Friday, May 08, 2009

Trial balloons

Erev Shabbat -

Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon. - Winnie the Pooh

Perhaps Pooh is right. Still, some balloons rise to the stratosphere, while others sputter into oblivion. This week witnessed a cascade of trial balloons - from Hamas, the American State Department, the Quartet and the Arab League.

Let's differentiate between the one potential high-riser and the three duds.

# The New York Times interviewed Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal in Damascus this week. Hamas is following in the footsteps of the Yasser Arafat's PLO, circa 1980.

Arafat had come to the realization that "armed struggle" alone would not achieve his goals. So in July 1982, he confided to Uri Avnery that the PLO was prepared to "recognize" Israel. Avnery immediately shared the good news with the Times.

As it turns out the PLO hasn't, to this day, genuinely recognized Israel as a Jewish state.

Anyway, Mashaal has an offer: Were Israel to pull back to the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines, uproot "settlements" such as Jerusalem's East Talpiot and French Hill neighborhoods, agree to have its population inundated by millions of descendents of the original 650,000 Palestinian Arabs who became refugees during the 1948 war - Hamas would offer us a long-term truce.

Dud Number 1.

# Before Rose Gottemoeller became Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance in the Obama administration, she had been a think-tank wonk advocating a nuclear-free Middle East. In a 2005 paper "Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security," she called on Israel to "proactively" negotiate a Mideast "free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons."

So it was little surprise that in her State Department capacity, in addressing the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference this week, she made waves by pointedly including Israel in her call for "universal adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," bunching us together with India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Dud Number 2.

Curiously, Gottemoeller did not include Iran, a NPT signatory working furiously to build a bomb.

Israel, unlike Iran, has never threatened to wipe one of its neighbors off the face of the earth. Jerusalem maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity, but has said it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the region.

Gottemoeller only needs to know that the raison d'etre of the Zionist enterprise is to make certain that, should our survival here be jeopardized, the Jews of Israel will "never again" go defenselessly to the slaughter.

# The Quartet is, according to Palestinian-sourced reports on Wednesday, working on a new peacemaking strategy, with input from the US, UN, EU and Russia, supposedly to be unveiled later this summer, promising a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israel conflict.

Dud Number 3.

The Road Map broke down, in Phase I, due to ongoing Palestinian violence. But rather than hold the Palestinians to account, the international community produced Annapolis, which also bombed. Coming up with a new "framework" every time the Palestinians violate their promises is a recipe for failure.

# The London-based, pan-Arab, Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper reported that Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are working on Version 2 of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which will "clarify the vague points" of the defective original.

As far as this trial balloon goes, we confess to being intrigued. As we understand it, the plan calls for the Palestinians to abandon their demand for a "right of return" and be granted citizenship in Arab countries, or in the newly created and demilitarized Palestine. There would be a timetable for the establishing of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab states. Israel would not be expected to return to the 1949 Armistice Lines (there would be some kind of land swap). Jerusalem would not be physically partitioned, and the holy places would be placed under international stewardship.

OBVIOUSLY, we have lots and lots of questions, but this is broadly the kind of proposal that could constitute a realistic starting point for talks.

Reaction to the Al-Quds Al-Arabi report? Denials from Jordan and Egypt, and silence from the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas says he's working on a peace plan...

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