N o H a p p y E n d Ye t A g a i n Jay PINHO
PHOTO: PETE SOUZA/WIKICOMMONS/CC
President Barack Obama with Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2009
n the seemingly interminable IsraeliPalestinian conflict, it is helpful to take almost nothing at face value. In his speech at the United Nations on September 23, 2010, for example, United States President Barack Obama stated, “When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.” Almost exactly a year later, Obama stood at the same podium in New York and, explaining his intention to veto the upcoming Palestinian request for national recognition by the UN, declared, “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.” What had changed in the intervening year to account for such wildly opposing statements? For one, presidential election politics. But Obama’s sharp transformation from dove to hawk signaled far more concerning realities than the relative banality of election-period jockeying. It reflected, too, the underlying unease in both Jerusalem and Washington, D.C. with the uncertain progression of the Arab Spring. Especially following the rapid demise of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose regime was one of only two in the Arab world to ratify a peace
treaty with Israel, the prevailing prognosis for the region’s immediate future has been nothing short of apocalyptic.
And as often happens under such selfconceived nightmare scenarios, rationality has taken a back seat to demagoguery. Hence, in a remarkable public rebuke of Obama at the White House on May 20, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu flatly declared that “while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines… we can't go back to those indefensible lines, and we're going to have to have a longterm military presence along the Jordan.” And yet, just over two months later, on August 2, UPI reported that Netanyahu would “resume peace talks based on [Israel’s] 1967 borders if the Palestinian Authority stops seeking U.N. Palestinian state recognition.” Once again, the only constant was utter inconsistency. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, has returned to Ramallah a Palestinian hero, even as his mostly symbolic quest for nationhood remains unattainable. Presiding over a fractured portion of the Occupied Territories, Abbas’ perceived position as spokesman for a future Palestinian state is as much a product of Western distaste for Hamas as it is of his own influence over a divided people. And yet there is a certain maddening logic to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse that, thanks to missed opportunities and the inexorable passage of time, has imposed itself on the conflict in the form of an accepted conventional wisdom. This orthodoxy is centered on timing – it would be a perfect moment to negotiate peace, we are so often told, except for one
or another element of unfortunate timing: former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert appearing ready to concede a fairly generous deal to Palestinians just as he was being investigated for corruption; the waning days of George W. Bush’s administration when the then American President was too weak domestically to pursue a major foreign policy objective. And today, the same tired tropes are being refitted to address Abbas’ search for a unilateral solution. Problematically, many of the self-proclaimed experts on the Middle East benefit from its endless conflict: the absence of violence would leave a void even a seasoned pundit would have trouble filling, and the years of tension have spawned a virtual peace process-industrial complex whose perpetuity has edged out actual peace as its ultimate raison d’être. The overemphasis on the domestic policy obstacles of the states involved crowds out all other reflections on the genuine prospects for peace. And yet, for the most part, the factors affecting the region’s outlook are fairly constant. Any lasting peace deal must adjudicate the final status of Jerusalem, the right of return, and borders: fundamental issues, acknowledged for years, which will continue to exist until their resolution. Secondary matters (the composition of each government, the disposition of coalition partners, and so on), while important, will never collectively satisfy all the conditions for a perfect negotiating scenario anyway. In fact, Israel, which – with the aid of the U.S. – nearly always holds vast leverage, is perhaps more obliged to accede to generous concessions now, in the wake of new political realities in the Arab world generally and the uncertain status of its treaty with Egypt specifically. There are always reasons to wait until later. But a historic peace awaits the leaders of today, if only they would grasp it. Jay Pinho is a first year Master Student at PSIA, studying International Security. InFocus 9