Eight weeks before Barack Obama is sworn in as president, the outlines of his approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have begun emerging.
These outlines are marked by his expected appointment of Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, the report that he is considering appointing retired general James Jones as his national security advisor, and his reliance on the counsel of retired general Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security advisor in the administrations of Gerald Ford and the first George Bush.
For all the focus on the Clinton appointment, no less important was the step taken Friday by Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who succeeded him as national security advisor in the Carter administration.
The two men - who, having served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, represent a bipartisan consensus - published a public memo to Obama in the Washington Post.
In this document, which could serve as a first draft of an "Obama plan," they praised the efforts of the Bush administration over the past year and urged Obama to give "priority attention" to the Arab-Israeli peace process. Although they mentioned no names, their article clearly reflects an effort to impact the results of the upcoming Israeli election: It is for Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, and against Benjamin Netanyahu.
There are four main points in their plan, for which they urge Obama to declare his support soon:
* The 1967 lines, with minor, reciprocal and agreed-on changes, as the border.
* Compensation for Palestinian refugees, instead of a "right of return."
* Jerusalem as a "real home to two capitals."
* A demilitarized Palestinian state.
To calm Israel's security concerns, Scowcroft and Brzezinski recommend stationing an international force, perhaps from NATO, to keep the peace, protect Israel and train Palestinian forces.
The two argued that a presidential declaration of these principles is urgent, both to move Hamas toward moderation and encourage it to take part in the peace process, and because the Israeli election in February is a "complicating factor."
However, they added, the election could also provide momentum, by giving "the Israeli people a unique chance to register their views on the future of their country."
After Obama has proposed such an initiative, the article continued, he should appoint a high-level official to "pursue the process."
In effect, it advises Obama to immediately create a political "fact on the ground" rather than wasting precious time learning and mediating.
The four points enumerated by Scowcroft and Brzezinski largely echo other plans of the past four decades since the Six-Day War. They also resemble the Saudi peace plan, with one major difference: the solution to the refugee problem accords with Israel's demands.
In his speech to AIPAC in June, Obama pledged that if elected, he would work immediately toward an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. He stressed several elements that he thought such an agreement should include: Israel's security (including a $30 billion U.S. military aid package over the coming decade); a Palestinian state that is "contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper"; secure, recognized and defensible borders; the preservation of Israel's "identity as a Jewish state" (an implicit negation of the Palestinian "right of return"); and Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. Obama later backtracked on the Jerusalem issue, and also called for Israel to ease restrictions on Palestinian movement and freeze settlements. He noted that he had opposed Hamas' participation in the 2006 Palestinian elections, but did not reveal his stand on its participation in the next elections.
An Obama initiative encompassing the principles of his AIPAC speech along with Scowcroft's and Brzezinski's four points would not burden Hillary Clinton if she took the job of secretary of state. In an article outlining her foreign policy platform in the journal Foreign Affairs last year, she stated that the fundamentals of a peace plan have been clear since 2000 - that is, since then-president Bill Clinton put forth his proposal: a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for a declaration of the end of the conflict, recognition of Israel, guarantees of its security and diplomatic relations with Arab countries.
The appointment of Jones as national security adviser would strengthen the direction Scowcroft and Brzezinski urge: bipartisanship and picking up where the Bush administration left off. Jones, a former NATO commander, was appointed America's security envoy to this region by Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after last year's Annapolis Conference. If Defense Secretary Robert Gates remains in his post, Obama will have at his side a solid rank of senior officials whose positions on an Israeli-Arab agreement are quite close: Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, Clinton, Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, Jones and, outside the administration, but with the president's ear, Scowcroft and Brzezinski, urging him to immediate action in the spirit of "we shall do and [afterward] we shall listen - and we shall influence the Israeli elections."
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