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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

'This is what happens when arrogance and clumsiness come together'

Former Bush adviser on the Middle East Elliott Abrams does a great job of summing up the Obama administration failures in the Middle East over the past year.
So the Obama administration’s Middle East adventures in 2009 came to a close with Netanyahu, whom the administration has never much liked or treated well, stronger politically; and Abbas, whom the administration wished to strengthen, weaker and talking of retirement. In Arab capitals the failure of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program is understood as American weakness in the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, making additional cooperation from Arab leaders on Israeli-Palestinian issues even less likely. A strongly pro-American former Israeli official shook his head as he evaluated the Obama record in 2009: “This is what happens when -arrogance and clumsiness come together.”

But who will tell the president that his judgments have been wrong and his policy is failing? Does he recognize how much bad advice he was given last year? Who among the senior figures is likely to say to this president that George Mitchell is now associated with a policy disaster or that Rahm Emanuel’s read on Israeli politics proved 180 degrees off course? Presumably no one who wishes to continue to work in the White House after that.

What will Year Two bring? The evidence suggests that the administration, now in a hole, will keep digging: All our diplomatic activity remains dedicated to getting “peace negotiations” started. “We’re going to be even more committed this year, and we’re starting this new year with that level of commitment, and we’re going to follow through and hopefully we can see this as a positive year in this long process,” Secretary Clinton said in early January. George Mitchell, building on his dubious achievements of the past year, told Charlie Rose, “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years. .  .  . Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.” The media, here and in the Middle East, tell of “letters of guarantee” that President Obama may send Abbas and Netanyahu, promising the Palestinians an agreement on borders in nine months and a full peace treaty in two years if only they will sit down and negotiate.

Thus far the Palestinians are adamantly refusing to start negotiations and abandon their demand for a construction freeze including in Jerusalem, in exchange for such promises. But if they do, they will find the promised time limits to be illusory—as all previous ones have been. And no matter who sits at what table, there will be no serious negotiations: The Israelis and Palestinians are too far apart on the core issues to reach a deal now, and the Fatah and PLO leadership (having lost the last elections to Hamas and having lost Gaza to a Hamas coup) is too weak now to negotiate compromises and sell them to the Palestinian people. If there is any form of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, moreover, as Saudi Arabia and other Arab states continue to promote, Israel will end the talks instantly.
Abrams goes on to urge the White House to adopt what is essentially Salam Fayyad's idea: To build the 'Palestinian state' from the bottom up until it is ready to negotiate with Israel over real peace.

That makes more sense than trying to force negotiations, but ultimately it's not going to work any more than trying to negotiate a settlement. Here are some reasons why:

1. The only reason Fayyad has been able to sell this plan to any of the 'Palestinians' is that he has placed a two-year deadline on it. A two-year deadline - or any other deadline - is unrealistic. What the 'Palestinians' need is what Germany and Japan needed at the end of World War II - denazification. And that's not something that can be subject to a deadline. I don't believe that the 'Palestinians' - including Fayyad himself - have the patience to build solid institutions. They want that deadline. They don't have the political maturity. They want it now. Any deadline at all that they accept is one of time and not one of readiness.

2. Ultimately, the issues are intractable. Even assuming that the 'Palestinians' build the institutions of a state, Israel is not going to wake up the next morning and allow itself to be flooded with 'refugees,' to have its borders become indefensible, to give up its claim and access to Judaism's Holiest place on earth. Ultimately, the two sides have to reach a compromise at a negotiating table (or one side has to defeat the other in war and dictate surrender terms). That's unlikely to happen. Preparing the 'Palestinian people' for compromise is as important as building institutions. The 'Palestinians' have never done that and never will. As Abu Mazen proudly told his legislative counsel on Sunday, the 'Palestinians' have not made a concession in 20 years. Surely one cannot expect that because the 'Palestinians' have garbage collection, cell phone services and public libraries they will suddenly be able to reach difficult compromises on the Temple Mount and the 'right of return.'

3. There are too many people who have a stake in the conflict continuing. Those people are mostly Arab governments who need Israel as a scapegoat to distract attention from their own shortcomings. In 2000, the Saudis and the Egyptians refused to go to bat so that Arafat could reach a compromise on the Temple Mount. Why should they behave differently the next time? Without support from the Arab governments, Abu Mazen, Fayyad and any other 'Palestinian' leader will not move ahead. They won't risk their lives to reach peace with the Jews. Anwar Sadat happens only once in a generation (and he paid the price).

4. The 'Palestinians' have been so indoctrinated on a culture of blood that it will take a generation or two to undo it - if they ever start trying. But the 'Palestinians' are continuing to promote that culture of blood and shahids (martyrs). Just last week, they named a town square in Ramallah after the woman who led the most deadly terror attack in Israel's history. The message to their children is clear and it is not a message of peace.

In sum, under the Fayyad plan, the 'Palestinians' are preparing to have a state, but they are not preparing for that state to live in peace with Israel. They are in essence preparing a state to replace Israel - which is no different than what they have been doing for the last 60 years or more. Until the 'Palestinians' move in the direction of living in peace with Israel, no Israeli government can allow a 'Palestinian state' to happen. There is no indication that the 'Palestinians' plan to move in the direction of peace anytime soon.

Jennifer Rubin adds:
It’s worth asking why the Obama team has yet to see the light, and why Mitchell digs in, ever insistent on spinning a fantasy world in which he imagines that, in just the right setting (what, Vienna instead of Oslo or Annapolis?), and with just the right mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, and with enough sanctimonious condescension about past administrations’ failed efforts, there will be a breakthrough. We have to ask: doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he sounds?
Actually, I think the Obama team does see it. The Obama administration sees that the 'Palestinians' have no interest of living in peace, side by side in a 'two-state solution.' Their interest is in a state that would replace Israel. The Obama team cannot admit that without a most unlikely sea-change in the psychological makeup of the 'Palestinian people,' no Israeli government can ever agree to another independent entity being established alongside it. Admitting that the 'Palestinians' are no closer to being ready for statehood today than they were in 1993 (and in fact, if anything, they are further away now than they were in 1993) would be admitting that all the negotiations for the last 20 years have been a waste of time. But since a 'Palestinian state' is a mantra of the Left (unfortunately including Israel's Left), the Obama administration cannot give up on it, so they continue to act as if the peaceful 'Palestinian state' is just around the corner by trying to force the parties to the table and to dictate terms. It won't work.


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