OK, I have officially had it, and am throwing in the towel.
Followers of my work are aware that, for the past 20-plus months, I have been either hopeful or trying to maintain hope in the Obama Administration’s efforts toward a two-state solution. No doubt, it has been getting progressively tougher, and many colleagues who were once with me in this endeavor have jumped ship long since.
Make room on the lifeboat, because I’m jumping in.
A few events this week produced the final straws. First came word of the generous package the United States was offering Israel in order to extend a largely meaningless “moratorium” on settlement construction. Actually, “generous” is a misleading term, which vastly understates the case.
The US offered to unconditionally surrender one of its key tools – its veto in the UN Security Council – by guaranteeing it would not refrain from vetoing any resolution for one year; to support an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley after a peace deal is arranged; and a number of other items that are high on Israel’s agenda.
This is akin to paying ten thousand dollars for a pack of bubble gum. Stale bubble gum.
Every piece in the proposed package is one that Israel wants very much. That Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet accepted the package indicates two things. One is that Bibi can easily live with the direct talks breaking down. And the second is that he expects to get all or most of this package without having to pay even this meager price for it, albeit perhaps further down the road.
Bibi is probably right on both counts.
The purported offer to Israel was publicized by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for near East Policy (WINEP). This was no surprise, as it emerged that package was brokered by Makovsky close colleague, Dennis Ross.
Ross’ renewed position in the middle of American efforts around the Israel-Palestine conflict is nothing less than disastrous. Aaron David Miller, a thirty-year veteran of Middle East diplomacy, characterizes Ross as “Israel’s lawyer,” and even the kindest view of Ross must admit that his credibility among the Palestinians would have to improve considerably to reach zero. Ross is said to have engineered this package, and that should be all anyone needs to know about where the Obama Administration is going to be heading with Ross in so central a position.
Indeed, Ross seems to have opened an alternative channel for the Netanyahu government, one which will effectively bypass George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton and the State Department generally.
And if that all wasn’t bad enough, National Security Advisor James Jones resigned from his position yesterday. Jones, widely viewed as one of the most even-handed figures in the American government on this issue (which is why he was not well liked in Jerusalem) was replaced by his deputy, Thomas Donilon. Donilon, a close associate of Vice President Joe Biden, a long-time Democratic operator and a former lobbyist and Vice President for Fannie Mae, is closer to and better-liked by the AIPAC crowd than Jones was.
Jones’ departure was no surprise – when he took the job, no one, including him, expected him to keep it for more than two years. But replacing him with Donilon only further distances the Obama Administration from even the appearance, let alone the reality, of being able to mediate honestly between Israel and the Palestinians.
Combine it with Ross’ central role, Congress’ increased interference and Obama’s own drift away from even the hint of any action to seriously resolve this issue, and any hope one could have had in this administration is gone.
Some said I was clinging to my rose-colored glasses on Obama for months. Maybe so, maybe not, but if I was, they’re now on the trash heap.
That doesn’t mean we in the United States can afford to lighten up on DC activism; quite the opposite, in fact.
I have little doubt that Obama, and numerous other figures in the US government outside the halls of Congress, would truly like to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. I’ve spoken to enough people in the State Department and other Federal offices to be convinced of it. But the politics will keep preventing American action until we change those politics. AIPAC is a lobby, and it can be countered by one equally clever, resourceful and well-financed.
Such a counter is being built, and that work has serious momentum for the first time ever. The effort must be redoubled. But that needs to happen without the illusion that the Obama Administration is going to make the needed changes. It’s not. It can’t.
And that may well mean we need to reorient the goals and vision. If, as many have said (myself included) that this latest round is the last chance for a two-state solution; or, if, as others have said, that window has already closed, we need to move forward with different strategies.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to resign if Israel keeps building its settlements. He’s threatened this so many times, of course, that the cry of wolf hardly even registers any more.
He won’t do it because if he does, he permanently loses all relevance. But if he was thinking of what was best for the Palestinians, he would indeed resign, fold up the joke that the Palestinian Authority has become and force Israel to take full responsibility for the West Bank again.
This would allow a new Palestinian polity to evolve, something which is desperately needed. The Palestinians need a leadership that is not a “partner” with Israel, yet also recognizes the ultimate ineffectiveness of the violent and religious approach of Hamas.
The Palestinians desperately need a new leadership that is not softened by privilege the way the Fatah old guard is. They need one which is pragmatic, and understands that pragmatism in terms that recognize Israel as the occupying power and the United States as the country that has a “special relationship” with that occupying power. They need to be visionary enough to realize that they have to work with the US and Israel, but also strong enough to bear in mind that they, as the Palestinian leadership, cannot agree to put Israeli or American interests ahead of their own. That’s where Fatah has failed.
Their pragmatism must also recognize that the Palestinians are never going to win their independence by force of arms, and that they need to build up sympathy not only for their people’s suffering but also for their own political agenda. Those are the places where Hamas failed.
If such a leadership coalesces, perhaps from the seeds of the current popular movement against the Security Barrier, a completely new dynamic would emerge. The response to such a new dynamic in Europe, the Arab world, the US and, perhaps most importantly, in Israel could well lead to the evolution of new, creative solutions that deal with the current realities on the ground, realities which include the Israeli consensus for a state of Jewish character, the Palestinian need for independence and a viable political entity, and the need to deal with the millions of Palestinian refugees.
For domestic American purposes, however, we cannot continue to pretend that the solution is going to come from our lands. Our task, at least for the moment, is much simpler, albeit no less difficult. We need to change the politics around this issue. Security for Israel can continue to be at the center of American policy, but it cannot remain there alone. Freedom for the Palestinians, the realization of their most basic human and civil rights, must occupy a place of equal importance.
We need to press the point that Palestinians are due their rights even if the conflict remains unresolved. Palestinians and Israelis must come to be seen as equally human, equally deserving of their opportunities at a better life, and this recognition must be practical, not just empty words.
In one sense, then, the failure of the Obama Administration’s efforts opens an opportunity. If we acknowledge that these talks cannot succeed, and the eventual solution, because of the massive expansion of settlements and ongoing split in the Palestinian polity, is going to necessarily be different from the one we have previously envisioned, then we have the time to change the political landscape here.
And, happily, that effort comes about by arguing, incrementally, consistently and continuously, for the rights of all people, Jewish, Arab and anyone else, living in the “Holy Land.” We can work to make things a little better in the short term, and that effort, if undertaken properly and with good strategy, can also be building a new political reality in the long term.
Our work in America is to support the forces in Israel fighting against the trends toward ultra-nationalism and Jewish exclusivism in the country which betray the democratic principles enunciated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence (this, of course, particularly applies to American Jews); to work to promote Palestinian unity and the emergence of a leadership which, unlike Fatah and Hamas, truly has the support of a distinct majority of Palestinians; and to create here at home an atmosphere that reflects the desirers of most Americans to treat both Palestinians and Israelis with an even hand.