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Monday, July 20, 2009

The 'Palestinians' Americans' Catch-22

Catch-22 is a term coined by Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22, describing a set of rules, regulations or procedures, or situation which presents the illusion of choice while preventing any real choice. In probability theory, it refers to a situation in which multiple probabilistic events exist, and the desirable outcome results from the confluence of these events, but there is zero probability of this happening as they are mutually exclusive.

If Elliott Abrams has described the scenarios correctly, the 'Palestinians' may well find themselves in a Catch-22 regarding their desire for a 'settlement freeze.' There may be zero probability of their desired outcome happening.

But for the Obama administration there is definitely a Catch-22. The Obama administration will not get a full 'settlement freeze' from Israel - even for a limited time. Either Mitchell will reach a compromise with Netanyahu, in which case the administration will have to sell a 'partial freeze' to the 'Palestinians' (who may or may not come to the table) as a full one, or Mitchell will not reach a compromise with Netanyahu, in which case Obama can choose whether he wishes to further escalate the current war of words between Washington and Jerusalem. With midterm election campaigns beginning in earnest around the turn of the year, I would not look for the Obama administration to escalate its war of words with Israel, unless they're willing to see a lot of Congressional Democrats distance themselves from the administration. That would be okay for Obama to do in a second term, but not if he has to face re-election in 2012.

And after that long introduction, here's what Elliott Abrams has to say.
Having failed to bully Netanyahu into a total freeze, U.S. negotiator George Mitchell is said to be asking for a moratorium that would allow completion of all projects already underway, perhaps 2,500–3,000 units. Moreover, that moratorium is said to apply to the West Bank but to be silent about construction in Jerusalem, which would be handled separately.


Now, for George Mitchell this may appear to be a decent compromise. For however long the “freeze” lasts, there are no new units started. If the “freeze” lasts long enough — say, six months or a year — there will be a significant and visible reduction in Israeli construction in the West Bank. Mitchell, who is reported to want to leave his negotiator position at the end of 2009, would be able to quit while this “freeze” is in place. As to Jerusalem, he might just say “too hard for now” and tell Arab governments privately that U.S. pressure to stop Israel from building in East Jerusalem will continue.

Why Netanyahu and his government loathe this entire Obama project is clear. Morally, it accepts the argument that Israelis have no right to live in the West Bank (or even some parts of Jerusalem). Politically, agreeing to any sort of “freeze” threatens the governing coalition. And how does Bibi Netanyahu get out of the “freeze”? What’s the exit strategy when the agreed time (Three months? Six? Nine or twelve?) ends — and Obama says, “I just need a bit more time to bring peace and freedom to the Middle East.”

All this is familiar — but look at what the Obama administration has done to its friends in Ramallah as well. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiator Saeb Erekat are on record demanding a total freeze — including in Jerusalem, without a time limit, all over the West Bank, every settlement, all sorts of buildings. No exceptions for construction now under way, for kindergartens, not even (or, perhaps, especially?) for synagogues. Where do they stand when the United States government announces its deal — allowing several thousand units to be completed and remaining silent on Jerusalem? Compared with the current situation — daily denunciations of settlements by Washington, while Palestinians are asked to do nothing — all of a sudden the U.S. will seem to have switched sides. All of a sudden the actual construction work you see before you is okay, Washington blesses it; and as to Jerusalem there will be no stated limits at all. “There are no middle-ground solutions for the settlement issue: Either settlement activity stops or it doesn’t stop,” Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio last week. Under all the possible compromises, it doesn’t stop — or so it will seem to Erekat and his boss Abbas, and to any Palestinian listening to Hamas’s radio and TV denunciations of such a deal.

Which is why the actual Palestinian position is to pray for Mitchell to fail. If he fails and there is no compromise deal, they are sitting pretty. Washington denounces Jerusalem, bad feeling between them continues, and Obama effectively demands nothing of the Palestinians. Of course, settlement construction continues as well, but the Palestinian leaders aren’t stupid; they know it’s a made-up issue. They know that life in the West Bank is getting better, the economy is improving, the Israelis are removing roadblocks and obstacles to movement — and they know that settlement construction provides badly needed employment for Palestinian construction workers. So, Mitchell’s failure would be sheer heaven for them, while a compromise — well, Erekat said it. Bad news.
I wonder who told the Obumbler that this was the issue to press on. Rahm Emanuel? David Axelrod? Bob Wexler? Whoever it was ought to be fired.

And note that Mitchell will be gone within a few months. Who will replace him? George Tenet?

Read the whole thing.


At 5:32 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The equivalent American expressions are FUBAR and SNAFU. So yes, the "peace process" is stuck for want of a better description of where things stand today and as Barry Rubin wrote as long as the West is interested only in what the Palestinians want and what Israel should give them, frozen (his version of it) shall the situation be. No wonder George Mitchell is reportedly seeking an exit soon. There is not much political mileage to be had in squabbling over real estate when neither of the two sides really wants to change the status quo. The Catch-22 conundrum the US is facing is that it cannot want peace more than the Israelis and the Palestinians do and its leverage over them is extremely limited. Not even Mitchell can change that basic fact in Israel's current environment, regardless of whether or not a settlement compromise is ever reached between Jerusalem and Washington.

What could go wrong indeed


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