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The Renewed Middle East Peace Process: The Tortured Charade

May 2, 2010
Once again, there is talk of a US brokered peace process, what are being referred to as `The Proximity Talks’.
It begins, as many others have in the past, mostly crippled, with so little chance of success that one has to wonder why would the United States – this time the Obama Administration – once again  engage in this thankless process?
Given that the current talks are indirect, the prospects are hardly encouraging. Israelis and Palestinians will not be talking directly to each other by the US Special Envoy, George Mitchell. The two sides are so far apart on basic issues, it is difficult to imagine that without persistent and unprecedented pressure from the United States – of a kind not yet seen – that sadly, this `process’ will go anywhere other than the garbage can like so many others.
• The Netanyahu government has dug in its heels. Israel refuses to freeze West Bank settlement building in the Occupied Territories, sealing any chance of Palestinian capital of East Jerusalem. With the exception of a few stand-outs (Avnery, some of the writers for Haaretz), Israel’s view security not from the angle of peace negotiations but from maintaining both military might and diplomatic intransigence.
• The Palestinian movement is weakened by the current split between Fateh and Hamas, making a united negotiating effort to end the Occupation – and the decades of suffering that goes along with it – unlikely
• Here in the United States – a fissure, over how Israel fits – or doesn’t fit – into US foreign policy, has opened. The malaise between the Obama Administration and Congress has deepened, weakening the Administration’s efforts
At a recent and well attended forum at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies evaluating Obama’s Middle East policy a year into his administration, the participants  warned that the time is running out for the two state solution. This viewpoint was echoed in the Financial Times (May 1-2, 2010) speaks of this as `the last opportunity to resolve the conflict peacefully…before it passes the point of no return’. The same op ed aptly describes Middle East peace making as `a tortured charade,’
While Congress – and the political class in general  – remains one sidely strongly pro-Israeli, still, popular sentiment towards the conflict is shifting.
• At the University of California, Berkeley, the student government originally voted 16-4 in favor of a pro-divestment resolution against companies that profit from the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. While the resolution was vetoed by the student body president, it is probably a harbinger of things to come on U.S. university campuses.
• The emergence of movements in the Jewish Community – J-Street, Tikkun, Jewish Voice For Peace – has grown significantly. With their moderate – but principled – approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they more and more openly challenge the long held myth: that on Israel, America’s Jewish Community speaks with one voice. Let a hundred voices bloom.
• Most interesting though is – for lack of a better term – `the military lobby for Middle East peace’ which is taking shape. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Israel not long ago essentially `laying down the line’ that Israel should not attack Iran. Along the same lines, General David Petraeus, current Commander of the US Central Command, speaking before Congress, argued that Israeli intransigence is putting American lives at risk in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Different US administrations have tried to balance US strategic interests in the region (that lay with the oil and gas producing countries) on the one hand with its strategic alliance with Israel on the other. US support of Israel’s actions these past few years have  deepened regional resentment and hostility towards Washington. Obama’s approach to the Middle East has represented more a welcome change in tone, than a change in content. Still, simply suggesting a change in US Middle East policy in two speeches in Ankara and Cairo, won Barack Obama, perhaps somewhat prematurely, a Nobel Peace Prize.
A good place to start changing the content of US Middle East policy would be a serious stab at resolving the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. While the prospect remains admittedly remote, it is not impossible. The framework – ending the Israeli occupation of the 1967 territories, the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, a secure Israel within its 1967 borders – is still valid, but for how much longer? Without the Obama Administration pressuring Israel it is unlikely the issue can be resolved. Although it could happen – peace processes, like war have their own strange dynamics – it is not likely that Obama will `insist’.
But if he does, there is a world to gain…
4 Comments leave one →
  1. mark t. permalink
    May 3, 2010 3:27 am

    “The framework – ending the Israeli occupation of the 1967 territories, the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, a secure Israel within its 1967 borders – is still valid, but for how much longer?…”


    How is the two-state framework still valid? We hear that a lot, but by what system of measurement did we not crossed beyond this possibility long ago? The two-state framework depends on much more than political will. It would require the (forcible) removal of hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers – no small task and certainly not one Netenyahu, whose coalition is heavily contingent on settler acquiescence, is in a position to undertake. A two-state solution that cedes Palestinian rights, on any level, cannot stand. This isn’t simply a matter of ideological intransigence; Abbas’ West Bank PA represents an ever dwindling Palestinian minority and does not derive legitimacy through any democratic mandate. The internationally-recognized “representative” of the Palestinian people is hardly recognized by the people themselves. Two states – actual and viable – living side by side? That’s sooo 1994.

    • May 3, 2010 5:07 am

      Warm Greetings Mark
      I’m old fashioned I guess. Mostly I don’t even debate this question any more, but will do it out of respect for you.
      It certainly looks as if events are overwhelming a two state solution. I recognize the possibility that it’s day is fast fading. Then why `cling’ to it?
      1. Generally I have supported what is referred to the `international consensus’ which pivots around the two state solution. If it changes, I’ll change with it
      2. You are right about the problems of getting rid of the settlers. But it might be more possible to get rid of settlers and settlementsthan transform Israel-Palesitne into one state
      3. I am not sure that either people is as interested in one state – living together – as some people think. One staters rarely talk about the proiblems which building one state entail. There is a good chance that Israel-Palestine will morph into some kind of apartheid state.
      4. My approach is to oppose the occupation which has been cruel and immoral. Will continue to do so. It is more or less the same position as chomsky’s, finkelstein,l zinn – the Jewish radicals/intellectuals with whom I agree and respect. I didn’t come to this understanding by reading them – although I do – but from my own experience. Part of this is, despite everything, respecting Israel’s right to exist as a nation (but not to expand). Ultimately I am convinced that its long term survival is based upon its ability to make peace with its neighbors – and to do that it must resolve the Palestinian issue – end the occupation of the 1967 territories and stop its opposition to the building of a viable Palestinian state. It is not doing a particularly good job at accomplishing this – if it doesn’t change, and it shows little tendency right now to do so, that will be its undoing.
      5. There are tactical considerations as well. I’ll support anyone who is on motion on this issue, who shows a bit of courage, one state, two states whatever. There are alot of people in the US who are finally waking up to this issue. They are mostly two staters from what I can tell. I don’t want (and wont) get into big ideological debates with them to frustrate their energies. To the degree I can support their work, I will. As movements grow, they don’t do so according to `my logic’ – but according to the values of the social movements themselves. I don’t know if this makes sense or sounds like gobbledigook, but it is quite important to me.
      On the one hand, Israel today, militarily is as strong as it’s ever been. But its military strength seems to go hand in hand with its status as an international pariah nation – which, outside of the US it has become. How long can its status last? I don’t know. My gut tells me it could be quite a while but then sometimes `things’ happen very quickly – to the surprise of the whole world, like the collapse of the USSR. How will all this play out? We don’t know.
      As an American living in Colorado who happens to be Jewish, my main priority is to work to change US policy on this issue, to prevent the United States – in its support for Israel – for doing more damage in the world, to the Palestinians and to others. Ultimately I[‘ll leave it up to the Palestinians and Israelis what shape the political forms of ending occupation will take.
      Finally, I have found, with rare exceptions, `one-staters’ rather factional here at home. It’s their way or the highway. Their coalitions are – or have been – narrow and don’t reach out to social forces that don’t agree with them but with whom they should work. I sometimes wonder if they are capable of working with people who don’t accept their vision, political framework. I’ve long tried to work with people with whom I disagree but on some level could find the common ground to push forward the movement. – the old united front approach.

      • May 5, 2010 3:09 pm

        Hey Rob–At the Green Party Convention:
        4. Calls for an end to US military aid to Israel and approving only humanitarian and economic aid to both Israel and Palestine on an equitable basis.
        5. Calls for an immediate end of Israeli occupation of Palestine including an end of Settlement building and wall building within East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

        • May 5, 2010 4:51 pm

          Hey Bob,
          And that is why I will, sometime in the near future, formally endorse your candidacy for the US Senate

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