Blogs: Paul Pillar

One Person, One Vote, One Time

The Muddled Travel Ban

The Enduring Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Paul Pillar

On the Israeli side, for example, Israel’s limited territorial withdrawals from Syria and the Sinai following the 1973 war were in response to the shock of military setbacks and vulnerability that the war exposed, together with pressure from the United States, which had been stung by the Arab oil embargo.  Menachem Begin’s acceptance at Camp David in 1978 of a framework for a projected, eventual negotiated resolution of the conflict was in response to pressure applied by Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat.  Yitzhak Shamir’s agreement in 1991 to attend a peace conference in Madrid was in direct response to pressure from Secretary of State James Baker in the form of a threat to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees for housing for Russian emigrants—which, by the way, was the last time the United States applied this sort of pressure on Israel.

The record refutes the idea that reassurance to Israel is what is most required to obtain Israel flexibility regarding the conflict with the Palestinians.  But this idea persists because it is so politically comfortable here in the United States. 

The same sort of dynamic has taken place on the Palestinian side.  The positions and postures of the Palestinian mainstream have undergone a great evolution from a refusal to have any dealing with Israel and the waging of armed struggle against it, to explicit recognition of the State of Israel, commitment to a negotiated resolution of the conflict, commitment to two states living side-by-side in peace, and even an acceptance of pre-1967 Israeli military conquests and a reduction of territorial aspirations for a Palestinian state to the 22 percent of land that was left.  The background to this evolution has been setback after setback to the Palestinians, including military defeats in Jordan and Lebanon, exile to Tunisia, and political weakness that is most apparent right here in the United States.

An Asymmetrical Conflict

While the two sides have exhibited similar histories regarding the relationship between pressure and flexibility, we are left with a huge asymmetry.  There is an enormous difference in strength, obviously militarily but also economically and in terms of political leverage in the United States. 

There has been a large difference in physical and human consequences.  Far more Palestinians than Israelis have died in this conflict.  Even going back to the Arab riots in Palestine in the 1930s, the ratio of Arabs to Jews killed was about ten-to-one.  The discrepancy has been even greater in more recent conflict.  During Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip in 2014, 2,100 Palestinians were killed, about two-thirds of whom were civilians.  Israeli deaths from all causes totaled 72, all but six of whom were soldiers.  The ratio in the last previous war in Gaza, in 2008-2009, was similar: 14 Israelis killed; over 1,400 Palestinians killed.

The asymmetry is also one between an occupier and the occupied.  This seems to get overlooked in mentions of whether Palestinian leaders want a negotiated settlement.  For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, a negotiated two-state solution would be better than what they have now, and the overwhelming majority of Palestinians realize that it would be.  They also realize that an agreement negotiated with Israel is the only way a two-state solution would ever be reached.   

Conditions that Palestinian leaders have sometimes attached to negotiations should not be that hard to understand.  A freeze on more construction of Israeli settlements is understandable because such construction obviously narrows the negotiating space for any peace agreement, and because nobody’s patience is unlimited for something called a peace process to be dragged out endlessly while more such facts on the ground continue to be established unilaterally, making a two-state solution ever harder to achieve.

Resistance to acceding to Israeli demands about calling Israel a “Jewish state” reflects how this demand was never made of Egypt or Jordan when they made peace treaties with Israel, how such descriptive demands are not part of normal recognition and diplomacy between states, how the PLO long ago explicitly recognized the State of Israel, how acceding to the Israeli demand would be an explicit Palestinian declaration that their Arab brethren within Israel are second-class citizens, and how such accession would be a step toward excusing Israel from accepting any responsibility, even symbolically, for the events of the late 1940s.

The asymmetry extends to how much there is left for either side to concede.  Again, it is part of the basic difference between an occupier, who has the power to end an occupation, and the occupied, who does not.  For the Palestinians, the story of this conflict, and of the diplomacy surrounding it, has been a tale of successive reductions in what they expect, and what they are expected to expect.  From being what was still the large majority of residents of Palestine even at the time of Israel’s creation, they have seen their prospective home go down to 43 percent of Palestine under the UN partition plan, to 22 percent after the warfare of the 1940s.  And since the 1967 war, they have seen the 22 percent become not a floor but a ceiling in anything that is talked about as a future Palestinian state.  The discourse is about a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what had been their homeland.  Having been backed to a wall, there is very little room for still more backing up, at least in any way consistent with any Palestinian leader meeting the most basic nationalist aspirations and demand for respect for his people, failing which the leader himself forfeits respect and support.

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Iran and the Nuclear Sunset Clauses

Paul Pillar

On the Israeli side, for example, Israel’s limited territorial withdrawals from Syria and the Sinai following the 1973 war were in response to the shock of military setbacks and vulnerability that the war exposed, together with pressure from the United States, which had been stung by the Arab oil embargo.  Menachem Begin’s acceptance at Camp David in 1978 of a framework for a projected, eventual negotiated resolution of the conflict was in response to pressure applied by Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat.  Yitzhak Shamir’s agreement in 1991 to attend a peace conference in Madrid was in direct response to pressure from Secretary of State James Baker in the form of a threat to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees for housing for Russian emigrants—which, by the way, was the last time the United States applied this sort of pressure on Israel.

The record refutes the idea that reassurance to Israel is what is most required to obtain Israel flexibility regarding the conflict with the Palestinians.  But this idea persists because it is so politically comfortable here in the United States. 

The same sort of dynamic has taken place on the Palestinian side.  The positions and postures of the Palestinian mainstream have undergone a great evolution from a refusal to have any dealing with Israel and the waging of armed struggle against it, to explicit recognition of the State of Israel, commitment to a negotiated resolution of the conflict, commitment to two states living side-by-side in peace, and even an acceptance of pre-1967 Israeli military conquests and a reduction of territorial aspirations for a Palestinian state to the 22 percent of land that was left.  The background to this evolution has been setback after setback to the Palestinians, including military defeats in Jordan and Lebanon, exile to Tunisia, and political weakness that is most apparent right here in the United States.

An Asymmetrical Conflict

While the two sides have exhibited similar histories regarding the relationship between pressure and flexibility, we are left with a huge asymmetry.  There is an enormous difference in strength, obviously militarily but also economically and in terms of political leverage in the United States. 

There has been a large difference in physical and human consequences.  Far more Palestinians than Israelis have died in this conflict.  Even going back to the Arab riots in Palestine in the 1930s, the ratio of Arabs to Jews killed was about ten-to-one.  The discrepancy has been even greater in more recent conflict.  During Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip in 2014, 2,100 Palestinians were killed, about two-thirds of whom were civilians.  Israeli deaths from all causes totaled 72, all but six of whom were soldiers.  The ratio in the last previous war in Gaza, in 2008-2009, was similar: 14 Israelis killed; over 1,400 Palestinians killed.

The asymmetry is also one between an occupier and the occupied.  This seems to get overlooked in mentions of whether Palestinian leaders want a negotiated settlement.  For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, a negotiated two-state solution would be better than what they have now, and the overwhelming majority of Palestinians realize that it would be.  They also realize that an agreement negotiated with Israel is the only way a two-state solution would ever be reached.   

Conditions that Palestinian leaders have sometimes attached to negotiations should not be that hard to understand.  A freeze on more construction of Israeli settlements is understandable because such construction obviously narrows the negotiating space for any peace agreement, and because nobody’s patience is unlimited for something called a peace process to be dragged out endlessly while more such facts on the ground continue to be established unilaterally, making a two-state solution ever harder to achieve.

Resistance to acceding to Israeli demands about calling Israel a “Jewish state” reflects how this demand was never made of Egypt or Jordan when they made peace treaties with Israel, how such descriptive demands are not part of normal recognition and diplomacy between states, how the PLO long ago explicitly recognized the State of Israel, how acceding to the Israeli demand would be an explicit Palestinian declaration that their Arab brethren within Israel are second-class citizens, and how such accession would be a step toward excusing Israel from accepting any responsibility, even symbolically, for the events of the late 1940s.

The asymmetry extends to how much there is left for either side to concede.  Again, it is part of the basic difference between an occupier, who has the power to end an occupation, and the occupied, who does not.  For the Palestinians, the story of this conflict, and of the diplomacy surrounding it, has been a tale of successive reductions in what they expect, and what they are expected to expect.  From being what was still the large majority of residents of Palestine even at the time of Israel’s creation, they have seen their prospective home go down to 43 percent of Palestine under the UN partition plan, to 22 percent after the warfare of the 1940s.  And since the 1967 war, they have seen the 22 percent become not a floor but a ceiling in anything that is talked about as a future Palestinian state.  The discourse is about a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what had been their homeland.  Having been backed to a wall, there is very little room for still more backing up, at least in any way consistent with any Palestinian leader meeting the most basic nationalist aspirations and demand for respect for his people, failing which the leader himself forfeits respect and support.

Pages

Getting to Yes With North Korea

Paul Pillar

On the Israeli side, for example, Israel’s limited territorial withdrawals from Syria and the Sinai following the 1973 war were in response to the shock of military setbacks and vulnerability that the war exposed, together with pressure from the United States, which had been stung by the Arab oil embargo.  Menachem Begin’s acceptance at Camp David in 1978 of a framework for a projected, eventual negotiated resolution of the conflict was in response to pressure applied by Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat.  Yitzhak Shamir’s agreement in 1991 to attend a peace conference in Madrid was in direct response to pressure from Secretary of State James Baker in the form of a threat to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees for housing for Russian emigrants—which, by the way, was the last time the United States applied this sort of pressure on Israel.

The record refutes the idea that reassurance to Israel is what is most required to obtain Israel flexibility regarding the conflict with the Palestinians.  But this idea persists because it is so politically comfortable here in the United States. 

The same sort of dynamic has taken place on the Palestinian side.  The positions and postures of the Palestinian mainstream have undergone a great evolution from a refusal to have any dealing with Israel and the waging of armed struggle against it, to explicit recognition of the State of Israel, commitment to a negotiated resolution of the conflict, commitment to two states living side-by-side in peace, and even an acceptance of pre-1967 Israeli military conquests and a reduction of territorial aspirations for a Palestinian state to the 22 percent of land that was left.  The background to this evolution has been setback after setback to the Palestinians, including military defeats in Jordan and Lebanon, exile to Tunisia, and political weakness that is most apparent right here in the United States.

An Asymmetrical Conflict

While the two sides have exhibited similar histories regarding the relationship between pressure and flexibility, we are left with a huge asymmetry.  There is an enormous difference in strength, obviously militarily but also economically and in terms of political leverage in the United States. 

There has been a large difference in physical and human consequences.  Far more Palestinians than Israelis have died in this conflict.  Even going back to the Arab riots in Palestine in the 1930s, the ratio of Arabs to Jews killed was about ten-to-one.  The discrepancy has been even greater in more recent conflict.  During Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip in 2014, 2,100 Palestinians were killed, about two-thirds of whom were civilians.  Israeli deaths from all causes totaled 72, all but six of whom were soldiers.  The ratio in the last previous war in Gaza, in 2008-2009, was similar: 14 Israelis killed; over 1,400 Palestinians killed.

The asymmetry is also one between an occupier and the occupied.  This seems to get overlooked in mentions of whether Palestinian leaders want a negotiated settlement.  For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, a negotiated two-state solution would be better than what they have now, and the overwhelming majority of Palestinians realize that it would be.  They also realize that an agreement negotiated with Israel is the only way a two-state solution would ever be reached.   

Conditions that Palestinian leaders have sometimes attached to negotiations should not be that hard to understand.  A freeze on more construction of Israeli settlements is understandable because such construction obviously narrows the negotiating space for any peace agreement, and because nobody’s patience is unlimited for something called a peace process to be dragged out endlessly while more such facts on the ground continue to be established unilaterally, making a two-state solution ever harder to achieve.

Resistance to acceding to Israeli demands about calling Israel a “Jewish state” reflects how this demand was never made of Egypt or Jordan when they made peace treaties with Israel, how such descriptive demands are not part of normal recognition and diplomacy between states, how the PLO long ago explicitly recognized the State of Israel, how acceding to the Israeli demand would be an explicit Palestinian declaration that their Arab brethren within Israel are second-class citizens, and how such accession would be a step toward excusing Israel from accepting any responsibility, even symbolically, for the events of the late 1940s.

The asymmetry extends to how much there is left for either side to concede.  Again, it is part of the basic difference between an occupier, who has the power to end an occupation, and the occupied, who does not.  For the Palestinians, the story of this conflict, and of the diplomacy surrounding it, has been a tale of successive reductions in what they expect, and what they are expected to expect.  From being what was still the large majority of residents of Palestine even at the time of Israel’s creation, they have seen their prospective home go down to 43 percent of Palestine under the UN partition plan, to 22 percent after the warfare of the 1940s.  And since the 1967 war, they have seen the 22 percent become not a floor but a ceiling in anything that is talked about as a future Palestinian state.  The discourse is about a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what had been their homeland.  Having been backed to a wall, there is very little room for still more backing up, at least in any way consistent with any Palestinian leader meeting the most basic nationalist aspirations and demand for respect for his people, failing which the leader himself forfeits respect and support.

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