Walter Russell Mead: Report From The Middle East: Part One

Roundup: Historians' Take

Walter Russell Mead is professor of foreign affairs and the humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of The American Interest.

I’ve just come back from a week of teaching, lecturing and conversation in Israel and the West Bank, and nothing I saw there has led me to change my basic view of the situation.  Peace is not at hand in the Middle East because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are really willing to accept the only kind of peace they can get.

The only peace now possible is one in which Palestinians become an independent nation on most of the West Bank and Gaza with “swaps” of land (probably in the Negev) to compensate for land annexed to Israel.  Most of historical Jerusalem will go to Israel; Palestinians will get a few scraps of the historical city with some sort of arrangement to cover the Islamic holy places and suburban developments that can more or less plausibly be called Jerusalem.  (This is more or less what the Israelis had until 1967 on the western side of historical Jerusalem, though Jews were banned from visiting their holy places.)  A few family reunifications may be possible and a handful of aged refugees may go back to pre-1967 Israel, but otherwise there will be no literal “right of return”.  There may be some compensation and large amounts of foreign aid will be committed to the new state.

The State of Palestine will be lightly armed for internal security purposes only; there may well be foreign troops of some kind on its soil.  Water rights and other difficult issues will be governed by treaties with Israel, Jordan and, perhaps, Syria; the Palestinian state will not negotiate those treaties from a position of strength.

Some Palestinians will be satisfied by this arrangement and others, though thinking it grossly inadequate and unfair, will choose to accept it as a way of ending the conflict.  Many will accept it grudgingly for now, but would expect Palestine to seize any favorable opportunity to revise the treaty in Palestinian favor, and would want their government to probe for ways of doing that.  Still others will reject it outright, consider those who sign it as traitors to the Palestinian cause, and like the IRA but on a much larger and more dangerous scale continue armed resistance both against Israel and what they will see as an illegitimate quisling government of Palestine.  Given the way the Middle East works, these groups will probably be able to get financial and other support from various governments looking to stir the pot....

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