Washington, DC -The Thesis: The Second Coming will arrive before peace in the Middle East. The Corollary: Nobody ever lost money betting against peace.
For close to a generation, ever since the historic Begin-Sadat agreements leading to peace with Egypt and the Rabin-Hussein accords and the peace with Jordan, the peace process has been frozen. It has not been for lack of trying and, indeed, following the 1994 Oslo peace accord, the ‘90s saw enormous efforts by the most skilled diplomatic professionals to bridge differences between Israelis-Palestinians-Syrians and other Middle East actors. At times President Clinton almost assumed the role of State Department’s Middle East action officer and seemed to meet the principal players more often than any other foreign officials.
But to no avail. In fact, however, the parameters for a solution are reasonably well known. The “two state” agreement would have Israel withdrawing far-flung settlements from the West Bank while retaining the large settlements near the border. Palestinians would be compensated by transfers of land from Israel’s current territory. Palestinians (and other Arab states) would recognize Israel as a legitimate, Jewish state; Palestine would be essentially demilitarized. A selected number of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 War might be financially compensated for losses.
These conditions have proved unacceptable; essentially, neither side has been willing to make the hard compromises necessary to implement them. And Arabs are all-too-well-aware that Sadat’s assassination was a consequence of his agreement with Israel. And with Arafat’s death coupled with the rise of a terrorist regime in Gaza, Israel lacks a valid interlocutor. So we are enduring an interregnum while awaiting fresh opportunity for effective peace efforts.
Unable to find a military or diplomatic mechanism to counter Israel, Palestinians have turned to international publicity. They have effectively cast themselves as the victims of Israeli oppression and, aided/abetted by persistent anti-Semitism, orchestrated international campaigns for “boycott, divestment, sanction,” put Israel on the defensive in the United Nations and many western states.
Bluntly, memories of the Holocaust among liberals have substantially evaporated. They are tales by fathers (or grandfathers) and special privilege/support for Israel needs root-and-branch re-examination. These critics blow past the reality that Israel is the only state in the region that is democratic, free market, respects the rule of law, observes human rights, and protects religious freedom, women, and LGBT rights. Israel survives in a tough neighborhood, knowing it can only lose one war while its enemies can try-try-again.
In this circumstance, one U.S. role has been to assure Israeli military superiority with massive arms sales. Another, however, is to prevent hostile UN majorities from placing Israel at a psychological disadvantage by stymieing invidious resolutions with Security Council vetoes.
Such was USG policy until 22 December when the USG declined to veto a UN resolution comprehensively condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. This unprecedented action was followed by an extended speech on 28 December by Secretary of State John Kerry excoriating Israeli recalcitrance in general and settlement policy in particular.
The U.S. action and Kerry’s more-in-sadness-than-anger speech reflects multiple rationales. Bluntly, the Obama administration has no further political need for American Jewish votes or campaign contributions. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not particularly loveable to the Obama administration. There is no Obama-Netanyahu “bromance.” With “never again” engraved in his DNA, Netanyahu seeks 100 percent security for Israel. Unfortunately, the end-of-regime Obama action has the whiff of anti-Semitism as well as personal pique, unrelieved by Kerry’s defensive, extended rationale for US action.
Ultimately, however, current elements of the frozen peace efforts may be about to change dramatically. The “two state” solution appears to have run out its potential: logical but unacceptable to the participants on the ground. An adjunct is the longstanding decision not to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (the official capital of Israel) until the sides reach a peace agreement.
With a new American administration, players the old verities are in question— and are about to undergo possibly dramatic change.