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The Road to Nowhere

This piece appears as an op-ed in today's International Herald Tribune

This is one of those times of maximum mismatch between the optimistic rhetoric of peace process declarations and expectations and the gloomy reality of daily experience and prospects on the ground.

The Annapolis architect, President George W. Bush, is back in the Middle East, still declaring the worthy goal of peace in '08. But the fundamentally flawed logic of the process initiated last year is increasingly transparent.

The economic, social and health conditions of Gazans collapse further as the siege continues; rockets fall on southern Israel; settlements keep growing, and, not surprisingly, Palestinians and Israelis scoff at the peace merry-go-round.

The centerpiece of the current effort is to conclude negotiations outlining a two-state agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

The first thing to say is that this is unlikely to happen. Israel's key negotiators, Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, have traveled an impressive distance in their own personal political journeys towards acceptance of the two-state paradigm.

Yet their positions still fall short of a 100 percent arrangement on pre-1967 territory (even with land swaps) that will be necessary to strike a workable deal.

Olmert faces new and potentially tenure-threatening police investigations; Israel's governing coalition is shaky and the United States is not inclined to assertively carry its Israeli ally over the finishing line.

Likewise the Palestinian interlocutor not only faces an "opposition" which actually won a substantial majority of parliamentary seats in elections but is also increasingly isolated within its own Fatah movement. These divisions create the worst conditions for a Palestinian leader to sign off on an historic compromise.

Making matters worse is the shared assumption that any agreement reached will not be implemented in the foreseeable future.

Israel, with American support, has made clear that the Palestinians must meet all their Road Map obligations before two states can become a reality. Expect that message to feature prominently in any domestic Israeli marketing of a deal. Abbas knows this; another reason for his lack of enthusiasm to sign on.

And if signatures are attached to a piece of paper and nothing changes in the real lives or security of Israelis or Palestinians, then the belief of both publics in the peace option is likely to erode even further. Hope, or the mere promise of a better future, is no longer enough. Israelis and Palestinians have been there before. It is a tarnished currency.

That is why the logic of Annapolis - that an agreement on paper creates the conditions for its own implementation - is so flawed.

Israel could, but has chosen not to, take effective measures to enhance Fatah's standing (on checkpoints, settlements and transferring security responsibility).

Fatah could, but has chosen not to, work with Hamas to unify, strengthen and re-capacitate the Palestinian national movement as a partner to achieve de-occupation and deliver security predictability.

So both sides play along with this artificial Annapolis process. The American sponsor, mistaking fiction for reality, urges them to seal the deal.

A respected Palestinian analyst, Hussein Agha, commented to me recently that "Israel cannot make peace with Abbas for one simple reason - Israel is not at war with Abbas." The Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have declared themselves to be partners, not adversaries.

The Palestinian Authority security forces under Abbas's authority present no military threat to Israel; rather they operate according to limitations (geographic, hours of deployment, etc.) defined by Israel. The Fatah-affiliated militias that do continue to target Israel and Israelis do so against the instructions of Abbas - a fact recognized by Israel.

Abbas can vanquish neither these forces nor Hamas (and neither can the Israeli Defense Forces). The Israeli army operating in the West Bank provides security to Israelis, primarily settlers, but also to the PA regime, thereby sustaining it in power.

Abbas's repudiation of violence is courageous, and his determination to pursue negotiations even while settlements expand and checkpoints flourish is sincere, even touching.

All this might be laudable, but it renders the existing peace talks almost inconsequential. For while hostilities have ceased between the PA and Israel and peace papers are drafted, the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis continues.

The two peoples are locked in an adversarial relationship involving much violence, occupation and anger. This is not reflected in the dealings between their leaders.

Israel can no more end the violence by making a deal with Abbas than the United States can end the hostilities in Afghanistan by reaching an agreement with President Hamid Karzai.

And that is why what we have now is a make-believe process.

It doesn't have to be this way. Options do exist for making this process more meaningful and capable of delivering results: engaging, even indirectly, with Hamas; addressing the external actors, such as Iran and Syria, which are helping to shape the environment in which Hamas and others operate; facilitating a renewed Palestinian unity understanding whereby Abbas as a negotiator would also be representing that broader Palestinian adversary.

These options are not on the agenda. They should be. For as it currently stands, the Annapolis process is a chimera, and one likely to do more harm than good.


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Comments (1)

David Sheegog:

Daniel, your last three posts have all been noteworthy for differrent reasons and I will attempt a commentary that touches on them all. Your essay on how you found your way to Israel, "aliyah", as you call it, and your sense of the "abnormality" of Israel's 'stateness' ("it is 3am all the time and that bloody red phone never stops ringing. Welcome to Israel...") which seems to be a significant part of the collective unconscious of the people, is valuable to a גוי like me to understand more of Israeli politics and intellectual discourse. I've been surprised to read, on this 60th anniversary, a number of commentaries that are like yours - so much despair, mixed with requisite optimism about Israel's future. Mostly, I enjoyed your openness and intimacy with your readers as you relate your youthful optimistic beginnings as immigrant.

I appreciate your defense of Robert Malley in the 'Hamas Banana Skin' post - a better commentary than anything else I've seen on the controversy - particularly your sardonic "That is called expertise..." in reference to Malley's experence in ME affairs.

Your IHT piece obviously was written/submitted before President Bush made his speech to the Knesset else you would have had something to say about Bush's obvious omission of all the US negotations with Khruschev after he pulled his shoe off at the UN, pounded his desk and accused his accuser of being "a lackey of imperialism", then later his 'we will bury you' in reference to US capitalism. Frankly, I've never been so embarrassed by an American leader as Bush's appearance in the Knesset this week. ds

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Daniel Levy


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 15, 2008 11:39 AM.

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