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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
BAKER-HAMILTON COMMISSION FAQS
- Why was the Baker-Hamilton commission founded and what kind of expertise did its members have on Israel-related matters?
The Baker-Hamilton Commission (after the group's co-chairs James Baker and Lee Hamilton) -- was founded as a bi-partisan panel last March at the urging of Congress to reassess U.S. strategy in Iraq for President Bush. The unanimous conclusions of the ten-member commission, issued December 6, 2006, outline a process by which the U.S. can gradually excise itself from the crisis in Iraq without harming its own interests or laying the groundwork for a wider regional war. Panel members come from a variety of political backgrounds and areas of security-related expertise. James Baker was Secretary of State under the first President Bush, and was an architect of the Madrid Conference of 1991, when Israel engaged in peace talks with the Palestinians as well as Lebanon and Syria. Lee Hamilton is a former Democratic Congressman who once served as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was co-chairman of the 9/11 commission. William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense under President Clinton, is also on the panel, as is Lawrence Eagleburger, a former Secretary of State. Robert Gates, former director of the CIA under the first President Bush, resigned from the panel to become Secretary of Defense following the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. Based on their final report it is clear that their perspective on U.S. strategy in Iraq is a far-reaching one, in that it sees all major regional issues in the Middle East as "inextricably linked."
- Why is Israel included in a plan proposing a new U.S. strategy in Iraq?
The report states that the U.S. cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East without dealing directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability, and therefore calls for a "renewed and sustained commitment" from the U.S. to achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria. The report makes the case that by addressing all key issues in the Middle East progress could be made toward marginalizing extremists and terrorists, promoting U.S. values and interests, and improving America's global image. On a deeper level, it is widely recognized that achieving stability in Iraq, and an eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces, requires the cooperation of America's regional allies, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and even the assistance of Iran and Syria as well. Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front could pave the way for a broad diplomatic collaboration to settle all of the region's issues, including the future of Iraq.
- What in brief are the Israel-related recommendations?
The Baker-Hamilton Commission recommended the holding of unconditional talks at an international conference under the auspices of the U.S. or Quartet (the U.S., U.N., E.U., and Russia) to resolve Israel's conflict with the Palestinians on the one hand, and with Lebanon and Syria on the other. In general the report calls for a return to the "land for peace" formula to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, support moderate Palestinian leaders, the extension of the November 25 Gaza ceasefire to the West Bank, support for a Palestinian national unity government, and sustained negotiations according to President Bush's Road Map.
Regarding Syria and Lebanon, the report urges that Israel return the Golan to Syria in return for a comprehensive peace between the two countries with numerous security guarantees for Israel and political provisions affecting Lebanon (see #10 below).
- What is Brit Tzdek's position on the Israel-related recommendations?
Brit Tzedek supports all of the Israeli-related recommendations because they offer a concrete proposal for critically rethinking what is necessary to do in order to truly stand behind Israel in her quest for peace and security and to achieve stability in the broader Middle East. "The Baker-Hamilton Commission is to be lauded for recognizing that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict," said Brit Tzedek President Marcia Freedman. The report's findings validate Brit Tzedek's longstanding position that direct negotiations based on the principle of "land for peace" and the establishment of a just and viable Palestinian state are the only means for meeting Israel's security needs in the region. Furthermore, Brit Tzedek stands behind the commission members' commitment to the idea that no Administration will ever abandon Israel and its understanding that 'The United States does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.'
- What is the role of the Bush administration in the implementation of Israel-related report recommendations?
President Bush has promised to consider the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission and has already hinted that a change in Middle East strategy is necessary. White House officials, however, have dismissed the suggestion of holding direct talks with Syria or Iran, and have conveyed to Israel that it does not think that the time is right for talks with Syria, due to its support for militants. The White House is waiting to announce any change in its Middle East strategy until the State Department, Pentagon, and National Security Council weigh in with their assessments of U.S. Mid-East policy, as the Baker-Hamilton Commission has already done. A new diplomatic initiative from the White House will probably be based on all of these reports. Though each agency's findings are likely to be somewhat different, one thing is for certain: the active and sustained involvement of the Bush Administration will be absolutely critical to the success of any diplomatic progress in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere.
- What is the role of Congress in the implementation of the Israel-related recommendations?
Since elections in November members of Congress from both parties have visited the White House to discuss Middle East policy with President Bush. As the President considers new strategic possibilities it is crucial that Congress, which called for the commission, encourage him to implement the group's recommendations. The current position of the U.S. government toward the Palestinian Authority leaves little room to maneuver diplomatically. It is up to Congress to show leadership in creating the political space to make negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leaders possible, alleviate the economic crisis in the territories, and expand the Gaza ceasefire to the West Bank as well. This process can begin within the framework of the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendation, and those members of Congress who lead this effort will identify themselves as loyal representatives of their pro-Israel pro-Peace constituency.
- What is the position of Arab leaders on the Israel-Arab conflict-related recommendations?
Moderate Palestinian leaders were quick to offer their support for the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. "We welcome the Hamilton-Baker report and hope the U.S. administration will translate it into deeds," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "The region needs peace, the region needs dialogue and we have always stuck to dialogue toward a comprehensive peace." The response from Syria was a confirmation of the acceptability of a peace process returning all sides to pre-June 1967 borders, according to Syria's Vice President Farouk al-Shara, who also agreed that both Iran and Syria should be involved in solving the crisis in Iraq. Arab states friendly with the U.S. have in the past encouraged the President Bush to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a means to strengthening moderate Arab leaders in the region, and the recommendations of the commission hold out this possibility. A peace plan spearheaded by Saudi Arabia was approved by the Arab League in 2002, and spells out a process for normalization between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for an Israeli evacuation of all territories occupied in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Prospects for a new diplomatic initiative in the region have seen this plan gain increasing recognition that it may hold the key to moving forward toward peace talks. Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz as well as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have both spoken favorably of the Arab League plan.
- What has been Israel's reaction to the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission?
Though mostly reticent on the issue of the commission's conclusions, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert dismissed the notion that U.S. progress in Iraq was contingent on the effort to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict. He did, however, confirm that Israelis were eager to restart negotiations with moderate Palestinians leaders. Olmert has said that conditions are not "ripe" for talks with Syria, and denies that there is any linkage between "the Iraqi issue and the Mideast issue" and doubts that President Bush thought any differently. Speaking at a State Department event in Washington D.C. shortly after the issue of the group's recommendations, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni claimed that "There is a commonly mistaken assumption that I sometimes hear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core of the trouble of the Middle East, that somehow if this conflict could be resolved, so the situation could be different, and we can face a totally different region," she said. "So, this is wrong. This view confuses symptom and cause. The truth is that the conflicts in the Middle East are a consequence, not a cause, of radicalism and terrorism." Two days later Olmert instructed his Cabinet not to comment on the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, saying it was an internal American affair.
- Do the recommendations sacrifice Israeli interests for the sake of U.S. progress in Iraq?
The report states explicitly that it does not believe any U.S. administration, Democratic or Republican, will ever abandon Israel. It furthermore proposes broad security guarantees for Israel in the context of a peace agreement with its neighbor Syria. It maintains that sustained American involvement for the achievement of a two-state solution and the end of conflict is in Israel's interests. The report encourages the conclusion that Brit Tzedek has long advanced: that the establishment of a just and viable Palestinian state based on the "land for peace" principle is the only means for meeting Israel's security needs. Though key American involvement may finally result from the deteriorating U.S. position in Iraq, the opportunity to advance Israel and her neighbors toward peace negotiations should not be missed. In one of its most quoted passages the report states, "The United States does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict."
- Is Israel being pressured to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for nothing but unverifiable promises from the Syrians?
The Baker-Hamilton Commission recommends that Israel return the Golan Heights only in the context of broad and verifiable concessions from Syria. These concessions include: 1) demonstrated cessation of Syrian aid to Hezbollah and the use of Syrian territory to ship Iranian weapons and aid to Hezbollah; 2) Syria's use of its influence with Hamas and Hezbollah for the release of the captured Israeli soldiers; 3) a verifiable cessation of arms shipments from or transiting through Syria for Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups; 4) a Syrian commitment to help obtain from Hamas an acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist; 5) greater Syrian efforts to seal its border with Iraq; 6) guarantees for Lebanese sovereignty over its own territory; 7) and cooperation in the investigations of previous assassinations in Lebanon. Additionally, the Baker-Hamilton report recommends that the U.S. provide Israel with a security guarantee as part of an Israel-Syria peace agreement, as well as an international force on the shared border if requested by both parties.