A letter to the Palestinian people

"The only hope of achieving peace and justice in the Holy Land lies in the creation of a single, bi-national state."


    The newly-revealed Palestine Papers provide us with an intimate, authoritative and fairly comprehensive record of the last ten years of the peace process, of which the administration of US President Barack Obama has provided but the most recent chapter. President Obama himself, not being an expert in this area, probably has an imperfect grasp of this history, though his own recent hard experience in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking has probably taught him much. I also know well that the most senior government officials, forced to deal with the daily onslaught of events, have little time or opportunity for genuine strategic thinking, the proliferation of so-called Strategic Policy Reviews notwithstanding.

    But let us suppose that President Obama, equipped by his aides with a carefully-chosen selection of documents drawn from The Palestine Papers, devoted an entire weekend at Camp David to peruse them. Being both highly intelligent and perceptive, what insights might he gain, and what conclusions might he draw concerning future US policy?

    Let us also suppose that the president, having fully grasped the record of the last ten years, decided that he must strike out in an entirely new direction, and must explain in as honest and sincere a manner as possible his reasons for doing so. Such communication from this president is not unprecedented. Forced during his election campaign to explain the apparent contradiction between his professed views and those of a pastor to whom he was personally connected and often turned for advice, Mr. Obama spoke eloquently and movingly about race relations in America. More recently, confronted with a violent attack on a US politician deemed by some to be the result of hostile political rhetoric, the president has spoken insightfully about the need for greater public comity, in a way which has appealed even to his sharpest detractors.

    What, then, might the president say in this case? What follows is my fantasy of what the president could be inclined to say, even if political constraints convinced him in the end not to say it – delivered not in a speech to the American people, but in open letters to the Israelis and to the Palestinians. Herewith, his letter to the Palestinians:

    Open letter to the Palestinian people

    To all the Palestinian people:

    I write to you as president of a nation which has been long and intimately associated with efforts to address your fundamental rights as a people, and to help you achieve peace with those whom you regard as your oppressors. In recent years, that long-standing quest has focused upon the creation of a separate Palestinian state, living side by side and in harmony with Israel.

    Today I must confirm to you what I am sure many of you have long suspected: That this effort has failed, utterly and irrevocably. The reasons for that failure are many, and do not bear a full cataloguing here. What I can say is that the blame for this failure must be shared among Israelis, Palestinians and Americans alike, if not in precisely equal measure. What I can also say is that the immediate and proximate cause of this failure lies, disconsonantly, in the success of Israel’s colonial project in the occupied territories.

    Honesty compels me to acknowledge what you already know: That this program of expulsion, expropriation and illegal settlement, though manifestly illegitimate under international law, and nominally opposed by successive U.S. governments, has been tacitly aided and abetted by my country for many years. Helped by the combined indifference and connivance of many in the international community, Israel has succeeded to the extent that the fruit of its efforts cannot be rectified without producing a humanitarian injustice not unlike those which have been visited upon you, and which our peacemaking efforts to date have been intended, in part, to alleviate.

    Given the substantial intermingling of Israelis and Palestinian Arabs on both sides of the 1967 Green Line, given the resultant impossibility of creating a separate and viable Palestinian state minimally acceptable to you, and given the common human decency which forbids yet more forced expulsion in an unhappy region which already has seen too much suffering, reason impels me to the conclusion that the only hope of achieving peace and justice in the Holy Land lies in the creation of a single, bi-national state.

    Indeed, if we but open our eyes, we will see that a bi-national homeland already exists -- in reality, if not in our minds. That bi-national homeland already encompasses two peoples, separate and unequal. If Israelis and Palestinians are ever to live in stable peace and harmony, their joint challenge will be to forge a single environment in which the dignity of both peoples is respected, and in which the rights and aspirations of one need no longer be achieved solely at the expense of the other.

    There lies in this vision yet another, deeper truth, which undermines the very notion of the two-state solution which more practical considerations already impel us to reject. For history teaches us that partition, whether conducted along racial, ethnic or confessional lines, always carries with it the seeds of profound injustice, condemning some to expulsion, and consigning others to perpetual second-class status. The injustice thus generated by past mistakes in Palestine cannot be undone by the imposition of another: That is, through the agency of a more thorough and more permanent partition.

    In this, I address not just the Palestinians now resident in Palestine, but those of the diaspora as well. Your suffering has been great, even if it has inspired in others little sense of obligation. I will not compound the deceits of the past by attempting to deceive you yet again; for you must know that the physical limits of the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River will, even under the best of circumstances, constrain the collective aspirations of those many who, several generations removed from their homeland, still long to return. Those aspirations, however, already constrained by history, by circumstance, and by physical reality, should not be further constrained by the accident of race. For if there is any linear progress in history, if there is in humankind any capacity for improvement, surely it will not be advanced through resort to racial or ethnic separation. Those whom future agreements may permit to return to Palestine must not be consigned only to a small part of it.

    For too long, your leaders, driven to despair by the weakness of their position, have looked to outsiders for help. The international terrorism practiced in your name by the PLO in the 1970s was, in essence, a plea for international support. Likewise, the Palestinian negotiators of the past two decades have looked to the international community, and particularly to the United States, to win for them what they knew they could not win for themselves. In this your leaders, past and present, have deceived themselves, and have not served you well.

    My message to you today is that if justice is to be won, only you can win it. Yes, you can count on the assistance of many in the international community, whose help will be substantial. But in the end, Palestinians must be the primary agents of their own liberation.

    In this effort, violence will not only be unavailing: It will be counterproductive. For the singular challenge which confronts you will not be to drive away an alien presence, but to prevail over those whom the success of your efforts will eventually make your countrymen.

    Terrorism is the tool of the weak. Those who resort to violence against non-combatants in furtherance of a political cause generally do so when other options seem empty. I implore you, as a friend, not to fall into this trap. Rather than trying vainly to compensate for their weaknesses, Palestinians should draw instead upon their strengths: The rightness of their cause, and the moral force of insistent peaceful resistance.

    In this, you will find support in the professed democratic values of the Israelis themselves. Some Israelis will continue to make no apology for attempting to redress the grievous historic wrongs visited upon them by exerting domination over you. Many others, however, will see the falseness, the moral bankruptcy in this course – indeed, many Israelis already do. You must not compound their fears; you must not aid them in justifying the unjustifiable through your own resort to violence. Instead, you must make of the profound internal contradictions which some Israelis wish to ignore a strategic weapon in your cause.

    I would not presume to suggest a direct parallel between the struggles of my own people in America and the recent struggle of the Palestinians. The circumstances and the experiences of all peoples are unique. I would point out, however, that the full liberation of people of color in the United States came about in recent decades not through violence, but by confronting those of good will among their oppressors with the undeniable gap between their actions and the values in which they took most pride – indeed, the values by which they defined themselves.

    As you move forward to take your place as full participants in a vibrant democracy, you must insist upon democratic legitimacy for your leaders. Your recent embrace of democratic values has been consistent and laudable. Know that it is those who seek to oppress you – and those who, in turn, support them -- who have conspired to undermine your exercise of democracy. In seeking to dominate you, they would prefer to deal with those who are not accountable to you. You can best resist them by insisting upon democratic authority for those who would presume to represent you.

    Know also that you have my sympathy as you advance your cause. Would that I could pledge the full assistance of the government I lead to your support as well. Alas, I cannot. The sincere but misapplied sympathies of many in my country have made us manifestly unfit to play a mediating role between you and the Israelis, let alone to advocate for a thorough rethinking of the Zionist enterprise.

    However, I feel confident that if you are wise and steadfast, the broad international support which your efforts will inevitably attract will influence many in America as well. Nothing is immutable in my country but a love of social justice, and a commitment to democracy.

    In time, those strengths will be harnessed to your legitimate support. Until then, know that you will have my sincere and vocal advocacy, as well as that of many in my nation.


    Barack Obama

    President of the United States of America

    Robert L. Grenier is Chairman of ERG Partners, a financial advisory and consulting firm. He retired from CIA in 2006, following a 27-year career in the CIA’s Clandestine Service. Mr. Grenier served as Director of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) from 2004 to 2006, coordinated CIA activities in Iraq from 2002 to 2004 as the Iraq Mission Manager, and was the CIA Chief of Station in Islamabad, Pakistan before and after the 9/11 attacks. Earlier, he was the deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, and also served as the CIA’s chief of operational training. He is credited with founding the CIA’s Counter-proliferation Division. Grenier is now a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and speaks and writes frequently on foreign policy issues.


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