Once more, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 is taking center stage. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas insisted during his speech before the recently concluded Arab League Summit in Jordan that the initiative is the only solution on the table; asserting that it will not be changed or even tweaked. But why is this initiative, which was put forward by Saudi Arabia 15 years ago, now infused back into the already congested Middle East political discourse, despite the fact that Israel has rejected it repeatedly and the United States has shown little interest in enforcing it?
In March 2002, the initiative, composed of a few sentences, was proclaimed at an Arab League Summit in Beirut, Lebanon. Less than half of the Arab leaders participated in that conference. Head of the PA and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the late Yasser Arafat, was not allowed to attend. Israeli prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had Arafat placed under house arrest in Ramallah. Sharon told Arafat that if Israel was to allow him to leave he would not be allowed back. Arafat died two years later, amid allegations that he had been poisoned.
U.S. President Donald Trump has stated he would like to see the American embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move would be discordant with international law and more than four decades of policy of his predecessors. It would bring negative political consequences for the U.S., Israel, the Middle East and the European Union, even if it were well received by some Israelis and American members of Congress.
Status of Jerusalem
After World War I, the city of Jerusalem came under the administration of the United Kingdom through a League of Nations’ mandate on Palestine. At the end of World War II, given the British intention to give up the mandate and withdraw from Palestine, the United Nations undertook to provide a future solution for the region and for Jerusalem itself. UN General Assembly Resolution 181, adopted in November 1947, is based on the premise that Jerusalem would be placed under special international supervision. However, the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 frustrated the implementation of the resolution. The fighting left the city divided in two: a western part occupied by Israel and an eastern part held by Jordan. In 1949, Israel moved most government institutions and parliament (the Knesset) from Tel Aviv to Western Jerusalem. The Knesset then adopted a resolution declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.
During the early years of the Obama administration, conventional wisdom in Washington held that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict trumped everything else in the Middle East, that no problem could be resolved until that one was out of the way. “Without doubt,” former president Jimmy Carter said, “the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem.” The reason, said his former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now a professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University, is because, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single most combustible and galvanizing issue in the Arab world”.
Similar views were expressed across the political spectrum, from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel and General David Petraeus.
On Sept. 10, 2016, the U.S.-brokered a ceasefire with Russia and Syria in the besieged city of Aleppo. Although low-intensity fighting never really stopped, the ceasefire didn’t begin to fall apart until a week later, when U.S. aircraft mistakenly killed about 80 Syrian troops.
The killings heightened tensions between the United States and Russia, who had agreed to the ceasefire with the aim of negotiating a combined effort against Islamic State and Al Qaeda-linked fighters. By Sept. 21, the ceasefire collapsed — and the following day, the Syrian government announced a new military offensive to retake Aleppo.
The offensive featured some of the most intensive ground combat and bombing of the entire war, costing hundreds of lives within the span of just a few days. The humanitarian cost on the ground was described by U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien as “a level of savagery that no human should have to endure.”
LUSTICK: The basic point is pretty obvious. If a person is too thin, gaining weight is a good thing, but not if the weight gain is all in the stomach. To take a more extreme example: If a person is overweight, losing pounds is a good thing, but not if it is achieved by decapitation or sawing off one’s right arm. “Right-sizing” a state is the idea that—although it is dangerous and usually wrong to change a country’s borders when those borders have been settled and have taken on a sense of stability and naturalness—there are circumstances when it can be entirely appropriate to alter the size and shape of a state for the state’s own good and for the welfare of the nation, people, or population that identifies with it.
MOTYL: If the theory makes so much sense—and I agree that it does—why isn’t it practiced more often? What are the main obstacles to right-sizing?
LUSTICK: States commonly seek to get bigger, but more often than not they “wrong-size” themselves by doing so. Except for perhaps a temporary boost to the popularity of the leadership that promises that expansion will yield a bigger pie to divide among their followers, the costs of maintaining rule over far-flung territories and exploited and unhappy indigenous peoples usually vastly outweighs the benefits that can be sustained over a long period of time. That means, however, that many states are bigger than they “should be,” raising the question you have asked: why don’t more states shrink strategically? The reason is that getting smaller is almost always perceived as shrinking the size of the available pie and diminishing the prestige of those who identify with the state. So it is always more difficult to contract rather than expand, even if, strategically, it is likely to be very advantageous to do so. As you can imagine, it is far easier to label a leader who favors withdrawing from a territory a coward or a traitor to the national (or imperial) cause, than it is to challenge the patriotism of a leader embarking on a “glorious” campaign of expansion—one that would typically be characterized as being demanded by the historical (or divine) rights of the nation or its security requirements.