Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Peace in the Middle East - at last

[Abbas, Obama, and Netanyahu going through the motions]

The Times reported yesterday that President Obama was pressing Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start final status peace negotiatons. The precondition pressed on Israel was that the settlements must be frozen before talks could begin.

The Times reported today that the President "pivoted" on that position. "Pivoted" is how a politicized Democratic newspaper reports that a Democratic president backed down.

Little Israel was able to get the mighty United States to back down by relying on its faithful allies - the Arabs. The US was unable to get ANY of the confidence-building measures from the Arab states that it suggested. Since the proposed freeze on the settlements would also have been a confidence-building measure, the president hadn't a leg to stand on in talks with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu had the advantage of representing not only a democracy but a volatile one in which the knesset can remove a prime minister in a minute. Netanyahu simply cannot make disastrous behind-the-scenes deals because the knesset would remove himand send somebody else if he did. It, and the Israeli public opinion it represents, are an external immovable object.

The Israeli public recalls vividly what the concessions at Oslo in 1993 cost them in lives and what they got in return. Concessions of land and security in return for Palestinian promises and American assurances will not happen again.

There is a peculiar symmetry to the positions of Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu. Abbas cannot do much because he has little power. His government lost the Palestinian elections to Hamas yet remained in power by force. He basically doesn't represent anybody but the security forces.

Netanyahu won the Israeli elections but in Israel the knesset rules, not the prime minister. And the knesset is kept on a short leash by the voters because governments are coalition governments. A rebellion by any bloc within a party often makes a party withdraw from the coalition rather than risk a party split, whereupon the government falls and there are new elections. So every interest group must be placated simultaneously for the government to remain in power.

So Abbas has little power because he doesn't represent anybody. And Netanyahu has little power because he has to try to represent everybody.

Notice too who's missing from these negotiations. Where is Mrs. Clinton? My guess is that she will continue to enjoy her stately office, but not the actual office of State. If a peasant like me has noticed her ineptness just from the reporting in a staunchly Clintonista newspaper like the Times, it must be notorious in Washington.

What is also missing from the final status peace negotiation is what has been missing from every peace negotiation with the Palestinians - any Palestinian desire for peace. The Arab countries and the Palestinians are not just being pointlessly obstreperous in refusing the confidence-building measures. They are genuinely unable to provide any confidence building assurances of their sincerity for the very reason that they aren't sincere.

Israel gave up the demilitarized zone of 6 miles of southern Lebanon on Israel’s northern border. Within a year Hezbollah used that zone to launch persistent and powerful rocket attacks on Israel’s northern cities, including Haifa. It took a long and bloody war to persuade Hezbollah to stop.

When Israel unilaterally gave up Gaza, Hamas used their control of that territory to launch persistent and indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel’s southern cities, including Sderot and Ashkelon. It took a long and bloody war to persuade Hamas to stop.

Would Israel ceding control of the West Bank bring peace? Palestinians have not given much reason to believe it would.

A writer asked what the Palestinians have that they could give up in return for Israeli concessions of lands and cities. One thing they could give up would be the persistent indoctrination of their school children to hatred of Israel and Jews. They could give up the glorification of suicide bombers. They could give up the endless hate propaganda in their media.

Another thing they could give up would be the Palestinian Covenant and the Hamas Covenant both of which call for the destruction of Israel. The Palestinian Authority could give up its adherence to the Rejectionist Khartoum Declaration which commits its signatories to the destruction of Israel.

Palestinian claims to peaceful intentions would be more credible if they acted like they meant them.


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