Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Your Deal, Mr. President

"In a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said he hoped "over the next several months, that you start seeing gestures of good faith on all sides. I don't want to get into the details of what those gestures might be, but I think that the parties in the region probably have a pretty good recognition of what intermediate steps could be taken as confidence-building measures."
- Haaretz, this morning.

This all sounds so reasonable: the parties to the conflict will build confidence toward a subsequent negotiation; Israel will freeze settlements, the Arab countries will invite Israeli academics to conferences. And it was reasonable after the 1973 War. But does the president seriously think he can do now what Jimmy Carter did after Camp David, only try harder?

Forgive me for confessing to that sinking feeling, but the language is all wrong here.

Framing the peace process as a negotiation between the interested parties, with more or less active American facilitation, will not work, for reasons I (and others) have laid out, again and again. Colin Powell once said that America cannot want peace more than the parties themselves. It was one of the most fatuous formulations by an American Secretary of State in a long series.

In fact, the leaders of Israel and Palestine will not want peace more than their fanatic oppositions; and they will cling to power by trafficking in the demagogy of national solidarity. Moreover, America is itself an interested party. It is time for the Quartet to present its plan, from Jerusalem to refugees. Oh, and don't we all know what the plan is, from Jerusalem to refugees?

Obama is the first president since Eisenhower with the sophistication, popularity, and objectivity to rally the Western allies to (in effect) impose a just settlement on the region. He knows how to speak about a world order rooted in collective security, federal institutions, and democratic alliances. He can be the face of international peacekeeping. If, as we all suspect, he means to push the sides toward a deal, there is no obvious reason apply pressure privately. It is time he started talking more like John Foster Dulles and less like Oprah.

Obama, in other words, has to start by imposing an agenda on Israel's conversation. He can win over Israelis eventually, but only if every front page story for the next six months is about whether or not Bibi and Lieberman are destroying relations with Washington. That is the only thing Israeli elites fear more than the loss of solidarity. That is what empowers the peace camp, such as it is: the chance to appear, not the party of concessions, but the party of America.


Potter said...

Israeli's ( on a recent trip) and those in my own family here as well ( I consider my small sample representative)in serious discussions, repeat untrue and negative things about the plan ( as you lay out well in the Harper's article linked above). As well the Arab Initiative is interpreted in a very negative light. This is not a mood willing to risk for peace. It's a negative and fearful mood hiding behind belief in some status quo that can be maintained. Arguing inevitably and to an unbelievable level, regresses back, for instance to fighting the '48 and '67 wars ( "Israel won, Arabs lost"). There is much more and louder kicking and screaming to come. I hope it will be countered with a stronger force.

It will be a battle. Obama has to tell Israeli's what they don't want to hear or believe anymore, what they elect their own leaders not to tell them ( until they leave office or have tried everything else).

In the end both peoples have to approve what is agreed upon (even if we can come to that) in referendums. This is where I think you will see Palestinians approving and Israeli's rejecting the plan. I hope I get to be wrong.

Obama must know that eyes are on him to be forceful. I hope he knows the level of force and cleverness needed to counter all of that resistance. There is also plenty of advice around not to wait (when he might be more comfortable politically).

Y. Ben-David said...

You claim that Eisenhower succeeded in imposing a solution on the two sides. WRONG. He did not impose peace on the two sides. He imposed a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. All this did was put the top on the pressure cooker which exploded with more violence ten years later, with the Six-Day War. Eisenhower himself admitted he made a mistake by not insisting that the Egyptians agree to a peace treaty.

In any event, the Palestinians will never agree to a peace on the terms which YOU want (the solution "everyone knows the terms of"). Olmert already pretty much offered them this and they rejected it. The US has NO WAY of forcing the Palestinians to compromise. He can't threaten to cut aid, because the FATAH regime will warn that this will simply strengthen HAMAS and bring them to power in the West Bank as well as Gaza. The US has NO leverage to press the Arabs to agree to anything like what you want.

And by the way...who is going to represent the Palestinian side? FATAH? HAMAS? Some amalgamation of both? Of course, you seem to view this as some sort of minor detail.

Anonymous said...

The central task must be the path to Palestinian respectability.

Without a respectable Palestinian civil society, it is bad to sit down to talk with lightweight Palestinian leaders.

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