades of consensus among international peacemakers that any change in Jerusalem’s status must come as part of a negotiated deal.

Palestinian officials already have said that move would threaten any chance of a two-state solution and could even provoke a new Palestinian uprising.

On Sunday, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement that the move would create “international anarchy and disrespect for global institutions and law.”

He said the United States would be destabilizing the region, discouraging supporters of a peaceful solution and “disqualifying itself to play any role in any initiative towards achieving a just and lasting peace.”

As I said, the Palestinian leadership, having destroyed its people in a fruitless and mindless conflict beginning to see that they have been fighting for a lost cause. Good news, indeed.


James said...

I hope I'm not repeating anything said in the post, which I did not read thoroughly (and agree with what I did read), but what we are seeing is the going public of many things that were "understood" by many of the participants but never acknowledged. To whit Mr. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement that the move would create “international anarchy and disrespect for global institutions and law.”, there has been "international anarchy and disrespect for global institutions and law." for decades. Saudi's are more afraid of the Persian than the Israeli. One of the key people in all of this, if not THE key is Solemeini.

Malcolm said...

A dose of realism

Sharon explains that there is a major difference between agreements in the Muslim world and agreements in the West. “In the Muslim world you only keep an agreement because you have to keep it, but the moment the agreement can be terminated, you terminate it, because you are the stronger party.”

In regard to a peace agreement, there is a difference between how the West understands the nature of this agreement as opposed to the Muslim world. “In Islam, the normal situation is war until the world is conquered. However, there are times when the Muslims cannot continue the war because they are not strong enough to win or for other reasons that might cause them to lose the war. The solution for type of situation in Islamic legal terms is called Sulha. This is when the Muslims stop their battles with the non-Muslims for a limited period of time which is the Sulha. This idea has rules and it can be renewed, but it is only temporary since Muslims cannot stop Jihad forever. Jihad is a normal situation, but to stop Jihad temporarily there must be a very good reason – the Muslim needs to have an alibi. However, even if there is a Sulha, it is only valid as long as the Muslims feel they are not strong enough to fight the non-Muslims, the minute this changes, they are required to return to Jihad.”

Ares Olympus said...

It does look like the biggest reason "peace" can't be found in Israel is that both sides are being subsidized by outsiders. If Iran and others were not helping to prop up the Palestinians, they surely would have fallen 20 or even 40 year ago or more, and if Israel, as the militarily dominant country had its way, Palestinians would either all be homeless or dead. And if Iran or other Muslim countries didn't want to take them in, why should the Israelis put up with them? And in the old old days (like old testament), the losing side really are killed or enslaved and that was that.

Saudis taking sides with Israel would seem positive in the sense of helping to tip the game towards Israel to finish their unilateral victory, long over due, if only the world court of human rights wouldn't get in the way, but the Saudis never worried about human rights, so no problem there.

Going further, you'd almost imagine the Saudis and Israel uniting together against Iran, and that would be something to see. And you can see why Iran wants nuclear weapons as their final solution, and unlike N.Korea, they don't need intercontinental ballistic missiles. I wonder which holy land Iran would prefer to wipe off the map, if they had to choose?

James said...

I think you've really got something (most people don't get that difference and how important it is) with the differing point of views of non Muslims and Muslims on what constitutes peace or war.
AO, I do agree with much of what you say in your last paragraph.

Jack Fisher said...

AO, not unsurprisingly, you don't understand how cold war equations work. Nuclear first strikes invite retaliation in kind unless the attacker can be certain of taking out the target nation's nukes. This is called first strike counter-force targeting. Neither Iran nor Israel has this capability. If either had to retaliate, they would do so, not against empty missile silos, but against cities --- countervalue. This balance of terror is also why there hasn't been a nuclear war on the Indian subcontinent.

James said...

When it comes to Kim of North Korea too many of these "experts" are basing their analyses on their own definition of what is rational. Kim's idea of what is rational is very very different from theirs (at least that's what I think) so any predictions they make are of very little use to anybody and if anything could be very dangerous.
As far as Israel and Iran go, I have a lot to say on that but in the interest of not boring every one to death I'll save it for another day.

Ares Olympus said...

Jack Fisher said... AO, not unsurprisingly, you don't understand how cold war equations work. Nuclear first strikes invite retaliation in kind unless the attacker can be certain of taking out the target nation's nukes.

A powerful country never will never use nukes first because they have more options, but a powerful country will be very careful about a conventional attack against a weaker country with nukes.

I imagine the conditions Iran (or N.Korea) would attack with nuclear weapons isn't a "first strike" to "win" a confrontation but as revenge against hated enemies when their rule is almost lost, or if the nuclear weapons themselves were at risk of imminent destruction.

Religion and nuclear weapons seem especially dangerous, especially given apocalyptic thinking that claims real life begins after this one, and so a "righteous" death here will be rewarded in the next life. I'd presume there are approximately equal proportions of apocalyptic thinkers in Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, at least averaged over time.

Jack Fisher said...

James, I think Kim is a long time and experienced survivor playing a rational, but very dangerous game. His regime depends on buying the loyalty of the Chinese and some combination of army/security forces. He fears US intervention and regime change (Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.) and his missile tests and bluster are sending a message to the US not to try or face consequences. He knows use of a nuke will end the game for him (China has declared it would not intervene in that case), but he's betting the US won't gamble with armed regime change at the risk of a west coast city as a bluff not worth calling.

AO offers a schoolyard rationale for nukes as revenge, which is child's way of incompletely expressing deterrence. But in NK, the permissive action links that prevent a Dr Strangelove scenario have got to be screwed down so tight that I wonder if, following a decapitation strike on NK leadership, whether launch of a nuke is even possible.

Let me know of your thoughts on Israel and iran.

James said...

I think that Kim's missile moves are designed to put pressure on China. They made an attempt on him earlier this year through his uncle. Kim knows that in a sense he is a dead man, but he has the one ace (a deliverable nuke) that he thinks he needs. All he needs is one and the (at least) the impression he is crazy enough to use it.
The US is not a viable target for such a number of nukes, but if you look at a map you have the capitals of China, Japan, and South Korea in easy range. Plus over 60% of China's seaborne shipping goes in and out right under Kim's nose, shipping the Chinese cannot afford to lose not even for an instant. All of this circles back to Kim making it understood "back me up or else".