Monday, November 22, 2010

No Surprise That Middle East Peace Process In Tatters

I was warning about this very scenario when President Barack Obama launched into his Middle East diplomacy just days into his first term at a time when Palestinians and Israelis weren't exactly primed for a new effort by a neophyte President who lacked any kind of experience dealing with the conflict.

His lack of experience has played itself out with a thus far spectacular failure to improve matters. Moreover, both sides (Palestinians and Israelis) see each the President as bringing about ongoing failure as the other side.
The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and — increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Even those who still believe in the process that Obama has championed view his conduct as a deeply unfunny comedy of errors.

“He’s like rain,” said a top Israeli official involved in diplomacy with the U.S., speaking of Obama’s role in negotiations. “You can do all kinds of things to cope with it.”

Some fret that not only has Obama failed to move the process forward but he and his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts may have dealt it a setback that will leave it worse off than when they began.

“Each of them has exacerbated the mistakes of the other,” said Michael Herzog, a retired general who still plays an informal role advising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s negotiators. He worries that the result of the bumbling could be “disastrous: People will lose hope in the possibility of a two-state solution.”

The White House declined to comment for this story. But in general, the Americans point fingers back at the region. They’re unsure whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, has the will to make peace. They’ve been surprised and disappointed by Arab leaders’ unwillingness to bolster Israel’s confidence in the process with diplomatic concessions or financial support for the Palestinian Authority. And they are dissatisfied with the domestic political excuses of an Israeli prime minister they see as having chosen his own intractable coalition and who is now — in the view of one American official — “running out the clock.”
That latter bit is particularly hilarious since no one should have taken the Palestinians seriously since the 2007 schism between Hamas and Fatah that left each with control of only one portion of a potential Palestinian state (Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank) but neither recognizes the rights of the other to speak for all Palestinians.

Moreover, Hamas continues to refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist openly. Fatah is more circumspect in that regard, but it too alludes to a long struggle to overcome the Zionist (Israeli) presence in the Middle East. When one side refuses to recognize the right of the other to even exist, there's absolutely no way that a peace deal could be struck that means anything more than a piece of paper.

The whole notion that Israel has to be prodded into making concessions on housing freezes completely ignores Palestinian failures to adhere to Oslo - and just how uneven the demands on both sides truly are. Housing is not an impediment to peace - Palestinian refusal to accept Israel - as a Jewish state - is. Palestinians want to rid all territories that will fall into their sphere of influence of all Jews. They have required Israel to forcibly uproot Israeli settlements and that was formalized via Oslo - that there are areas in the West Bank where Israelis simply cannot travel or else they'd face arrest (or lynching depending on the mood of the Palestinians that given day). That's not a firm foundation for peace, but for a renewed conflict.

Throw in the US arms deals to the Saudis that would give that feeble regime more fighter aircraft (F-16s) and it's little wonder that the Israelis wanted to get an improved fighter deal for themselves (the F-35). The Saudis see the Iranians as a threat, but the Israelis see the Saudis as a threat should the regime topple (the King is getting up there in years and the stability of the regime isn't entirely certain). The Iranians continue making their usual genocidal statements towards Israel's presence along with attempts at procuring both conventional weapons systems and even nuclear technologies.

The President has made a mess of any chance at further a peace process while the current players are at the helm. It would take a radical sea-change for there to be an improvement in chances for peace - and that would necessarily have to originate with the Palestinians. It is on the Palestinians to bring about the conditions for peace - starting with a complete and total renunciation of their desire to eliminate Israel and to accept a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state. Housing can always be transferred (see the original Camp David accords with Egypt).

The Palestinians have to figure out what they want - whether they want to follow Hamas and their jihad against Israel or Fatah's long-term struggle, or create a whole new path towards peace. Right now, they're showing no interest in peace, and depending on where you ask, they consider jihad or the struggle to be paramount even if it means economic ruin for Palestinians.

Israel has no choice but to continue operating as it has for years - protecting itself from attack and hoping that someone among the Palestinians finally shows courage and backbone to make a deal that Arafat and Abbas would not.

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