Thursday, July 17, 2008

The US, Israel and the phony road to peace

19 August, 2007

One may forgive the Bush Administration for failing to recognize that there is zero possibility of Israel and the Palestinians entering serious negotiations any time soon. But how explain the Israel government’s participation towards this goal?

Long before Hamas did its land grab in Gaza and seceded from the PA, infighting within the governing Fateh party made even the control of territories under their control shaky at best. Responding to the primary condition of the Bush Roadmap, Abbas long insisted he had neither the political nor popular support to reign in Hamas terror. What possibility then that he could deliver the political unity and support needed to engage in talks leading to peace with Israel and statehood for Palestine? But that was yesterday. Today, now that there are two competing Palestinian governments each claiming to represent roughly half the total population; with whom should Israel negotiate, the more unified and stable Hamas, or the chronically fragmented and unpopular Fateh?

Even before Bush insisted a year ago that Israel and Abbas overcome their fears that popular and democratic elections in the Territories would result in a Hamas win; peace talks were already at a standstill with little hope for the future. Palestinian politicians were unable to even agree to terms of peace among themselves; how expect them to agree to terms of peace with the outside enemy, Israel? Palestine today is generations away from achieving the internal stability necessary to even think of a unifying policy towards Israel. And until that minimal governmental threshold is achieved there is no point in expecting them to be “credible partners in peace.”

So how explain the familiar, but always new-sounding slogans of commitment to the Road Map, to Palestinian Independence, to Peace? The motives of the Bush Administration are fairly transparent. This presidency has demonstrated total incompetence and amateurism in the area of war and diplomacy. It hungers for at least one “victory” to point to as it leaves office. It clings to that last straw of hope. But whatever this presidency touches turns out opposite to the anticipated. The Bush “faith-based” push for “democracy” and “justice” in the Middle East has left in its wake nothing but political and social chaos, Muslim extremism at every turn.

By invading Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush removed the distraction of two long-time enemies of Iran, thereby allowing the Islamic Republic to concentrate on other matters, other ambitions. Thanks to Bush Iran was now in a position to pursue its hegemonic ambitions in the region, emboldened to pursue a nuclear potential giving credibility to those claims. It could now threaten its regional neighbors Israel and the Arabian Peninsula, openly challenge America’s presence in Iraq, support indigenous and foreign elements at war with the invaders and each other inside Iraq, and elsewhere.

With this long and consistent trail of failure it is no wonder that Bush would be willing to take one last throw of the dice in the forlorn hope of at least a single diplomatic success. But Palestine-Israel, Mr. President, is just another presidential pipedream.

And Israel. Surely after six decades Israeli politicians have enough experience to know the illusion for what it is. So what purpose Palestine as “peace partner?” Can it be that dealing with the fleeting chimera of negotiations on this front frees her politicians of the responsibility of defying the pie-in-the-sky American administration and taking on the responsibility of possibly substantive negotiations with its far more important and likely peace partner in Syria? Certainly the costs of that peace, the return of Golan, have already been agreed to by successive Israeli governments.

As rumors of war increase along Israel’s northern frontier, would anything act as effectively to calm those fears than for the two states to sit down at the negotiating table to iron out what are described as relatively few and minor details to agreements already achieved between the adversaries over the years? Not only might this result in removing a perennial threat to Israel’s northern border but the agreements would also address other, and more regional issues such as Iran. All Israeli intelligence seems to agree that Syria is threatened by its dependency on that aggressive, but only ally, that it would welcome a way to extricate itself from the Iranian grip. Peace between Syria and Israel holds the potential of pushing Iranian influence back to the international boundary, distant both from Israel, and as a threat to the Arabian Peninsula from the north.

Peace with Syria holds the promise also of breakthrough to what has been called the Saudi Initiative, the opening to peace and integration into the Middle East which has been the elusive strategic goal of Israel since 1949.

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