January 07, 2009
The Israeli attack on Gaza is likely timed to coincide with the February elections in Israel and this month’s inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama in anticipation of launching a comprehensive Middle East peace plan. The ultimate goal of the Gaza invasion is to create the conditions to introduce international troops into Palestine. Part of the purpose is to prop up the regime of President Mahmoud Abbas and allow the Palestinian leader to extend his mandate across all of Palestine. By calling for international military support, Abbas is seeking to end both the violence and the Israeli occupation at once. The hope is that he will re-establish his legitimacy and provide the grounds for a two-state solution as prescribed in President George Bush’s 2002 UN Security Council Resolution 1397, “of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure and recognized borders,” a proposition openly rejected by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, and Likud, the Israeli right-wing party.
The idea for an international military intervention was first proposed by Martin Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel under presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush 43, in a 2003 Foreign Affairs article, “A Trusteeship for Palestine?” The main idea is to replace the Israeli occupation with an international force that would train and guide the Palestinians into self-rule, while ensuring the security of both Israel and Palestine.
Indyk reiterated the plan in the summer of 2007 soon after Hamas took over Gaza. In a follow up to the Foreign Affairs article, he proposes the international force “partner” with the Palestinian Authority – rather than replace it as he had initially proposed – in an effort to extend control over all of Palestine, including Gaza. He argues that Hamas’ control of Gaza does not undermine the trusteeship’s long-term goal, but provides an opportunity to isolate Hamas (Fatah did stand down the majority of its troops), suffocate it (through the siege), and then dismantle it (following an invasion, which we are tragically witnessing today).
Here’s Indyk: “Ultimately, if the ineffectual Qassam rockets that continue to fall on Israeli towns and kibbutzim become more deadly, that job [dismantling Hamas in Gaza] may well have to be done by the Israeli Defense Forces. But once the job is accomplished, with high casualties on both sides, Israel will not want to stay one minute more than necessary. That is when an international force will be essential to help Abbas, as the democratically elected president of the Palestinian Authority, retake control there.”
Indyk recently co-published a policy paper with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, reiterating the same agenda. In “Beyond Iraq: A New US Strategy for the Middle East” Haass and Indyk prescribe a general Middle East agenda for Obama, including propping up a nascent Palestinian state. “[T]he new president should lay the groundwork for deploying international forces,” they recommend, “as part of a final-status agreement, to partner with the Palestinian forces until they can police their own territory.”
Indyk’s influence is worth noting. He has very close ties with Israeli Defense Minister and Labor Party chief Ehud Barak, dating from his time as US ambassador and assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs when Barak served as Israel’s prime minister. Later, Barak became a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think-tank that Indyk co-founded. Indyk is also considered one of Secretary of State-designate Hilary Clinton’s main advisers on the region, and, according to the New York Times, is slated to be her special envoy to the Middle East. Following a tour of Israel in 2007, Indyk suggests that Barak, the newly appointed defense minister, would invade Gaza to allow the placement of international troops:
“[The invasion] may well wait until Barak is in the saddle, so as to have more public confidence in the decisions of the cabinet … If something else doesn’t intervene to stop the rocket fire, the Israelis will go in but they’re not going to go in before they have some strategy in place, and even an understanding in place, which would lead to the insertion of international forces after they’ve gone in and cleaned out the refugee camps and the cities.”
The plan appears to have been endorsed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s former national security adviser. Brzezinski has been influential in Obama’s formulation of a realist foreign policy as one of his top advisers. Indeed, the president-elect is considered to be one of Brzezinski’s proteges, who include both Joseph Biden, Obama’s running mate, and Robert Gates, the incumbent secretary of defense with whom Brzezinski co-chaired a Council on Foreign Relations task force on Iran. In “The Choice: Global Domination Or Global Leadership” (2004), Brzezinski imagines NATO troops “along the Israeli-Palestinian frontier” as part of a comprehensive solution.
In a November 2008 Washington Post advisory, “Middle East Priorities For January 21,” Brzezinski, with Brent Scowcroft, Bush 41′s former national security adviser, further insist that the path to Middle Eastern stability requires the deployment of NATO in Palestine: “Something more might be needed to deal with Israeli security concerns about turning over territory to a Palestinian government incapable of securing Israel against terrorist activity. That could be dealt with by deploying an international peacekeeping force, such as one from NATO, which could not only replace Israeli security but train Palestinian troops to become effective.”
Besides Indyk and Brzezinski, one of the main proponents of the international deployment is retired General James Jones, Obama’s pick as national security adviser. Dan Klaidman, in this week’s Newsweek is confident “Obama might well go for this,” since Jones actually “developed the idea while serving as Condoleezza Rice’s envoy for Palestinian-Israeli security issues.”
In his weekly radio address on Friday, President George Bush called for “monitoring mechanisms” to ensure a long term solution for Gaza. At the same time, Gordon Duguid, the acting spokesman for the State Department, declared that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “vigorously engaged” with international leaders toward finding a “sustainable and durable cease-fire” to the Gaza crisis.
The current administration’s creative yet vague diction is most likely a diplomatic cover to avoid revealing the plan prematurely. Basically, both Hamas and Likud remain opposed to the international forces and a two-state solution. Under pressure, however, Hamas seems to be changing its position. Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, in a New TV interview on Saturday tempered the organization’s outright rejection by suggesting the international force might be accepted if it is deployed in the Occupied West Bank as well as Gaza, with the purpose of protecting the entire Palestinian population and not just the Israelis.
According to a McClatchy report, the talks for an international force are already under way albeit “in their infancy.” Abbas is heading to the UN Security Council along with other Arab and international leaders.
In the meantime Stratfor is reporting that Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and the Middle East envoy of the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia), is heading to the Middle East most likely to build support for the plan. “If Tony Blair is to have any success in his new job as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy,” Indyk brazenly suggests in his 2007 article, “he will need a game plan like this in his pocket and several thousand international forces ready to back him up.”
On the eve of their departure, Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary general, signaled the alliance’s readiness to “react positively” to stabilizing Palestine by deploying its forces “if a broad peace deal is eventually reached.”
Whether Hamas is routed or Israel faces a stalemate in Gaza, the ground assault will certainly increase the number of casualties and international pressure to end the fighting. Hamas’ tenacity at withstanding the Israeli onslaught may surprise observers, but the fact remains they lack the internal cohesion, field discipline, geographical depth and supply routes that were instrumental in Hizbullah’s 2006 standoff with the Israeli Army.
As the pressure builds, it is also the hope of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Kadima and Barak’s Labor parties not only to improve their gains in the upcoming elections, but also to weaken Likud’s rejection to win a public mandate for the plan. In this light, the bloody outcome of the invasion will most likely improve the conditions for voter acceptance of an international military intervention that promises a lasting end to the conflict.
So it seems Indyk’s agenda, as implemented by Livni and Barak and quietly endorsed by the administration-in-waiting, is well on track with support coming from the Arab world, the US, Europe, the UN, and probably Russia (as part of the Quartet). Neither Syria nor Iran – and by proxy Hizbullah – are interested in undermining their budding relationship with the US, as they have much to gain from a possible rapprochement with Washington.
The remaining obstacle the planners fear is the potential rise of Likud following a debacle in Gaza, or a tragedy similar to the attack on the UN Qana compound that eventually cost Shimon Peres the 1996 elections to Binyamin Netanyahu. For this reason, Washington remains wary of Israeli actions, prodding Livni and Barak to avoid the mistakes of the past (such as the more recent Qana tragedy in 2006) and keep to the prescribed script to ensure a “sustainable and durable” path toward stability.
Hani Asfour is an MIT- and Harvard-trained architect based in the Middle East and writes occasionally on foreign policy. His email address is: