Friday, October 16, 2009

The Window of Opportunity is Now Closed and Locked Down: Passing Goldstone Resolution Marks End of Peace Process Era

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By Barry Rubin

The UN Human Rights Council has now endorsed the Goldstone Report. There are important implications to this decision that make it a turning point.

It means the first make or break test for Obama's foreign policy. There is no easy way out. The president must either block a disastrous UN resolution through effective diplomacy in the UN corridors, accept a bad resolution in order to avoid a confrontation, or veto such a resolution an accept the price in unpopularity. Oh, and it also marks the end of the peace process era that began in 1993, showing both sides why they don't want a compromise deal.

Of course, it says a great deal about the nature of international affairs nowadays. What does it say about the UN that it condemns Israel but says not a word and does not a deed against Hamas, which is guilty of aggression, terrorism, seizure of power by force, calls for genocide, antisemitism, indoctrination of children to become suicide bombers, oppression of women, systematic use of civilians as human shields, and a range of war crimes.

Trying to present the Goldstone report in a more favorable light, Western media overstated its “evenhandedness,” playing up a few mentions of Hamas to pretend that both sides in the conflict were condemned. The UNRC drops this pretense and only speaks of Israel, totally removing the factors that forced a reluctant Israel to launch an operation on the Gaza Strip.

This is not merely another of the many ritual condemnations of Israel but a demonization. Israel is now accused of massive war crimes on a remarkably flimsy basis. Of course it is all political but this is a step toward delegitimization. The Arabic-speaking, Muslim-majority, and left-wing governments that supported the resolution see this as a step not toward a compromise peace but an elimination of Israel altogether.

I am not saying that this is going to happen, or that the resolution will have any actual negative impact on Israel itself. Yet what is most important is that having tasted blood, these forces will not be interested in getting less. Why should they—including the Palestinian Authority—settle for a stable two-state solution when they believe they can get far more without giving up anything?

It is an accident but not a coincidence that the Palestinian Authority signed a unity agreement with Hamas in the same week that the resolution was passed. The two groups won’t actually cooperate but the document they reluctantly signed for reasons of organizational rivalry symbolizes the fact that their strategies, though not tactics, now coincide to a large degree.

This, then, is the first reason why the passage of this resolution is an important development. It marks not only the end of the peace process but the end of the peace process era. Arabic-speaking, Muslim-majority, and some states governed by left-wing governments (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua in Latin America and others) seek a one-state solution in which Israel no longer exists. It marks a return—in thinking but not in military practice—to the pre-1993 period where there is nothing to talk about.

The most important country that voted for passing the Goldstone resolution in the UNHRC, Russia, doesn’t think that way, nor does China. European states also do not support such a development. Loud sectors in intellectual life and media do, though these do not set policy. But the point is that these countries also won’t act to stop it. The many abstentions on the vote is symbolic of the fact that most Western democracies and countries that don’t support or directly endorse this campaign are, at best, bystanders, at worst, appeasers.

The second reason why this development is so important is what it tells about U.S. policy. Remember that the Obama Administration joined the UNHRC based on the explicit argument that it could moderate the radical-dominated group. This strategy has failed.

But so, on a larger-scale, is the concept that President Barack Obama’s “popularity offensive” in which he distanced himself from Israel, lavished devotion on the Palestinian cause, extolled the glories of Islam, and apologized for past U.S. policies would have some beneficial effect.

The policy has done worse than failing it has, predictably, backfired. The question is whether this will be recognized, much less reversed, by the Obama Administration.

But there’s more. The United States now faces additional tests.

Step 1: Can it stop the progress of this resolution and report into implementation through judicial decisions and sanctions against Israel or not? Certainly, the United States will work to water down the ensuing resolutions. To do so it will need to use leverage and even threats in order to succeed. A “nice guy” strategy could fail miserably here.

Step 2: The next possible failure would be if the U.S. government accepted a resolution which was somewhat watered down but still too extreme. In other words, it would buy off immediate trouble in exchange for longer-term woes.

Step 3: If the resolution is still too far-out, the Administration may have to veto it. (European states know they can afford to be cowardly and leave it to America to stop the madness.)

If the United States does veto the resolution, it will have to brave condemnation and unpopularity. Does Obama have the guts for this?

[There is also another alternative being mentioned, to pass an anti-Israel General Assembly resolution if the United States vetoes one in the Security Council.]

Finally, there is the lesson for Israel. Let’s cut away all the obvious points about relying on itself, mistrusting the world, and so on. There is one item of overriding importance:

Israel knows that if it yields territory and is attacked from that territory, no matter how great the provocation, it cannot depend on international support but can rather know it will face international condemnation.

What does this say about a two-state solution? Israel pulls out of the West Bank, a Palestinian state is created (either on the West Bank or that plus the Gaza Strip), that state either attacks Israel or allows (and encourages) terrorists to do so across the border.

Israel has no response to defend itself that isn’t highly costly.

Bottom line: No Israeli government will make such a deal; the Israeli people will not support such a deal.

Along with myriad other reasons, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas can now argue persuasively that they enjoy broad international support for wiping out Israel altogether. They have no incentive--since both are indifferent to the welfare of their people--to make any compromise peace.

Good-bye hope for peace. I now declare the window of opportunity that had seemed to open in the late 1980s, which met and failed the test of the Oslo process, and yet which continues to inspire false hope for many people to be fully and officially closed.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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