The Roadmap, Realistically

Author seizes on propitious moment for outlining the impossible challenges and unmentionable solutions for a Middle East peace.

With the midterms over, a tectonic shift in Washington's political plates, and emerging signs that the old parameters of permissible American debate on Levantine problems are crumbling, the season looks propitious for offering innovative ideas addressing the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even at this very late hour, the soon-to-be-released report by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, which will reportedly include recommendations for dealing with the conflict, can still retrieve some Middle East chestnuts from a raging fire-on this issue so vital to the American national interest. But the report will forward serious ideas only if the authors remove all existing borders from their conceptual map.

Whether one likes it or not, Arabs and Muslims from Marrakesh to Malaysia identify the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the single most important crucible fostering frustration, alienation and rage-terrorism's raw materials. And the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes the position of Muslim moderates untenable. At this moment of possible transitions in Middle East policy, a reopening of the Israeli-Palestinian file is urgent.

Professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of the Kennedy School at Harvard candidly identified major reasons for the freezing of American policy toward Israel and the Palestinians in their essay, "The Israel Lobby and U.S.Foreign Policy", published early in 2006 by The London Review of Books. The essay provoked largely ad hominem denunciation from Alan Dershowitz, Martin Peretz, Eliot Cohen and a host of other neoconservatives. Sobriety returned with the trenchant analysis by Dimitri K. Simes, "Unrealists", which appeared in The National Interest's summer issue, available here.

There can no longer be controversy as to whether there is an Israeli lobby in the United States, or the fact that the lobby frequently blocks U.S. policies promoting the national interest in the Islamic world. What's more, neoconservatives and the "Christian" ayatollahs allied with them believe that U.S. and Israeli interests are everywhere and always the same. They are wrong. How much more data must flow from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran (perhaps especially Iran) and beyond before American politicians from both political parties begin to tell it like it is?

Let there be no misunderstanding. The United States should, and must, continue to support Israel. That is in the American national interest. But beyond this truism, it is past time for the policy community to begin to think analytically about the nature-and limits-of what the American commitment to Israel should be.

Perhaps the most courageous and imaginative article to appear on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in any American public policy journal in recent years is the eloquent articulation of ethical realism by John C. Hulsman, "Grasping The Nettle," published in the current issue of The National Interest and available here. (The essay is based on the proposals put forth in the recently published Ethical Realism: A Vision for America's Role in the World, Pantheon, which Hulsman co-authored with New America's Anatol Lieven, available here.) Hulsman's advocacy of Israeli and Palestinian accession to the European Union may indeed be a bridge too far (as Richard Rupp suggests in the same issue) but he rightly points out that any new attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian problem must address the most difficult issues up front, at the beginning of any new negotiating process. One hopes that the Baker-Hamilton report will also reflect an understanding that doing otherwise will once again invite terrorism and guarantee failure.

It may even be necessary to contemplate a repartition of all of historic Palestine if the impasse between Israelis and Arabs is to be broken. The 1967 Green Line is not sacrosanct. Land swaps need to be more than "limited" and apply to more than Jewish settlement blocks in the West Bank.

For example, areas of major Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories might indeed be included within Israeli borders in any new partition, as President Bush has suggested, if significant areas within what is today Israel (possibly portions of Galilee and the Triangle) with Lower Nazareth as a hinge were to be included in a new, peaceful, and economically viable Palestinian state. Jerusalem must somehow be politically shared between Israelis and Palestinians and new boundaries drawn there also-but the boundaries must demarcate, not exclude. Some modest, symbolic return of Palestinian refugees to the new Palestinian state, and (as Hulsman recommends) major financial compensation for the others, surely constitute other requirements for any chance of moving toward enduring peace.

The Palestinian political presence in East Jerusalem is going to require a lot more than a "symbolic flag" if there is to be any chance at all for its acceptance in the broader Islamic world, without which no Palestinian government can ever come to terms with Israel. Palestinians will never recognize Ramallah as the permanent capital of any independent Palestinian state. Symbolically, politically and economically, a significant Palestinian presence in an open East Jerusalem that is organically connected to both Israel and the West Bank is essential if any new era in the Middle East is to be opened. Realism requires the recognition of the realities that exist.