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Middle East inertia the product of Palestinian intransigence, U.S. naivete

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–An American friend shows his concern for Palestinians with several  questions that deserve answers:

1. Why is there not much support, or any, for a Palestinian State composed only of territory on the West Bank? Wouldn’t it be better to take that incremental step and deal with Gaza (Hamas) later?

2. The Gaza Campaign succeeded in sharply reducing the number of rockets fired into Israel by Palestinian terrorists. What in the minds of Israelis is the blockade
supposed to achieve? If the Israeli soldier is released, will the blockade be lifted?

The answers to the first set of questions appear throughout my earlier columns. Essentially, they can be boiled down to lack of confidence. At Camp David in 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak alongside President Bill Clinton made a decent offer to Yassir Arafat that Arafat rejected as insufficient, and proceeded to several years of violence. During conversations between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, Olmert offered pretty much the same, or even more, and was rejected. Later, at a PLO convention in Bethlehem, the delegates endorsed demands that no conceivable Israeli government could accept.

Why bother?

Now the problem has been confused even more, thanks to the Obama initiative that featured a total freeze on Israeli settlements, including post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem. That was ratcheted down by the Israeli government with the partial acceptance of the White House, but by then the Palestinians had added a new item  to their demands, again beyond what any conceivable Israeli government could accept.

Would Israel lift its blockade on Gaza if the prisoner is released?

We’ll see when the prisoner is released. So far there is no indication other than occasional rumors that a deal is near, or conceivable.

The basic question is not only why bother with negotiations involving the Palestinians when they are stuck in their excessive demands and show no signs–apparent to the public–that they are inclined to concessions. Another question is why bother taking an American administration seriously that seems stuck with unrealistic aspirations of engagement that make things worse rather than point the way to success. The illustrations come not only from American aspirations for Israel and Palestine, but American aspirations for Iran.

It is hard to fault the President’s speech at Oslo. By his own words, he did not deserve a Nobel Prize for Peace due to his lack of accomplishments, and perhaps due to his continued involvement and even escalation in warfare. Yet his rhetoric did not fail him. There is evil in the world, and the United States continues to fight against it. It also aspires to peace.

The fair questions are: have naive efforts to engage Israel and Palestine, and the Iranians, set things back? Have they pushed the almost hopeless task of Israelis concerned with an accord involving Palestine even further from realization? And have they let an Iranian program to acquire nuclear weapons progress further without a convincing threat of intervention either from meaningful sanctions or something more decisive?

Centrist Israeli commentators have referred to Palestinian politics as a comic opera populated by clowns. They have not employed that kind of terminology for ranking Americans, but the term “childish” has surfaced.

Just as policy toward Gaza is on hold pending developments, so is the issue of negotiating with Palestinians. Meanwhile, a relatively quiet West Bank is developing economically at an impressive rate. The Gazans are not starving or suffering from medical care that falls below what is usually associated with places at their level of economic capacity and religious fervor.

Israeli politicians are demonstrating appropriate respect for American and other efforts to bring about peace in the region, and to assure an Iran without nuclear weapons. Israeli commentators are inclined toward the skeptical and cynical, but not noticeably more than their colleagues elsewhere.

Happy Hanukah

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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