Monday, November 2, 2009

And Now the Truth Becomes Clear: Hilary Clinton Announces that the Palestinians are the Obstacles to Peace

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By Barry Rubin

Yesterday I discussed the significance of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s praise for Israel’s policy during her trip to Jerusalem, saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had offered unprecedented concessions to get peace talks started again.

We don’t know what the plan is though there are hints that Israel agreed to stop all construction on the West Bank once the 3,000 apartment units now being constructed were completed and that this freeze would not apply to construction in east Jerusalem. This is indeed a major concession on Netanyahu’s part and once again puts the lie to the claim that he is inflexible or hard line (though no doubt we will still daily see this in media coverage).

This visit, however, also may be a major turning point in both U.S. policy and public perceptions of the problem regarding the peace process.

At the center of this stands the Number One Paradox of the issue, in some ways of all Middle Eastern politics: Why is it that although the Palestinians complain that they are suffering from a horrible occupation and not having a state of their own they are not in any hurry to make a peace agreement, end the “occupation,” and get a state.

The main answer is that the dominant Palestinian view is still the desire to win a total victory and wipe Israel off the map. The back-up stance is that any peace agreement must not block the continued pursuit of that goal. And the back-up position to that is to reject strong security guarantees, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, an unmilitarized Palestinian state, settlement of Palestinian refugees in Palestine, territorial compromise or exchanges, and indeed any concession whatsoever.

There are two implications of this:

--The Palestinians are at fault for the failure to achieve peace.

--There isn’t going to be any Israel-Palestinian peace in the near- or even medium-term future.

If you understand the preceding 176 words then you understand the issue comprehensively.

The president of the United States has said that he wants talks resumed immediately and believes it possible to make a breakthrough. The Palestinian leadership is thwarting him on both points. In other words, they are responsible for the failure of a major U.S. policy.

Following Clinton’s visit, Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders have restated their refusal even to talk with Israel. They also claim that Netanyahu is refusing to discuss some issues in the talks, though the Israeli prime minister has simply not made such statements. In fact, as the Washington Post reported, November 1:

“The Palestinian position, if anything, appears to have hardened in recent days, leaving Israel to portray itself as the more willing partner.”

Well, Israel is the more willing partner, isn’t it? That’s the point that breaks the apparent paradox of suffering Palestinians yearning for peace but being thwarted by Israeli intransigence.

One point in the Post article, however, is just flat wrong:

“Israel promised to halt settlements under previous international agreements, and Palestinian officials say they want those promises fulfilled.”

In fact, at the time it signed the original peace process agreement—often called the Oslo accord—in 1993, that’s 16 years ago—Israel put forward its interpretation of the agreement. It said that there would be no new Jewish settlements and no geographical expansion of existing settlements. But Israel made it clear that it would continue to build apartments on existing settlements. That position was not challenged by the Palestinians at the time and it has never held up talks before now.

Indeed, another Washington Post article of November 1, this one by Howard Schneider, pointed out—though only indirectly—why things got even worse:

“However, Obama's election raised expectations among Palestinians and throughout the Arab states that the peace process would yield quicker results from an administration willing to openly criticize Israel and, it seemed, elevate Palestinian interests.”

More than that, it was the Obama Administration which called for a total freeze, distances itself from Israel, and took other steps leading the PA and Arab states to believe that by being intransigent they could get Washington to deliver Israel on their own terms. In other words, while everyone is being too polite to say so, the Obama Administration was responsible for the situation deteriorating.

Here's how Netanyahu put it in his joint press conference with Clinton:

"The simple fact is this: We are willing to engage in peace talks immediately without pre-conditions. The other fact is that unfortunately the other side is not. It is asking and piling on pre-conditions that it never put on in the sixteen years that we've had the peace process since the enunciation of the Oslo Accords. There have not been these pre-conditions. It's a change of Palestinian policy...."

Now both Egypt and Jordan have come out in support of the PA position, also setting themselves on a collision course with Washington, that there should be no talks at all until all construction on settlements stops without exception, including anything now being completed and all building in east Jerusalem. There is no chance Israel is going to agree to that; there is no chance the Obama Administration will demand it.

And so we have come to the point where it is becoming clear even to those who have been ruled by wishful thinking that there is not going to be any peace and that the Palestinian-Arab side is responsible for this situation.

It is quite probable--and this is extremely important to understand--that there is nothing the Obama Administration can say or do in order to make them change their mind. After all, this is the ideal position from the standpoint of the PA, Egypt, Jordan, and others. Refuse to support talks, reap benefits by showing their militancy, and be able to blame it on Israel.

After all his efforts and alleged popularity, Obama has absolutely zero credit and no leverage in the Arabic-speaking world.

How is this going to affect Obama Administration policy and thinking?

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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