What's All This Then?

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Maybe Obama will chime in as I suggested below - but Netanyahu has made it pretty clear that no peace agreement can be reached unless the Palestinian leadership abandons the impossible. I didn’t include a demilitarized entity as a potential self governing neighbor for Israel - but of course it must be. The idea of two sovereign states - with all that implies - in the sliver of land left over after Jordan was created on 80% of the the Palestine Mandate- had some small possibility of success in 1948 - but that depended on mutual good will and a willingness for both sides to recognize and accept the other - the condition that Obama is urging 61 years later - but once the Arabs rejected it out of hand it became the non starter that it has remained ever since.

So what now? The Palestinians won’t even begin to consider the Netanyahu conditions. A one state solution is a non starter for Israel because the Arab birthrate would soon make Jews a minority. A " two in one" state solution that I outlined here many moons ago could turn the area into the envy of the other nations of the Middle East - but it would require that mutual good will and true desire for peace that was absent 61 years ago - and sane leaders on both sides. No "Greater Israel." No "Right of Return." Bill Clinton called Bibi’s speech an "opening play." It’s more like the umpteenth opening play to another season of treading water. I just hope Obama doesn’t wear himself out persuading both sides to reach another "agreement" which will finish up going where all the past agreements have gone - nowhere.

Of course I hope I’m wrong. I’ve been hoping for 61 years. I was a kid when Israel became a state - but yeah - I’m that old. Not too much time left for me to witness the impossible morphing into the possible

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I’m still on a blog sabbatical but the Israeli/Palestinian part of Obama’s Muslim "reach out" speech deserves some comment.

I am sure that those on the Palestinian side of the issue - which would include everyone on the "Arab Street" - and sympathizers in the rest of the world, are feeling somewhat encouraged by what he said. Some neutral observers are saying that the speech signaled a new and hopeful approach to the problem by the United States and that maybe - finally - peace between the parties is really possible. But this observer thinks that the opposite might be true - that the speech could make a difficult task - the achievement of an Israeli/Palestinian peace - even more difficult.

The president pleased the Palestinians by trotting out the same claims and complaints that they have used and have been used in their behalf for decades. The Israelis created settlements on "their" land and continue to build and expand. A barrier to peace. No mention of no settlements before the ’67 war and no mention of no peace before any settlements existed and no mention of the land being disputed in any event.

Thousands of Palestinians live in refugee camps. I don’t recall if he mentioned any numbers but he certainly mentioned the camps. But no acknowledgment that Israelis neither put Palestinians in refugee camps nor have anything to do with keeping them there. Hundreds of thousands of people became refugees during World War ll. Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled from Arab nations and became refugees after 1947. None remain refugees today - only "displaced Palestinians" - kept under refugee conditions for 60 years as a political ploy - and enabled for 60 years by the United Nations. But of course that aspect of refugee camps wasn’t mentioned.

The president said the long suffering Palestinians have aspirations that should be supported. They should be able to create their own state. Nothing wrong with that. It was a pretty good idea when the United Nations came up with it in 1947. I wonder what went wrong with those aspirations? Oh yes - it meant that that it also would involve the creation of a state called Israel and they weren’t having any of that

There was of course the obligatory admonition that the Palestinians should stop their violence - but the thrust of his discussion of the conflict was that the United States recognizes and sympathizes with the complaints of the Palestinians and that they deserve their own state. So why do I think the speech may actually move the so called "peace process" a few steps backward? First of all, peace can only be achievable if there are sane people on both sides of the question. In more than sixty years, there has been no Palestinian leadership that has exhibited a sane approach to solving the problems of the region. If you’re on the losing side of a conflict and then either reject any offer to talk peace with the winning side or want to dictate the terms of any peace - that’s insane. That was the Palestinian position after Israel defeated five Arab armies in 1948 and after subsequent wars - and it hasn’t changed that much since

But even with sanity on both sides, I don’t see how the "new" Obama approach is going to help. Yes, the words he used will placate the Arab street for a while but how will that help? Obama has no leverage with the Palestinians. Not with Abbas and certainly not with Hamas. He has leverage with Israel - the U.S. being Israel’s only true friend in the world - and maybe he can push Bibi to back away from settlement expansion and give lip service to the so called two state solution - but then what? The strategy of Abbas, who is no leader to begin with, is to wait - and now he'll be encouraged to keep waiting - waiting for Obama to push for Israeli concessions - starting with a settlement freeze and maybe even evacuation. But of course no matter what Israel does, it won’t be enough. "Settlements" have never been THE barrier to peace and Obama is smart enough to know that, so while he may be playing some strategic card with the Arab world by calling for a halt to settlement expansion, he must know that it will have no practical effect. We’ve seen how the Gaza population greeted the removal of settlements. They destroyed valuable assets left by the departing Israelis instead of using them to improve their circumstances and set about the practical peace loving business of launching daily rocket attacks into Israel.

Everyone agrees that the speech needs to be followed up with action. But what kind of action? If it’s not the right kind, the "peace process" will go nowhere - except backward. The Palestinians will expect Obama to put the squeeze on Netanyahu - but Bibi is hanging on to power by the skin of his teeth and if he is pushed into a position of pulling back on new housing within existing settlements - it will accomplish nothing in the cause for peace but might result in the collapse of his governing coalition.

What Obama can do that might move the parties closer to some kind of future peaceful arrangement is to tell the Palestinians something that they won’t want to hear but that needs to be said - and that is that they have to move first - that he can bring great pressure on Israel to respond in kind but that he can’t make them do anything as long as the position of Palestinians is to refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, to refuse to take the "right of return" - a known non starter - off the table - and to insist that Jews can’t live among them (settlements) - while more than a million Arabs live in Israel. In other words, to approach the future with sanity. I’m not there to measure the pulse of the Israeli people, but I could almost guarantee that if they were totally assured of the Palestinians willingness to give up violence and to stop making demands that they know will never be met - they’d be 100% behind Netanyahu sitting down with whoever emerged as the recognized and publicly supported leader of the Palestinians - not just to negotiate - but to make a deal.

It may never be possible to arrive at the kind of "two state solution" that Obama envisions - two sovereign nations living side by side - but a peace agreement is possible if sanity prevails. We should hope for that as a goal to be accomplished during Obama’s first term.