If you have been following the news on the Middle East lately, you will notice a general uptick in the rhetoric on peace between srael and the Palestinian Authority.
Endless pronuncements from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on how Israel is ready for peace and just as desultory denunciations from the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas, that anything the Israelis have to offer, is simply not good enough.
Most of this back and forth has been driven by the Obama Administration’s determination to wade into the Middle East morass, certain that it can dredge the swamp and find gold. But in its earnest, flailing attempts to reach some kind of accord between the sides, it continues to mischaracterize the true nature of the conflict or to discern the reasons the kind of peace the U.S. expects in the region can ever take root.
Its of course nothing new. Since 1993 and the signing of the Oslo Accords, no year has gone by without the presentation of another scene from this farcical pantomime. It always goes something like this: The U.S. Middle East envoy presents ideas for jump starting peace to the Israeli prime minister. The Israeli prime minister makes a public statement to the effect that he is ” interested” in the ideas. The ideas are then presented to the Palestinian Authority leader who mulls the over for a day or so and then summarily rejects them.
The same political dynamics that have always driven this useless pas de deux are still present. Israel, for its part, recognizes the importance of American support for its ongoing war with the Muslim world and therefore is willing to play along, knowing full well that the Palestinian leadership is incapable of compromise. The Palestinian leader, well aware that not only his regime, but his life itself is forfeit if he concedes even an inch of Palestinian demands, stonewalls in the hope of buying himself time. The United States, ever eager to dislodge this bone in its throat and move on to more pressing problems in the Middle East, can’t bring itself to do very much more than pretend that it is dealing with real players in a real diplomatic engagement.
Of course it is nothing of the sort. The Palestinian leadership, having won virtual recognition for the Palestinian Authority as a sovereign body, has nothing whatsoever to gain from advancing the U.S. peace agenda. Its fat cats – from Saeeb Erekat to Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Jibrail have grown rich from Western largesse and world famous as Palestinian celebrities . They want to keep it that way. They don’t want to lose control of the region which affords them their monopolies, while , at the same time, they are quite aware of their tenuous grip on power and the threat of their territory transforming, like nearby Gaza, into a virtual Islamic republic. Placating Palestinian extremism has therefore always been far more important to them than mollifying the Americans.
These realities are beginning to dawn on Washington. Yesterday Obama finally admitted what every Administration since Truman’s has discovered to its chagrin: that the Arabs simply don’t want peace with Israel - they want the country removed. Palestinian nationalism, buttressed by Arab governments throughout the region, has never been based on securing a national home for the Palestinians but rather on the elimination of a national home of another people. Say what you want about the Palestinian drive for dignity and emancipation - if they had wanted a state any time in the past 70 years, they could have had it. But having a state also means accepting Israel’s existence and its right to secure borders, and to this day, no Palestinian leader has ever gone on record embracing such a notion.
Therefore it is not so surprising that Obama could finally admit yesterday:
“I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high”
Expectations were raised high, because Obama thinks that diplomacy and statecraft can override practical realities. But lets be very clear. The U.S’ insistence on treating the Palestinian leadership as a genuine “peace partner” is itself one of the causes of the failed process. Peace will never come to the Middle East while Palestinian intransigence is treated us a legitimate diplomatic position or when its resistance to compromise is respected. The peace process will continue to fail as long as its mediators misunderstand that the Palestinian urge to statehood is a farce and that its leadership has far more interest in perpetuating the conflict than in resolving its intractable problems