One of America’s wisest and most knowledgeable minds in geopolitics detects a silver lining in the horrendous black cloud over the Middle East and says “now, perhaps more than ever” is an opportunity to find a comprehensive resolution to the 58-year-old tragedy.
Brent Scowcroft was national security adviser to former Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush and is now president of the Forum for International Policy. He is the leading proponent of the “realist” school of foreign policy in opposition to the neocon or interventionist/transformationalist school. He remains close to the former President Bush who occasionally passes on his advice to his son, the current President Bush, through Gen. Scowcroft’s op-eds. But the advice is usually ignored, most notably the arguments in the fall of 2002 against going to war in Iraq.
The time is now propitious, Gen. Scowcroft believes, to revive the idea of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with “minor rectifications agreed upon between Palestine and Israel.” Unfortunately, there already have been major rectifications of those borders, known as the Green Line, sealed by a costly physical barrier 460 miles long. And Hamas, dedicated to the removal of Israel from the map, is now the dominant political player in the West Bank and “liberated” Gaza, now pockmarked with Israeli shell and bomb craters.
Next on Gen. Scowcroft’s menu would be for the Palestinians to give up the right of return to Israel in return for Israel dismantling its settlements in the West Bank. Those displaced, Palestinians and Israelis, would receive compensation from the international community. Unfortunately again, the bulk of Israel’s West Bank settlements are already incorporated in Israel. Only 60 minor settlements remain between the Jordan River and the $2.5 billion wall of separation. As for “compensation,” Arab oil states, making hundreds of billions of dollars a year from oil inching up to $80 a barrel, ignored Gaza’s appeals for assistance after Israel gave it up last year. Western nations are suffering from acute donor fatigue.
Gen. Scowcroft reminds us that in 2002 all Arab nations, in a move instigated by Saudi King Abdullah, pledged to enter into full normal relations with Israel upon its withdrawal from all Arab lands occupied by Israel in 1967. But this was ignored by the White House The neocon campaign to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq already dominated all thinking about the Middle East.
The Scowcroft plan would also require deploying robust international forces in southern Lebanon and in the West Bank to “supervise traffic to and from Gaza and the West Bank.” The next few weeks will tell us how robust a force will be deployed on the Israel-Lebanon frontier. Given multibillion-dollar damage caused by Israeli bombing runs over southern Beirut, Sidon and Tyre, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the force should be deployed inside Israel’s frontier, not Lebanon’s. For the West Bank and Gaza, the need is for freedom of passage between the two, which is now blocked by Israeli settlements.
Gen. Scowcroft, a consummate diplomat and cautious man, goes on to suggest “the designation of Jerusalem as the shared capital of Israel and Palestine, with appropriate international guarantees of freedom of movement and civic life in the city.” But this is more than even the late Yasser Arafat demanded. Until Hamas won a majority in last January’s elections, Palestinian ambitions for Jerusalem never went beyond East Jerusalem, the Arab quarter that the Jewish population has steadily nibbled on since it seized the entire holy city in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The current crisis in Lebanon, says Gen. Scowcroft, “provides a historic opportunity to achieve what has seemed impossible.” It’s now up to the United States, he adds, which alone can mobilize the international community and Israel and the Arab states for the task that defeated all previous administrations. The “obvious vehicle” for all this would be the “Quartet” (U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations), set up for just such a purpose in 2001.
First order of business would be a NATO-led international force that would call for a cease-fire. With all the abuse that has been heaped on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for not living up to Washington’s criteria for democracy, and NATO extending its frontiers to include former Soviet republics, it strains credulity to see Moscow acquiescing in a NATO operation in the Middle East. Afghanistan requirements have also strained NATO’s resources.
The Scowcroft plan omits Syria, whose Golan Heights are still occupied by Israel. But he does say his proposals would reduce the influence of Iran, the country that poses the greatest threat to stability in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. That assumes, of course, Iran’s mullahocracy would write off its investment in Hezbollah, including some 15,000 rockets and missiles and an annual stipend of $100 million, and sit quietly on the sidelines as the Bush administration, widely discredited in the Middle East, imposes regional peace. Recent events demonstrated the U.S., try as it always does, cannot be evenhanded between Arabs and Jews.
Congress has now made clear an attack against Israel is an attack against the United States. As Israel began to run out of precision-guided bombs after two weeks of air strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon, the U.S. rushed replacements by air. With Hezbollah, the Party of God, suddenly propelled to the top of the Middle Eastern political pops, and its leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah enshrined as the new Che Guevara, the Scowcroft peace plan seemed a tad premature.
Disarming Hezbollah, detaching Syria from its alliance with Iran, creating a stronger Lebanon and convincing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions would have to come first.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.