January 20, 2013?Elliott Abrams reports on an open letter to President Obama issued by a number of former American policymakers (Hat Tip: Gershon D). The letter's signers include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, Frank Carlucci, Thomas Pickering, Sandra Day O’Connor, and James Wolfensohn, among others, and was apparently initiated by former Republican Congressman Lee Hamilton (Indiana), who is signed on the cover letter that accompanied it.
The letter blames Israel entirely for the current impasse in 'negotiations,' and calls for imposing a 'settlement' on Israel. It sets out the following six points (I have left Elliott's commentary in):
(1) “The United States will oppose any effort to challenge or undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel within internationally recognized borders,” which suggests that we will not oppose undermining Israel today or tomorrow, when it has no such borders.Read the whole thing.
(2) “The United States will work for the establishment of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, subject only to agreed, minor and equal land swaps to take into account areas adjoining the former Green Line heavily populated by Israelis . . .” President Obama’s suggestion of using the 1967 lines as a base was not enough, and the United States should further undermine Israel’s negotiating position by demanding that any swaps be “minor” and that any settlement not right on the Green Line, such as Ariel (population 18,000), be abandoned.
(3) Any solution to the refugee problem cannot flood Israel with Arabs and destroy its character as a Jewish state, so that “proposals for unlimited entry of Palestinian refugees into the State of Israel will be opposed by the United States.” But this formulation of course suggests that proposals for “limited entry” would not be opposed, meaning that an Israeli policy of refusing any such entry is likely to be viewed as obstructionist—yet another Israeli obstacle to peace.
(4) As part of a peace agreement, “the United States will support the presence of a U.S.-led multinational force to oversee security provisions and border crossings.” It is a surprise to see this proposal for yet another overseas military commitment at a time when there is so much pressure for withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and Iraq and cuts in the defense budget. And given the nature of the terrorist threat to Israel, how an effective multinational force could be organized is mysterious. In an analogous situation, the international force in Lebanon has failed completely to restrain or disarm Hezbollah.
(5) Jerusalem will be divided between Israel and Palestine and “each side” will control its own holy places. Among many other problems, what this means for the Christian holy places and the entire Armenian Quarter is not specified.
(6) “The United States will encourage the reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas on terms compatible with these principles and UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338.” So there is no precise call for Hamas to adhere to the Quartet Principles, requiring it to abandon terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and adhere to previous agreements. Instead, the United States will move from treating Hamas as a terrorist group, which it is a crime to support, to “encouraging” Fatah to reconcile with it.
Here's where I break with Elliott. Elliott is dismissive of the possibility that President Obama could ever adopt this letter as policy.
These proposals would cause the president political damage, not political risk. Further damage would be caused were he ever to adopt not only these positions but in addition the threatening attitude that is proposed. In his cover letter, Lee Hamilton explains:But is the likelihood that the President might accept this advice really small? If God forbid Obama is re-elected, come January 20, 2013, he would have four years in office during which no real political damage could be done to him. He would never have to stand for re-election again. Sure, the Democrats could be punished at the polls in a 2014 midterm election, but we've already seen that in 2010, and it didn't seem to bother Obama too much.Prospects for the implementation of these principles depend entirely on an understanding by both parties that there are consequences for their rejection. . . . In his speech, President Obama omitted reference to consequences. We believe the cost-benefit calculations of neither party will be changed without that understanding.So these are not to be American proposals, but an American ultimatum to Israel. It is striking that the toughest language, about “consequences” and changing Israel’s “cost-benefit calculations,” is found not in the letter to the president but only in the introductory description from Lee Hamilton. Whether all of the signers agree with this approach cannot be certain, but it must be assumed that all of this was hashed out in advance.
The analysis and the proposals made in this letter reveal that many of America’s most experienced former senior officials now blame Israel alone for the freeze in Middle East peace negotiations. And they believe that Israel should be forced into compromises and sacrifices under enormous American pressure, even if the vast majority of Israelis oppose them and view them as dangerous. This is, to use State Department terminology, “deeply disturbing,” even if the likelihood that any president would accept this advice is small.
Could Obama adopt this strategy of imposing a settlement in 2013? You bet he could - and I'd bet he would.
What could go wrong?