It seems that the American President, in his attempt to please everybody in Israel/Palestine, is pleasing no one.
Israelis remain unconvinced that the weakened US military will be able to provide any real support should there be a real outbreak of hostilities with Iran. The Palestinians remain unconvinced that Obama is willing to apply any leverage to see a ‘two-state solution’ come into being.
Palestinians still waiting for Obama to prove commitment to two state-solution
Many Palestinian lives and much political capital could have been saved over the last four years if President Obama had shown the determination to facilitate two-state solution negotiations. Now, rather than calling for the resumption of a meaningless ‘peace process,’ we Palestinians expect real action on the ground.
By Nabeel Sha’ath | Mar.20, 2013
Unfortunately, after that landmark speech, President Obama appeared to give up on his goal. This meant going back to business as usual: Putting pressure on an occupied people and rewarding the occupying power. In the past four years, Israel has added almost 50,000 settlers to the Occupied State of Palestine, almost 3000 attacks have been conducted by settler terrorists and over 1000 Palestinians have been killed. We could have saved lives and political capital if President Obama had shown the determination to create the right environment for meaningful decisions leading to a two-state solution.Four years ago, Mr. Obama was elected President of the United States of America. He won the hearts of Palestinians and other peoples of the world with his principled positions, vision and courage. Later on, he stood up in Cairo and gave us hope. His moral convictions showed us that he understood our quest for freedom, justice and peace. His strong statements, especially his request that Israel cease all settlement activity, gave us hope that the U.S. could help us to achieve these ideals in reality. Both Palestinians and Israelis who believe in a two-state solution saw President Obama as a real opportunity for change.
We have tried every possible venue to get closer to peace, but we have been always met with Israeli intransigence and a lack of commitment to implement its obligations. It’s been Israel’s unilateral actions, mainly settlement construction and the imposition of an apartheid regime, that have undermined the entire goal of the peace process to a point that leave very few people optimistic.
Israeli unilateralism turned the peace process into a smoke-screen to cover its systematic policy of colonization. Today, in the Occupied State of Palestine, we have homes that are being demolished and families evicted by an occupying power at the same time that the number of settlers went up almost three times since the beginning of the peace process, with a total of over half a million settlers today.
What has allowed Israel to get away with its severe violations? It is an unprecedented culture of impunity that keeps treating Israel as a state beyond the law. But it is also the fact that rather than peace, Israel’s goal is to increase colonization as much as possible. The two-state solution is not part of the agenda of Israel’s government and that’s a primary reason why negotiations failed.
When last year we went to the United Nations we aimed to revive hope. This courageous and rightful step meant, for Palestine, a reaffirmation of our rights in a non-violent manner. Recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border meant also to create a positive initiative to open a meaningful political horizon by salvaging the internationally endorsed two-state solution.
We felt that after twenty years of Israeli violations to every single agreement, it was time for the international community to participate in the resolution of the conflict, whilst aiming to respect and honor the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. It is in this spirit that we have committed as well to respect all our obligations, international treaties and international law in general.
But instead of welcoming this step, Israel led an unprecedented campaign of colonization with over 11,500 settlement units approved within a very few months following the UN vote. This act isn’t only a war crime, but it is also in open defiance of the stated U.S. policy regarding Israeli settlements. Acts like this, including approving hundreds of settlement units during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit, are Israeli messages to the U.S. and the rest of the world that it is not interested in peace: So far, Mr. Netanyahu has been able to get away with it.
Unfortunately, President Obama is not able to visit Palestine for more than a few hours. On March 21st, he will meet with President Abbas. He will be respectfully welcomed by our President and our people. We understand that he wants to listen, read and see for himself.
It would have been a great opportunity for President Obama to visit more of Palestine and see the current reality twenty years after the beginning of the peace process. Starting by the fact that we would have love to welcome him at Orient House, the closed PLO headquarters in Occupied East Jerusalem. He would also see segregated roads, just one example of one of the worst combinations possible: Apartheid under a belligerent occupation.
Next week marks the beginning of Holy Week for millions of Christians around the world. In Palestine, the oldest Christian community will be separated from their spiritual heart, Jerusalem, by Israeli checkpoints, walls and fences aimed at consolidating the illegal annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem. President Obama is welcome to see this reality and understand that the window of opportunity is closing. We don’t need another twenty years of negotiations to change this reality. We need tough and courageous decisions before it is too late.
Racial segregation, including those enforced on public transportation, was a dark period in U.S. history. This is happening today in Palestine, a symptom of how severe the current situation is. Rather than calling for resumption of a meaningless “peace process,” we expect real action on the ground. Such action should lead to ending the Israeli government’s impunity as well as to take the political steps needed. The future of millions of Palestinians and Israelis as well as the rest of the peoples of the region as a whole depends on the U.S. administration’s will to push for justice and peace.
For decades Palestinians have been waiting for a miracle. Maybe President Obama’s visit to the Holy Land can provide us with one. Maybe the bells of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem will ring once he visits this Friday announcing clear goals and actions to bring an end to decades of occupation, segregation and colonization. This is the road to justice, security and peace.
Dr. Nabeel Shaath is the Fatah Foreign Relations Commissioner and former Palestinian foreign minister. He was a member of the Madrid Peace Delegation and later was involved in negotiations with Israel that led to the signing of the Oslo Agreements. From 1993-1995, he served as the head of the Palestinian negotiation team, participating in the talks at Camp David (2000) and Taba (2001). He has also represented Palestine at the World Economic Forum.
Uri Avnery has not only a sharp mind but that special wisdom that comes from a lifetime of involvement in Israeli politics.
Here Avnery addresses the elusive question of whether the US government really has any commitment to a Middle East peace process, along with the broader (and more elusive) question that lies behind it: ‘why do Israeli interests play such a significant role in the machinations of the US government?’
I was hoping that Avnery was going to give a simple answer to this latter question such as would allow us to look for a simple remedy. But political realities are rarely straightforward, and the relationship between Israel and the US is as complex as it is dark.
Peace and Watermelons
by Uri Avnery
ONE OF the most interesting and prolonged private debates I have had in my life was with the brilliant Dr. Nahum Goldmann. The subject: American peace initiatives.
It was an unequal debate, of course. Goldmann was my elder by 28 years. While I was a mere editor of an Israeli news magazine, he was an international figure, President of the World Zionist Organization and the World Jewish Congress.
In the mid ’50s, when I was looking for a personality who could possibly contest David Ben-Gurion’s stranglehold on the prime minister’s office, I thought of Goldmann. He had the necessary stature and was liked by moderate Zionists. No less important, he had a clear set of opinions. From the first day of the State of Israel, he had proposed that Israel become a “Middle Eastern Switzerland”, neutral between the US and the Soviet Union. For him, peace with the Arabs was absolutely essential for the future of Israel.
I visited him in a luxury suite in Jerusalem’s classy Kind David hotel. He was wearing a silken dressing gown, and when I made my offer, he responded: “Look, Uri, I like the good life. Luxury hotels, good food and beautiful women. If I challenged Ben-Gurion, all these would disappear. His people would vilify me as they do you. Why would I risk all that?”
We also started a discussion that ended only with his death, some 27 years later. He was convinced that the US wanted peace between us and the Arabs, and that a major American peace effort was just around the corner. This was not simply an abstract hope. He assured me that he had just met with the highest policy-makers and had it from the highest authority. Straight from the American horse’s mouth, so to say.
Goldman was also an inveterate name-dropper. He regularly met with most major American, Soviet and other political personalities, and never failed to mention this in his conversation. So, being assured by the incumbent US presidents, ministers and ambassadors that the US was just about to impose peace on Israelis and Arabs, he told me just you wait. You’ll see.
THIS BELIEF in an American Imposed Peace has haunted the Israeli peace movement for decades. In advance of the coming visit of President Obama to Israel next month, it is raising its weary head once more.
Now, finally, it is going to happen. At the beginning of his second term, Barak Obama will shed the hesitations, fears and incompetence that marked his first. AIPAC will not be able to terrorize him anymore. A new, strong and resolute Obama will emerge and knock all the heads together. The leaders will be strongarmed into peace.
This is a very typical and very convenient conviction. It relieves us of the duty to do anything unpopular or daring ourselves. It is also very comforting. The Zionist Left is feeble and lifeless? Maybe, but we have an ally who will do the job. Like the little kid who threatens the bully with his powerful big brother.
This hope has been shattered again and again and again. US presidents came and went, each with his entourage of Jewish advisors, White House and State Department officials and ambassadors. And nothing happened.
Of course, there have been American peace initiatives galore. From Nixon’s “Rogers plan”, through Carter’s Camp David agreement about Palestinian self-government to Clinton’s Parameters and Bush’s Road Map there were plenty of them, each one more convincing than the last. And then came the Obama, the new man, energetic and resolute, and imposed on Binyamin Netanyahu a stop of the settlement enterprise for several months, and…well, nothing.
No peace initiative and no watermelons, as we say in Hebrew (borrowed from the Arabs). Watermelons have a short season.
SLOWLY BUT surely, even Goldmann began to despair of the mirage of US intervention.
In our conversations we tried to crack the code of this enigma. Why, for God’s sake, did the Americans not do what logic dictated? Why didn’t they put pressure on our government? Why didn’t they make an offer that our leaders couldn’t refuse? In short, why no effective peace initiative?
It could not be in the American national interest to follow a policy that made it a hate-object of the masses throughout the entire Arab and most of the Muslim world. Didn’t the Americans understand that they were undermining their clients in every Arab country – as these rulers never tired of telling them at every meeting?
The most obvious reason was the growing power of the pro-Israel lobby, from the early 50s on. AIPAC alone has now more than 200 employees in seven offices throughout the US. Almost everyone in Washington DC lives in deadly fear of it. The Lobby can dethrone any senator or congressman who arouses its anger. Look at what is happening right now to Chuck Hagel, who dared to say the unthinkable: “I am an American senator, not an Israeli senator!”
The two professors, Mearsheimer and Walt, dared to say it: the pro-Israeli lobby controls American policy.
But this theory is not completely satisfying. What about the spying affair around Jonathan Pollard, who stays in prison for life in spite of immense Israeli pressure to release him?
Can a world power really be induced by a small foreign country and a powerful domestic lobby to act for decades against its basic national interest?
ANOTHER FACTOR often mentioned is the power of the arms industry.
When I was young, no one was more despised than the Merchants of Death. These days are long past. Countries – including Israel – pride themselves on selling arms to the most despicable regimes.
The US supplies us with huge quantities of the most sophisticated weapons. True, a lot of these come to us as a gift – but that doesn’t change the picture. The arms producers are paid by the US government as a kind of New Deal public works project supported enthusiastically even (and especially) by the Republicans. After the arms are supplied to Israel, some Arab countries see themselves compelled to order huge quantities for themselves, for which they pay through the nose. See: Saudi Arabia.
This theory, which was once very popular, does not really satisfy either. No single industry is powerful enough to compel a nation to act against its own general interests for half a century.
THEN THERE is the “Common History” thing. The US and Israel are so much alike, aren’t they? They have both displaced another people, and live on denial. Is there much difference between the Native-American naqba and the Palestinian one? Between the American and Zionist pioneers who struck roots in the wilderness and built a new nation? Do they not both base themselves on the same Old Testament and believe that God has given them their land (whether they believe in God or not)?
Do our settlers, who are creating a new Wild East in the occupied territories, not imitate the Wild West of American movies? A few days ago, Israel TV showed one Avri Ran, who declares himself “sovereign” of the West Bank, terrorizing both Palestinians and settlers, grabbing land irrespective of to whom it belongs, telling the army where to go and what to do, openly despising the Israeli and all other governments, and becoming a multi-millionaire in the process. Hollywood at its best.
But all this applies also to Australia (with whom we are quarreling at the moment), Canada, New Zealand and South American nations. Yet we don’t have this kind of relationship with them.
Noam Chomsky, the brilliant linguistician, has another answer: Israel is just a lackey of American imperialism, serving its interest in this region. A kind of unsinkable aircraft-carrier. I don’t quite see it that way. Israeli was not involved in the US action in Iraq, for example. If the American dog is wagging the Israeli tail, just as surely, the tail is wagging the dog.
NEITHER GOLDMANN nor I found a satisfactory answer to this riddle.
Eight months before his death, I received from him, quite unexpectedly, a surprising letter. Written in German (which we never spoke) on his stationery, it was a kind of apology: I had been right all along, no American peace initiative was to be expected, the rationale remained inexplicable.
The letter bears the date of January 30, 1982, five months before Ariel Sharon’s bloody invasion of Lebanon, which was approved in advance by Alexander Haig, the then Secretary of State, and presumably by President Reagan too.
The letter was a response to an article I had written some days before in the magazine I edited, Haolam Hazeh, in which I asked: “Do the Americans really want peace?”
Goldmann wrote: “I, too, have already sometimes asked myself this question. Though one should not underestimate the lack of statesmanlike wisdom of American foreign policy makers … I could write a whole book proving that America seriously wants peace, and another book showing that they do not want peace.”
He mentioned America’s fear of Soviet penetration of the Middle East, and their belief that peace is impossible without Russian participation. He also disclosed that a Russian diplomat had told him that there had been an American-Russian agreement to convene a peace conference in Geneva, but that Moshe Dayan had called upon the American Jews to sabotage it. The Russians were very angry.
Sprinkling names along the way, he summed up: “Without being quite sure, I would say at the moment that there is a combination of American diplomatic incompetence on one hand, a fear of Russian involvement in a peace on the other hand, added to the domestic fear of the pro-Israeli lobby, (which includes) not only the Jews but also (non-Jews) like Senator (Henry “Scoop”) Jackson and others. (All these) seem to be the reasons for the complete lack of understanding and results of the American Middle East policy, for which Israel will pay heavily in the future.”
EXCEPT FOR the decline of Russian influence, every word is valid today, 31 years later, on the eve of the Obama visit.
Again many Israelis and Palestinians hope for an American peace initiative, which will put pressure on both sides. Again the President denies any such intent. Again the results of the visit will probably be disappointment and despair.
Just now, there are no watermelons on the market. Nor a real US peace initiative.
read more of Uri Avnery’s wisdom: gush-shalom.org…
This article from Gulf News no doubt reflects the pessimism of much of the Middle East with regards to Obama’s potential to make a meaningful contribution to the so-called ‘peace process’ between Israel and Palestine.
Obama’s up-coming trip to Israel might be a ground for hope though, as the author points out, there was nothing in his Union address to suggest that peace between Israel and Palestine was a priority. Even so, there was plenty to suggest that Afghanistan and Iran were priorities and only a fool would think the issues could be easily disconnected.
Israel-Palestine peace push not a priority for Obama
State of the Union address shows issue is far off President’s radar
In his first State of the Union address in his second term, US President Barack Obama laid down the plans for his legacy years — but reaching a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and Palestine will not be on his foreign policy agenda.
Obama’s speech was that of a president preoccupied with reviving a moribund economy, increasing the basic wage for full-time workers, getting legislation through a divided Congress and being able to put reasonable limits on America’s gun culture. For immigrants living in the shadows of illegality, it offered hope that they would become free and equal members of US society.
But in all of the words, the standing ovations, the platitudes and the rhetoric, Obama neither uttered the word “Palestine” nor the word “Palestinians” even once. It shows how far off the radar this pressing issue has fallen for the president of the US. In his political judgement, there is no need for his administration to become embroiled in an arm of foreign policy where he feels there is little prospect of success or realistic hope of enduring peace.
However, Obama did utter the word “Israel” — if only briefly — saying he and his administration would stand steadfast with the Jewish state in pursuit of peace and lasting security. What we have learnt is that Obama is committed to winding down the US military presence in Afghanistan, committing to bringing home 66,000 troops and wrapping up the mission by the end of 2014.
Obama is more committed than ever to enforcing security through drone operations — going to great pains in his address to note that the US had developed a legal framework to allow for the continued and intensified drone campaign against militants in the border areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.
And Iran is very much on the Oval Office radar, with Obama urging Tehran to sit down and talk about its nuclear programme. He also added the rider that the US “would do whatever is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon”.
At least, we know now how little to expect.
We are indeed at a crucial point in the ongoing drama of world politics.
The US seems to be losing its grip on the Middle East. The sanctions on Iran have not destroyed the country or ousted Ahmedinejad. Backing for the rebels has created a quagmire in Syria that the US cannot feel comfortable with. And the US has all but lost its relevance in the Israel-Palestine conflict as Arabs and Persians start to form new alliances in which Israel and the US are thoroughly excluded.
The rebuttal of Obama by Khamenei is a sure sign of the times. Will the US President still be able to rescue some relevance for himself and his country in his up-coming trip to Israel-Palestine? Time will tell.
Khamenei Plays Hardball With Obama
By M K Bhadrakumar
February 13, 2013 “Asia Times” — It was an extraordinary week in the politics of the Middle East and it ended appropriately by being rounded off with a reality check lest imaginations ran riot.
Three major happenings within one week would have to be taken as the inevitable confluence of a flow of developments and processes: the offer by the Syrian opposition of a bilateral dialogue with the Bashar al-Assad regime; the historic visit of an Iranian president to Egypt; and the public, unconditional offer by the United States of direct talks with Iran and the latter’s ready acceptance of it.
Yet, they are interconnected. First, the Syrian kaleidoscope is dramatically shifting despite the continuing bloodbath. Unless the European countries drop their arms embargo on Syria (which expires on March 1 anyway) and decide to arm the rebels, the stalemate will continue.
The mood in Western capitals has shifted in the direction of caution and circumspection, given the specter that al-Qaeda affiliates are taking advantage. If anything, the hurricane of militant Islamism blowing through Mali only reinforces that concern and reluctance.
Suffice to say, what prompted the Islamist leader of the Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, last weekend to show willingness to take part in direct talks with representatives of the Syrian regime – and pushed him into meeting with Russian and Iranian foreign ministers – was as much the disarray within the Syrian opposition and his failure to form a credible “government-in-exile” as his acute awareness that the Western mood is now cautious about Syria.
To be sure, Iran played a signal role in the grim battle of nerves over Syria through the recent months. Strangely, it is Iran today, which is on the “right side of history”, by urging dialogue and negotiations and democratic elections as holding the key to reform and change in Syria – or, for that matter, in Bahrain.
The shift in Syria has actually enabled Iran to cross over the Sunni-Shi’ite barriers that were tenaciously put up to isolate it. Thus, President Mahmud Ahmedinejad’s historic visit to Egypt this week has a much bigger regional dimension to it than the restoration of the Iran-Egypt bilateral relationship. The trilateral meeting held between Ahmedinejad and his Egyptian and Turkish counterparts Mohammed Morsi and Abdullah Gul signified Iran’s compelling relevance as an interlocutor rather than as an implacable adversary for the two major Sunni countries.
Interestingly, Morsi added, “Egypt’s revolution is now experiencing conditions similar to those of Iran’s Revolution and because Egypt does not have an opportunity for rapid progress like Iran, we believe that expansion of cooperation and ties with Iran is crucially important and necessary.”
Needless to say, Iranian diplomacy has been optimal with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood-led regime in Cairo – neither fawning nor patronizing, or pushing and pressuring, but leaving things to the Brothers to decide the pace. Basic to this approach is the confidence in Tehran that the surge of Islamism in the Middle East through democratic process, no matter “Sunni Islamism”, will ultimately work in favor of Iran’s interests.
The cordial welcome extended by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, to Ahmedinejad and the strong likelihood of his visit to Tehran in a very near future also underscores the common desire to strengthen the affinities.
Simply put, the Syrian crisis has virtually receded from the Iran-Egypt field of play as a serious issue of discord. True, the Turkey-based Syrian National Council (SNC) continues to reject any negotiation with the Syrian regime, and the Muslim Brotherhood dominates the SNC. But this may also provide the window of opportunity for Turkey, Egypt and Iran to knock their heads together.
Besides, the SNC has no real influence over the rebel fighters, and Ankara feels exasperated at the overall drift of the Syrian crisis.
Thus, it was against a complex backdrop that US Vice President Joe Biden said in Munich last weekend that Washington is ready to hold direct talks with Iran over the country’s nuclear energy program. Iran’s immediate response was one of cautious optimism. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi reacted: “I am optimistic. I feel this new [US] administration is really this time seeking to at least divert from its previous traditional approach vis-a-vis my country.”
However, by the next day, he had begun tempering the enthusiasm: “We looked at it positively. I think this is a good overture… But we will have to wait a little bit longer to see if their gesture is this time a real gesture… so that we will be making our decisions likewise.”
Salehi subsequently explained, “A look at the past shows that whenever we have had talks with the Americans, including efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, unfortunately the other side has failed to fulfill its obligations. You cannot use a threatening tone and say all options are on the table, on the one hand, [because] this is an apparent contradiction… Exerting pressure and [invitation to] talks are not compatible. If you have honest intentions, we can place serious negotiations on the agenda.”
Obviously, Salehi spoke in two voices, and his retraction finally proved to be the “authentic” voice of Tehran. When the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei broke his silence on Thursday, he rejected the possibility of direct talks with the US. He said, “You [Americans] are pointing the gun at Iran and say either negotiate or we will shoot. The Iranian nation will not be frightened by the threats… Some naive people like the idea of negotiating with America [but] negotiations will not solve the problems. If some people want American rule to be established again in Iran, the nation will rise up to them.”
One way of looking at Khamenei’s harsh statement on Thursday is to put it in the immediate context of the announcement of further sanctions against Iran by Washington the previous day, which the US administration has explained as “a significant turning of the screw” that will “significantly increase the economic pressure on Iran”.
But it does not fully explain the manifest harshness and the comprehensive rejection by Khamenei. Meanwhile, three factors are to be taken into account. First, Iran’s domestic politics is hotting up and the dramatic eruption of public acrimony between Ahmedinejad and the Speaker of the Majlis Ali Larijani last weekend testifies to a rough period when Khamenei will have his hands full as the great helmsman.
Indeed, a lot of jockeying is going on as the presidential election slated for May draws closer. Khamenei could factor in that the talks with the US are best held after the elections. (By the way, this may also be Obama’s preference.) Second, Khamenei has flagged by implication that Tehran expects some serious goodwill gesture on the part of the US before any talks take place. He has recalled that the US did not act in good faith in the past – such as when Iran helped out in the US’s overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
A third factor is that Khamenei genuinely sees that Iran is on the “right side of history” as regards the regional upheaval in the Middle East, whereas the US’s regional strategies are getting nowhere. In sum, whereas the US propaganda is that the Iran sanctions are “biting” and the regime is in Iran feels besieged, it is in actuality a bizarre situation of Washington believing its own propaganda while the ground realities are vastly different.
If the propaganda has us believe that the regime in Tehran is living in fear of a Tahrir-like revolution erupting in Iran, Khamenei’s words show no such traces of fear or timidity. On the other hand, Khamenei would have carefully weighed Obama’s capacity (or the limits to it) to bulldoze the Israeli lobby and to initiate a genuine normalization process with Iran.
When Richard Nixon worked on China in the early 1970s, he had the benefit of a broad consensus of opinion within the US political establishment. On the contrary, when it comes to Iran, pride and prejudice influence still rule the roost for most consequential Americans.
Khamenei’s message to Obama is to get serious and think through what he really wants instead of lobbing a vague offer through Biden with no strings attached and no commitments underlying it. The Iranian leader who has continuously dealt with successive US administrations through the past 22 years simply threw the ball into Obama’s court and will now wait and see how the latter kicks it around when he is in Israel next month.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
This is a startling article that just appeared in the New York Times!
I have nothing but respect for Sam Bahour (one of the authors) and so I take what he says seriously. It seemed to me that Mr Netanyahu’s plans for more settlements in the crucial ‘E1’ area between Gaza and the West Bank were the final nail in the coffin for the ‘two-state solution’, but if Sam and his co-author still hold out hope, who am I to question their wisdom? Further, they still believe that America has a role to play in re-starting negotiations!
The authors suggest that the sort of disillusionment people like myself feel is based on four assumptions:
In my words, these are:
- That the ideological differences between the two sides are irreconcilable.
- That demographic realities will force negotiations anyway, without need for foreign interference.
- That Abbas’ government is penniless and useless.
- That Obama’s hands are tied by the powerful US Zionist lobby.
The article responds to each of these assumptions but I confess that I remain unconvinced. Bahour and Avishai argue that the fervent ideology of Hamas is fueled by the frustration experienced by years of failed peace negotiations but this obviously doesn’t apply to the ideology of the settlers. And do either of the two sides trust America any more as a broker? I get the feeling that, for the Palestinians, they are looking more to their Arab neighbours now as potential intermediaries.
U.S. Inaction, Mideast Cataclysm?
By BERNARD AVISHAI and SAM BAHOUR
ISRAELIS go to the polls today in an election that will likely give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a third term; like the current one, Israel’s next governing coaltion will probably be heavily reliant on right-wingers and religious parties.
Even so, Mr. Obama’s second term could offer a pivotal opportunity to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In his first term, he backed away from the process, figuring that America could mediate only if the parties themselves wanted to make peace — and that new talks were unlikely to be productive.
This is a mistake. The greatest enemy to a two-state solution is the sheer pessimism on both sides. Unless President Obama uses his new mandate to show leadership, the region will have no place for moderates — or for America either.
The rationale for inaction rests on four related assumptions: that strident forces dominate because their ideologies do; that the status quo — demographic trends that would lead to the enfranchisement of occupied Palestinians, a “one-state solution” and the end of Israel as a Jewish democracy — will eventually force Israel to its senses; that the observer-state status secured by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations is empty because his West Bank government is broke, dysfunctional and lacking in broad support; and that given the strength of the Israeli lobby, Mr. Obama’s hands are tied.
These assumptions seem daunting, but they are misguided. First, while Hamas, the militant Islamists who control Gaza, and Israel’s ultra-rightists, who drive the settlement enterprise, are rising in popularity, the reason is not their ideologies, but young people’s despair over the occupation’s grinding violence.
Last month, a poll by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, based in Washington, found that two-thirds of Israelis would support a two-state deal, but that more than half of even left-of-center Israelis said Mr. Abbas could not reach binding decisions to end the conflict. The same month, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, in Ramallah, found that 52 percent of Palestinians favored a two-state resolution (a drop from three-quarters in 2006, before two Israeli clashes over Gaza). But two-thirds judged the chance of a fully functional Palestinian state in the next five years to be low or nonexistent. In short, moderates on both sides still want peace, but first they need hope.
Second, the status quo is not a path to a one-state solution, but to Bosnian-style ethnic cleansing, which could erupt as quickly as the Gaza fighting did last year and spread to Israeli Arab cities. Right-wing Israelis and Hamas leaders alike are pushing for a cataclysmic fight. Mr. Abbas, whose Fatah party controls the West Bank, has renounced violence, but without signs of a viable diplomatic path he cannot unify his people to support new talks. If his government falls apart, or if the more Palestinian territory is annexed (as right-wing Israeli want), or if the standoff in Gaza leads to an Israeli ground invasion, bloodshed and protests across the Arab world will be inevitable. Such chaos might also provoke missiles from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group based in Lebanon.
Third, the Palestinian state is not a Fatah-imposed fiction, but a path toward economic development, backed by international diplomacy and donations, that most Palestinians want to succeed. It has a $4 billion economy; an expanding network of entrepreneurs and professionals; and a banking system with about $8 billion in deposits. A robust private sector can develop if given a chance.
Fourth, American support need not only mean direct talks. The administration could promote investments in Palestinian education and civil society that do not undermine Israeli security. Mr. Obama could demand that Israel allow Palestinian businesses freer access to talent, suppliers and customers. He could also demand a West Bank-Gaza transportation corridor, to which Israel committed in the 1993 Oslo accords.
America is as much a player as a facilitator. The signal it sends helps determine whether the parties move toward war or peace. The White House, despite its frosty relationship with Mr. Netanyahu, hasn’t set itself up as a worthy mediator by opposing Palestinian membership in the United Nations and vetoing condemnations of settlements.
In nominating Chuck Hagel to lead the Pentagon, Mr. Obama rightly ignored attacks by “pro-Israel” (really pro-Netanyahu) groups. He should appoint a Middle East negotiator trusted by all sides — say, Bill Clinton or Colin L. Powell. He should lead, not thwart, European attempts to make a deal. He has stated that the settlements will lead to Israel’s global isolation; he should make clear that they endanger American interests, too.
Washington has crucial leverage, though this won’t last forever. When it weighs in, it becomes a preoccupying political fact for both sides. If it continues to stand back, hopelessness will win.
Bernard Avishai is an Israeli-American writer in Jerusalem. Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah, the West Bank