Monday, December 14, 2009

Could Reagan read the signs on the road to peace?

In October of 1982, only a relatively short time after Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June, President Ronald Reagan and U.S. officials held a conference with delegations from the Arab League, a political organization that claims in its charter to “promote sovereignty and independence”1 of its member states, and Palestine under a “special circumstance” since its “outward signs of independence” had been seen as “veiled” at the time of its admittance in 1945.
Reagan called his meeting with King Hassan, the head of the League, "an important milestone along the road toward a... just and lasting peace in the Middle East." He said that the "mutual goal of peace and the road to it lies through a negotiating process," meaning one of the Arab League delegation and U.S. and Israeli representatives, and described his meeting with King Hassan as one representing “good will, understanding, and mutual respect.” He held up United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, King Hassan's personal vision, and the Arab League Delegation's "decisions at the Fez conference," also called the Twelfth Arab Summit Conference, as answers to the question of how to achieve peace.
Any person's opinion may shed light on the situation, but who is to say if their ideas are always necessarily applicable and to be taken as completely matured plans of action? It's all very nice to gush about “justice” and “security”and brag about your best friend's idea of creating and supporting these powerhouses of repression that we call states, that we include in our wonderful phrase, “two-state solution” while you hold up pieces of paper called resolutions. But neither party has a reputation for being very resolute at all about peace. Did the astoundingly immense Grand ol' Party blood-transfusion in American foreign policy give him a vision of the future to bring an end to these nationalistic squabbles? Or was he a false prophet and a fool?
To know this, we must start by asking one question: Did he make good on his pledge to try to bring the conflict closer to a resolution (or at least his conception of it) by increasing security in Arab states and Israel, and a sense of identity for the Palestinian people? In other words, did he pursue these objectives "rigorously, thoughtfully, and with close consultation with all [there]" as he promised?
Starting with Security Council Resolution 242 which was put into effect in 1967, Reagan has already betrayed one of his values: understanding. The Resolution, labeled aptly by Georgetown University scholars as “a case study in diplomatic ambiguity,”2 called for “[w]ithdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and stated the Security Council's decision was to be that negotiations should take place along with a cease fire. All parties seemed to agree that the “recent conflict” referred to the Six Day War, however, questions were raised as to what other parts of the text meant; the resolution ended up having several interpretations.
The Resolution was rejected originally by members of the Syrian government, who later accepted it, interpreting it to mean unilateral withdrawal,3 as did the Palestinian Liberation Organization,4 a member of the Arab League representing the Palestinian people.
. The official Israeli interpretation is virtually identical to one that was recommended by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: that the Resolution was not to mean a unilateral withdrawal but one based off of a negotiation process.5 It cites the lack of the word “all” before the word “territories.”
The similarity between the opinion of Israel and the U.S., is likely due to a fateful conversation between the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973 the day before she was to meet in front of the official Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to discuss the Resolution. She asked Kissinger what the word “negotiations” meant without the word “direct” in front of it, and asked for clarification on the entire phrase following it. He replied that it meant “nothing,” though three days later, he spelled out the meaning of the word: to relate “the concern for the sovereignty over the territories to the Israeli concern for secure boundaries.” Taking place within what must had been within mere seconds of this utterance, Kissinger quipped that the phrases “just and lasting peace” and “secure and recognized borders” in the Resolution were a joke to him. This is curious to say the least because of the fact that he appears to have wielded enormous power over the text, claiming sole authorship over some sections of it.6
The Resolution also reiterated the U.N. Charter's rule on “the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war” which one would think should apply to the territories gained in the Israeli Six Day War. However, Israeli President, Shimon Peres, denounced the application of this to the West Bank, saying that there were no international borders at the time.7 One might be tempted to say that this is simply a disagreement of definition, but in the same interview, he went to say that “you cannot go to war, lose the war and then say pay me a price,” which contradicts the main thrust of the Resolution's argument against territory gained through war to have legitimacy.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 338 has a similar story. The original text, 8 (without the bolding of the main verbs), is as follows:
The Security Council
1. Calls upon all parties to the present fighting to cease all firing and terminate all military activity immediately, no later than 12 hours after the moment of the adoption of this decision, in the positions they now occupy;
2. Calls upon the parties concerned to start immediately after the cease-fire the implementation of Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) in all of its parts;
3. Decides that, immediately and concurrently with the cease-fire, negotiations shall start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.
The weight of each statement in actuality is not based on their order, or their format, but the specific verb used. The third statement, being the one with the verb “decide” and not “call” is the most powerful, and the other two are simply recommendations. However, no matter the semantics, or possibly because of them, the resolution was not effective in brokering peace. Another more strongly-worded resolution was passed within a couple days, “confirm[ing]” its predecessor's statements and calling for international observers to be dispatched. Even after the cease-fire was officially declared, Israeli forces continued to advance and threatened the Egyptian army.
President Reagan's final offering, the Fez conference, is not an example for mutual respect or understanding at all, but perhaps is the one most likely to bring a certain kind of agreement, because the proposals there were rejected by both “hardliner” states of the Arab League and by Israel. The talks fell apart when King Hassan called the meeting to a close.9 He seemed to have been pushing a synthesis of the aforementioned U.N. Security Council resolutions and President Ronald Reagan's personal plan, but could not overcome a “boycott” by states who had strong feelings against a plan that implicitly recognized Israel as a legitimate state. This was evidenced by the Libyan leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi labeling of such actions as “traitorous.” These countries also showed their disapproval by only sending low-level representatives. Israel rejected the plan because it did not want to recognize a Palestinian state nor withdraw from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The reason I believe this conference and its aftermath to be the thing most likely to bring an agreement is not only the old maxim about a good compromise being one that leaves everyone unhappy, but because the disagreement here is only over actions to be taken and not differences between interpretations of various phrases.
The question remains as to what actions President Reagan took during his presidency to promote “peace” and to boost morale to Palestinians. During his presidency, Israel and Syria engaged in a series of acts of military brinksmanship, in violation of international law, yet in 1985 he fanned the flames of the conflict after he signed a bill designating billions of dollars of aid to Israel, ignoring the opinions expressed at the Fez conference and without publicly consulting with another country. In a question and “answer,” (he actually avoided answering most of the questions) he declared that the United States representatives would “not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.”10
To this day, the questions raised regarding the meaning of the resolution of 242 have not been settled between the parties, Israel continues the illegal expansion of settlements, and has even asked reporters to stop using the word “settlements” in favor of “neighborhoods.” Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians recognize one another's legitimate statehood, and acts of goodwill are overshadowed by ongoing reports of the continued human rights law violations on both sides of Israel's border.11 Throughout all this, the U.S. continues complicit support of Israel's illegal occupation of occupied territories through massive aid.12
If negotiations, after years and years were not able to clear up questions surrounding the wording of Resolution 242, how can we expect them to clear up people's understanding of what a settlement or a neighborhood is? If negotiations have failed thus far to deliver on understanding, what hope is there for an act of mutual respect, such as recognizing statehood, or of goodwill, such as seeking to integrate the two societies together?
Perhaps the solution lies altogether outside the boxes of Reagan's four examples, three values, two political alliances, and his one definition of “peace” as state-enforced security and national identity, and even outside of official negotiations altogether. The benefits of an open and honest debate, and more importantly, actions, among non-state actors have yet to be proven unproductive.
One of the loudest voices outside of the “mainstream” is Uri Gordon, a self-proclaimed Anarchist-sympathizer, though he also suggests people contemplate a two-state solution in his book, Anarchy Alive!. 13 He justifies this recommendation, one that seems to contradict the traditional abhorrence in Anarchist theoretical writings of nationalism and governance by accepting a two-state solution as either a strategic decision designed to enlighten more people, as a lesser evil than the current occupation, or as a simple, non-ideological stance of solidarity. However, his strong Anarchist sympathy shines in an article in the Jerusalem Post calling for a dismantling the systems of oppression, both physical and social,14 and gives an uplifting message:

We can still break out of the vicious cycle of drawing the justification for present atrocities from the living memory of the horrors of the past - if only we realize that in doing so we are playing into the hands of all those who mean to rule us''.

 Anarchism, started as a tradition of worker self-management and solidarity soon to encompass passionate critiques of state power, seems to contradict any possible stance on Middle East peace other than either apathy or total antagonism to all parties negotiating through governments. To resolve this he points out that one may work to resolve the conflict without going through governmental means, such as supporting things like the rights of workers, women, and other minorities of participation who have a reputation to be more peace-oriented.
He has also expressed frustration with the abuse of language, which is becoming a pattern at this point. He called out the editor of the Jerusalem Post's article on Anarchism for writing “a rhapsody of belittling rhetoric designed to brand anarchists as irrelevant” followed by “well-rehearsed cheap shots, stock phrases and smug moralizing alongside harangues of abuse and dehumanization of the enemy.” Though they are unlikely to agree, this kind of debate is much more revealing and thoughtful than any of the scripted and evasive language of a governmental secretary or president. It is for that reason that Reagan's hope for peace is likely misplaced in negotiations.

1. Acharya, A. (Ed.), & Johnston, A. I. (Ed.) (2007) Crafting Cooperation: Regional International Institutions in Comparative Perspective (p. 191) Cambridge University Press
2. Caradon, B. H. F. (1981) U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, a case study in diplomatic ambiguity. Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
3. Drummond, W. J. (1975, Nov 25). Syria Reportedly Insists on Palestinian-Golan Link. Los Angeles Times
4. Gelvin J. L. (October 2, 2007) The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War (p. 223) Cambridge University Press
6. Gazit M., Rodman P. W. (1973, October 22) Memorandum of Conversation. declassified national security document. Retrieved Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 from the George Washington Universtiy website at:
7.Stadlen, Nick (2007, June 4) Transcript of Nick Stadlen interview with Shimon Peres part I. Retrieved Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 from:
8. Original text of U.N. Security Council Resolution 338 retrieved Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 from
9. Goldsmith, M. (1981, Nov 27) Failure of Arab summit produces no real losers. The Spokesman Review
10. Hunt, T. (1982, September 2) Reagan: West Bank Jordan's. Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette
11. LaFranchi H. (2009, November 4th) UN General Assembly to take up Goldstone report on Gaza war crimes. Christian Science Monitor.
12. Annonymous (2009, July 8) Despite splits, U.S. still arms Israel. Retrieved Tuesday, December 8, 2009 from
13. Gordon, U. (2007) Anarchy Alive!: Anti-authoritarian Poliics from Practice to Theory. Pluto Press
14. Gordon, U. (2007, June 12). Right of Reply: Anarchy in the Holy Land! Jerusalem Post

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