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Two States, No Solution

Ken Feinberg oversaw funds for victims of Sept. 11 and the BP Spill. But he can’t fix the Middle East crisis.

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Ken Feinberg answers questions during a public meeting about claims related to the BP oil spill on Aug. 18, 2010, in Houma, La. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Ken Feinberg, one of America’s most famous lawyers, has made his career out of being America’s go-to master of disaster. We’re in his Washington office, right around the corner from the White House, and it’s wallpapered with framed mementos of the human suffering he has been called on to redress: Agent Orange, Dalkon Shield, 9/11, Virginia Tech, the BP oil spill. Feinberg’s success at converting raw misery into hard dollars shows in the repeat business. He estimates he’s disbursed more than $20 billion in the course of the past three decades. ”It’s not rocket science,” he told me, then gestured magnanimously at the window. “I think you, or millions of people, could do it.”

But he’s just written a book, titled Who Gets What, arguing that the model he’s developed shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be widely replicated. It’s not because he thinks his talents are unique, though he clearly relishes his reputation as a modern Solomon. (So much so that he keeps a framed letter to the editor of the New York Times anointing him as such positioned on his coffee table so that visitors will notice it.) The issue is that he insists his system only works in very particular circumstances—which is why, when I asked Feinberg whether he’d ever be willing to try his hand at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he shook his head no.

“You can only mediate and resolve disputes when, one, both parties want a mediated solution, and two, both parties at the mediation table have the authority to resolve the dispute,” Feinberg told me. “I think George Mitchell”—President Obama’s former special peace envoy—“found, as I would have found, as anybody would have found, either the parties aren’t interested in really talking because they have other agendas and at least on the Arab side, it’s very unclear whether even if they reached a mediated resolution it would stick with the people you purport to represent.” Make that on the Jewish side, too: As we spoke, the Israeli government was deliberating how to move settlers from an illegal outpost known as Ulpana with a minimum of outrage and, clearly, without provoking retributive violence in the form of so-called “price tag”attacks, or worse.

Not that he hasn’t tried. In 2005, more than a year after wrapping up the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund—under which more than $7 billion was paid out to survivors and to families of the dead—he went to Israel to consult with Ariel Sharon’s government on the impending pullout from Gaza. (Feinberg’s wife, Dede, is a board member of the Jewish Agency for Israel.) At the time, it seemed to many involved that the 9/11 model could be replicated and applied to the more than 8,000 settlers about to be displaced to entice them to leave quietly. “I do not think that the settlers’ emotion or frustration is any more than what I encountered among bereaved family members and victims in America following the terror attacks of 9/11,” Feinberg told the Jerusalem Post in February 2005, six months before the withdrawal. The key, Feinberg told the paper, was for Israeli officials to adopt his practice of meeting with each family, one by one, to sell them on the terms of the relocation benefits program. It’s a grueling process, but one that he thought would defuse the opposition from supporters of the settlements, some of whom were at the time sending death threats to the head of the Disengagement Authority, Yonatan Bassey. According to a State Department cable included in last year’s WikiLeaks dump, Bassey told American diplomats after meeting with Feinberg that he agreed. “In the end,” the cable said, “they ‘got their checks and went home,’ and Bassey predicted this would be the case with disengagement in Israel.”

That was in large part true: All the settlers did eventually leave Gaza, and most wound up taking government cash. (On average, each family received more than $1 million in compensation and assistance.) But to Feinberg’s mind, the program wasn’t a success. “There was not a consensus in Israel about paying people to be compelled to leave Gaza,” Feinberg told me. “That was, to some people, too generous—they shouldn’t have been there in the first place—or they felt that money wasn’t the answer.”

The experience doesn’t augur well, Feinberg argued, for trying something similar in the West Bank, where hundreds of thousands of people, both Jews and Arabs, might need to be moved under a final peace deal. The zealots among them, Feinberg believes, could be dealt with—“I think you can isolate those people,” he told me—but in order to get a meaningful number of people to voluntarily accept cash payments in exchange for relocation, he said, the government would have to rally the general population, on both sides, to the cause.

“In 9/11, in BP, there was a general view, nationally, in this country that a generous compensation program was a good idea,” Feinberg said. “I’m not sure it would be a good idea in the minds of the body politic in Israel.” Feinberg’s eyebrows went up behind his rimless glasses as he channeled an imaginary Greek chorus of complaint: “I’d like to relocate! I don’t like my apartment! You’re paying them? Why aren’t you paying me?”

Feinberg settled back into his tan-leather armchair. “You’ve got to have the political will,” he repeated. Feinberg, who is 66, started his Washington career in the 1970s as chief of staff to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and grew up in working-class Brockton, Mass., where his father owned a tire store and his mother kept the books for the local Jewish Federation. He still seems to operate according to a political code that might be described as “What Would Ted Do?” “You’ve got to buy people into the communitarian ethic,” he told me—the idea that individuals should trade away their particular rights to pursue their own personal justice in the interest of the greater social good.

But, he added, that responsibility lies with the politicians and the diplomats. “What I’m doing is a rather ministerial, objective function,” he said. And Feinberg isn’t interested in risking failure. “I’m only as in demand as my last success,” Feinberg told me. “Once I fail, I’m out to pasture. They’ll find someone else to do these things, and I know that.”

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julis123 says:

Uh I think you’re  missing one little detail about the gaza withdrawal. The part about the Palestinians  using Gaza as a launching pad for thousands of missiles. I think it’s time that well meaning Americans realize that after what happened after the Gaza withdrawal and Oslo “peace process” no Israeli in their right mind would agree to anything less than a completely demilitarized Palestinian state.

The prophesied solution to the interminable problems in the Holy Land is actually a monarchy. Think a kingdom. The core components of the Middle East jigsaw puzzle centered around Jerusalem are : The State of Israel; Gaza; The West Bank/Judea and Samaria; Jordan; Lebanon; Syria; Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Add the other 185 nations to the mix and you get the picture. The current GDP of these areas is $1.6 Trillion. This can easily grow by more than 5% p.a. from 2013 onwards if stability prevails and a divinely mandated command and control structure is heeded.

P.S. Interested readers should look up “The Special Status of the Davidic Dynasty” by Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein.

Scorebear says:

I think the snarky tone of the article is unfortunate. It is a rare public figure who is willing to acknowledge his limitations and to have the humility to recognize that he may not have an answer to a seemingly intractable problem. That Ken Feinberg doesn’t know how to solve the problems of the Middle East should not detract from his remarkable successes in peace making through mediation.

genelevit says:

I think you don’t understand the problem. It has nothing to do with the territory or the settlements. The problem is much-much deeper.  Arabs cannot live in peace even with each other (just look what is going on in Iraq, Lebanon, or even in Gaza, shiites, sunnis and so on). How can then they live in peace with the absolutely foreign people, which have nothing in common with them except, maybe, few genes? You can exterminate settlements, make thousands people homeless, force sufferings on both sides and create indefensible borders but you won’t be able to resolve the problem that way.  

emunadate says:

Do you think that Arabs of Yehuda and Shomron (West Bank) would be willing to have peace, recognize Israel as a Jewish State for a large sum of money? 
http://emunadate.blogspot.co.il/2010/11/blog-post.html

As if Arabs are the only people in history to kill ‘each other’.  The Union and Confederacy killed 600,000 of their own people in the Civil War, and it was just a hundred years ago that some feuding cousins began the deadliest conflict in history up to that point — and they weren’t Arabs.  Wait, what’s the difference between Serbs and Croats again?  The sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon aren’t anthropological anomalies — they have a concrete history involving outside actors who did in fact have a major impact on the conflicts.  And they don’t prove Arabs can’t live in peace with anyone.

As if Arabs are the only people in history to kill ‘each other’.  The Union and Confederacy killed 600,000 of their own people in the Civil War, and it was just a hundred years ago that some feuding cousins began the deadliest conflict in history up to that point — and they weren’t Arabs.  Wait, what’s the difference between Serbs and Croats again?  The sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon aren’t anthropological anomalies — they have a concrete history involving outside actors who did in fact have a major impact on the conflicts.  And they don’t prove Arabs can’t live in peace with anyone.

As if Arabs are the only people in history to kill ‘each other’.  The Union and Confederacy killed 600,000 of their own people in the Civil War, and it was just a hundred years ago that some feuding cousins began the deadliest conflict in history up to that point — and they weren’t Arabs.  Wait, what’s the difference between Serbs and Croats again?  The sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon aren’t anthropological anomalies — they have a concrete history involving outside actors who did in fact have a major impact on the conflicts.  And they don’t prove Arabs can’t live in peace with anyone.

Israelis and Palestinians long ago lost hope in the peace process and
its sponsors are quickly catching up. Major differences remain over most
key issues. Merely getting the parties into the same room has become
difficult. International mediators go through the motions without energy
or enthusiasm. Calls for a one-state solution – in very different
forms – are gaining traction among both Jews and Arabs. But to declare
that the window for a two-state solution has closed – indeed, even to
ask the question – misconstrues what has doomed efforts to get there.

It <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>has a growing <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>economy; a strong <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>military; and <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>issues it sees as more pressing than the peace process. Israelis generally see <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>change as a risky <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>venture – <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>particularly given the unrest in the Arab world – and their leaders share the <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>sentiment, since <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>they will pay a heavy price for any controversial <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>move. <a style='text-decoration:none' href='.‘>Meanwhile.

genelevit says:

The question is not can or cannot Arabs live in peace in general but is the establishment of the racist “yudenfrei” Palestinian state along 1967 “borders” (they never were “borders”; they were armistice lines and not with Palestinians) can bring it? And the answer is “no” because the size of the territory or the presence of the Jewish settlements are not the reasons for the conflict.

Hey, speaking of racist states, what did you think of making the West Bank settlements exclusive to Jews?  Of course, that last sentence is correct.  Zionist colonization is the reason for the conflict.  Any undoing of its effect on Palestine can not be racist in itself.

genelevit says:

Who makes West Bank settlements exclusive for Jews? Whoever does it is not the state of Israel. And they are not exclusively for Jews BTW. I personally know quite few Christians  (citizens of Israel) who live in the “settlements”. As for the reason for the conflict: you can say it is because of the  ”Zionist colonization” or because of ” the racist  persecution of Jews in Europe and in Arab world” - your definition will depend on your own affiliation.  

The rule isn’t invalidated by a few rare exceptions; you can’t pretend the settlements were not created for the purpose of racial segregation.

The persecution of Jews in Russia is indirectly responsible for the Israeli-Arab conflict, but the Zionist project has the ultimate agency.  And to the extent Jews in the Arab world were persecuted, that was not a factor in Zionist thinking at all.  No major leader:  Herzl, Ruppin, Ben-Gurion – considered rescuing Mideastern Jews an aim of settlement building.  And that doesn’t go into their actual views on these particular Jews, which basically overlapped with the typical European view of orientals, to put it mildly.

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Two States, No Solution

Ken Feinberg oversaw funds for victims of Sept. 11 and the BP Spill. But he can’t fix the Middle East crisis.

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