The Cheney model

The essential question is whether conflict is about borders or existence.

cheney 63 (photo credit:)
cheney 63
(photo credit: )
US Vice President Richard Cheney is not known for making flamboyant speeches, but sometimes less is more. If the US had limited itself to the gist of what Cheney said in Jerusalem on Saturday night, and to elaborating in this same spirit, it is likely that the prospects for peace and moderation in this region would be substantially greater. Standing with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Cheney opened by noting Israel's 60th anniversary and calling "the state of Israel's rise out of the ashes of World War II… one of history's great miracles." He also found it remarkable that "Israel has survived these six decades, despite often violent assaults against its very existence." Then, in what was perhaps his key observation, Cheney noted that: "History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel's permanence, and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians." Much of this may seem so basic as to be banal. But the pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace is not really built on these basic premises, even as practiced most of the time by the US, let alone Europe and the United Nations. There are, it should be understood, two basic models for looking at the conflict, each of which leads to different policy approaches. The standard model is that Arabs and Israelis have been fighting for years and that blame for perpetuation of the conflict lies with both sides, or perhaps mainly with Israel, since Israel is the "occupying power" and the Palestinians are seeking independence within land held by Israel. The second model is almost nonexistent in diplomatic circles but was instinctively expressed by Cheney and is taken as axiomatic by the many Americans who sympathize with Israel. This model holds that the Arab world opposed Israel's creation, tried many times to destroy Israel, and still has not come to terms with Israel's right to exist. It is this Arab rejection of Israel, not a supposed Israeli refusal to allow the creation of a Palestinian state, that is the true obstacle to peace. At first glance it may not seem like there is much practical difference between the two models. Both seem to be built on the idea that there should be two states in the sliver of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The issue of how to apportion blame for the status quo can seem petty, or academic, or an irresolvable matter of opinion. But there is a greater practical difference than meets the eye. Indeed, a peace process built on the second model would look substantially different. The question, essentially, is whether the conflict is about borders or existence. If it is about borders, then it is a matter of pressing "both sides" to negotiate a deal. But if the heart of the matter is an Arab refusal to accept Israel in any borders, than the focus must be on compelling the Arab world to take that fundamental step. A peace process designed to produce Arab acceptance of Israel would start with simple statements of the problem. The US might state that: "Israel has accepted and seeks to implement the two-state solution. So the principal obstacle to peace is the remaining rejection among many Palestinians and within much of the Arab world of the legitimate national rights of the Jewish people to their own state, the State of Israel." The next important step would be to demand that the Arab states lead by example, rather than waiting for the divided and radicalized Palestinians to move first. Indeed, the Arab states are behind, in that Mahmoud Abbas routinely meets Israeli leaders, but the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states will not. The US could also start routinely stating that the demand of a "right of return" to Israel, rather than to a future state of Palestine alongside Israel, is tantamount to rejecting Israel's right to exist. This would help expose the double game of those who claim to accept Israel, yet push for Israel's demographic destruction with greater fervor in Arabic to their own people. American reticence on this may seem to help Abbas in the short run, but it is harmful to the cause of peace.