Posted: November 11th, 2011 | Author: noam | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, binyamin netanyahu, dennis ross, ehud barak | Comments Off
Dennis Ross was the architect of a policy that centered on shielding the Israeli government from pressure while hoping that it would decide to end the occupation on their own. The result was an epic, two-decade long failure
Dennis Ross, president Obama’s top adviser on Israel-Palestine, is leaving the White House by December. Ross, a veteran diplomat who took part in the negotiations through the 90′s and until the failed talks between PM Barak and Arafat at the beginning of the previous decade, has let his decision be known in a lunch with Jewish leaders. This is not surprising: Ross has enjoyed good relations with Israeli and Jewish officials. Last night, when Ross’ departure was made public, Haaretz’s headline was “Netanyahu’s friend in the White House is leaving.”
Dennis Ross might have been valuable for the president in maintaining good relations with Israeli lobbyists in Washington and inside the Democratic Party, but his Middle East policies were a disaster. If a single man can be blamed for a two decades of failure, Ross is this person.
More than any neo-con, Ross can be identified with the way American administrations tried to broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians in the last twenty years: creating a space for an Israeli internal conversation and once consensus is reached, forcing the Palestinians to agree to the Israeli terms, usually through a combination of threats and bribes targeting the political elites (serving as “Israel’s lawyer,” a diplomat working under Ross in Camp David called it).
The outcome was the one any reasonable person could expect: Shielded from outside pressure, Israelis have continued to strengthen their hold over the West Bank, while the “vigorous internal debate” in “the only democracy in the region” reached nowhere. At the same time, the Palestinian leadership, being forced to make more and more concessions without getting anything in return, lost all credibility with its own people, giving rise to other forces, which weren’t seen as taking orders from abroad.
The hope that the Israeli political process would lead the government into leaving the West Bank has failed again and again. Left on their own, it was proved that Israeli leaders will always prefer not to spend their limited political capital on evacuating settlements. The only exceptions – the Oslo accord and the Gaza pullout – came after the first and second Intifadas. The tragic truth is that violence has been very effective in gaining Israeli concessions, while America’s one-sided diplomacy only bought Jerusalem more and more time to expand settlements and make the two-state solution impossible.
True to his bizarre version of peacemaking, in the last couple of years Ross has been busy defending the most extreme government Israel has known, led by a Prime Minister that publicly boasted about the way he manipulated and deceived Ross’ own bosses at the Clinton administration. Finally, the Palestinian side lost both patience and faith in President Obama and his administration, and turned to the international community instead. Palestinians I spoke to last month told me that the boost in Abbas’ popularity wasn’t because of the UN bid itself – Palestinians are smart enough to understand it would get them nowhere – but because he finally stood up to the United States. Nothing could be more telling.
At the same time, the Israeli opposition was forced to support the Netanyahu government line, because when it comes to the peace process, no mainstream Israeli leader would take a position that is further to the left than the American negotiator. Ross and his team pretty much guaranteed that there wouldn’t be an effective opposition to Netanyahu at home and no pressure from abroad. Given these conditions, seeing the Israeli position move further to the right – the government now opposes concessions offered by both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in previous rounds of negotiations – shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Ross is finally out – let’s hope that this time it’s for good – but his ideas are still popular in Washington, and even in some European capitals. It’s hard to believe, but there are still serious, well-meaning politicians and diplomats who think that left on their own, Israelis wil simply wake up one day and decide to end the occupation. It won’t happen. The next Israeli government could actually be worse than this one, as hard as it is to imagine. Even if Netanyahu is not elected again, there isn’t a serious political force, or a single political leader, who sees it as his or her mission to lead Israel out of the West Bank and there won’t be any mainstream party even running on this platform in the next election. The current trends could easily continue for another decade.
Hopefully, Ross’ departure will serve as an opportunity to examine the entire American and European approach to the conflict, to the Palestinians, and to the government in Jerusalem.
Posted: September 14th, 2010 | Author: noam | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: Bill Clinton, binyamin netnayhau, Gerry Adams, hamas, IRA, mahmud abbas, Niall O'Dowd, peace process, salaam fayad | 1 Comment »
The positive reports coming out of the Israeli-American-Palestinian summit in Sharm el Sheikh– like those which came from Washington a week earlier – shouldn’t surprise anyone. There is a strange dynamic to these talks: both sides present an optimistic smile to the world and a hawkish, pessimistic face at home.
As both recent polls and the relative indifference of the Hebrew media reveal, the Israeli public finds it hard to believe that these talks would actually lead to the establishing of a Palestinian state. Even more telling is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister hasn’t engaged yet in a real effort to prepare the Israeli public to what could be the nation’s most difficult moment in 62 years of independence.
But all this can change, and I guess that’s what keeps the US officials going. The process, they must believe, could influence public opinion and change the political trends. Maybe. The problem is that the US is only trying this approach with the Israelis who refuse compromise. Somehow, the same logic is never applied when the Palestinians are concerned.
While we are being told that a rightwing leader like Netanyahu, with an extreme government like the current one, actually stands a better chance to reach peace because he won’t have to deal with a meaningful opposition from his right flank, when it comes to the Palestinian society, the US will only deal with the equivalence of Meretz, if such an analogy could be made.
When the Israeli public elected again and again a rightwing leaders who never recognized the Palestinians’ right for independence (or for full civil rights within the state of Israel), the world was asked to respect the Israeli democracy and hope that with time, the political process and basic realities of the conflict would change these leaders’ views. To some degree, it’s actually happened. But when the Palestinians elected a political party which wouldn’t recognize Israel, the result of the elections was suspended – though their integrity was never questioned – and new ones weren’t held. No wonder that Hamas took power by force where it could, and than violently made both Jerusalem and Ramallah remember that they can’t ignore it.
Would the Likud have acted differently if it won the elections and was kept out of power through the intervention of foreign powers? The scenario is so hypothetical that it’s not even possible to answer such question. But let’s take it even further: what happens if under these conditions, the losing party – let’s say Labor – signs an agreement in which it is to evacuate settlements and give up East Jerusalem? I think that the only question is when violence will break, not if. The same goes for Hamas and the Palestinian society. Imagine what happens the day President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad give up the right of return, or accept the presence of Jewish settlements blocks.
If we are to be serious about these peace talks, it should be understood that there won’t be an agreement and there won’t be peace without Hamas. It’s something most Israelis and even Americans won’t like to hear, but from a Palestinian perspective, Hamas is no different from Likud. Not because it is an extreme movement, but because it’s a well rooted and legitimate political power, too large to be ignored.
I would have loved things to be different. I think Israel should have made a more generous deal with the PLO in the eighties or nineties, so it wouldn’t have to deal now with an Islamic party which has some very radical elements in it. But that’s water under the bridge. Hamas is here to stay, so better have it as part of the political process than as the worlds’ outcast.
Having Hamas won’t be easy. It might make a “final” agreement much harder to get, but the chances of such an agreement to actually work will be much higher.
Niall O’Dowd, the secret conduit between Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the White House in the years 92′-94′, wrote last week in the Huffington Post that an American willingness to talk to Hamas might be the out-of-the-box idea that could jump start a real process, much in the way that the Clinton Administration’s decision to grant Gerry Adams a US visa help convince the IRA to call for a complete ceasefire. I might add that it was a US decision to recognize the PLO in 1988 – when talks with the organizations’ officials were still illegal in Israel – that paved the way for the direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the nineties. It’s time for another such bold move.
Posted: August 2nd, 2010 | Author: noam | Filed under: In the News, The Right, the US and us | Tags: Aaron David Miller, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Bill Clinton, Camp David, dennis ross, ehud barak, peace process, Robert Malley | Comments Off
Last week, the Arab League authorized Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to engage in direct negotiations with Israel. Abbas is still refusing the talks, but estimates are it’s only a matter of weeks before negotiations will be launched. So it seems that the US administration finally got its first achievement: Palestinians and Israelis will be talking again.
In recent months, the US administration abandoned its initial policy, of applying pressure on the Israeli government, and instead put the heat on the Palestinians. Whether the change of course was taken due to the political price the president was paying at home for his public disagreements with the Israeli government or simply because those in the administration closer to Israel finally had the upper hand, the shift in the American policy remains unmistakable.
According to Palestinian sources, in a letter to president Abbas, the administration threatened that failure to resume negotiations will have “grave consequences” for American-Palestinian relations. On the other hand, if Abbas agreed, he was promised a Palestinian state “within a couple of years”.
I won’t go into why the Palestinians refused to negotiate with Netanyahu’s government to begin with (I addressed this issue here). What’s important is that unlike Israel, president Mahmoud Abbas has no leverage in Washington. He can’t disobey an American president in the way an Israeli PM can. If Washington and Jerusalem want direct negotiations, they are all but inevitable.
On the verge of a new round of talks, it’s important to look on the lessons of the past. the last time the Palestinians were forced to negotiate with Israel against their will was at Camp David. Back then, the Oslo agreements reached a dead end (a leaked video recently revealed PM Netanyahu boosting on how he managed to stop Oslo), hostility and mistrust were on the rise, and an Israeli leadership, with the help of an American administration eager for immediate success, tried to impose a final agreement. Just like today, at first the Clinton administration rejected the idea of a summit on the final agreement, but Prime Minister Ehud Barak was able to convince them that this was the only way to go.
In his important article on the failed 200o summit, Robert Malley, who was a member of the US team to the talks, analyzed the internal dynamic both on the Palestinian and on the Israeli sides coming to Camp David and during the negotiations. The similarities to the situation today are striking:
Barak’s team was convinced that the Israeli public would ratify an agreement with the Palestinians, even one that entailed far-reaching concessions, so long as it was final and brought quiet and normalcy to the country. But Barak and his associates also felt that the best way to bring the agreement before the Israeli public was to minimize any political friction along the way. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had paid a tremendous political (and physical) price by alienating the Israeli right wing and failing to bring its members along during the Oslo process. Barak was determined not to repeat that mistake.
Much in the same way, Netanyahu’s main concern today is to keep his government intact and the public behind him. He made it clear that he would not make any step that would put his coalition in danger.
Barak saw no reason to needlessly alienate the settler constituency. Moreover, insofar as new housing units were being established on land that Israel ultimately would annex under a permanent deal—at least any permanent deal Barak would sign—he saw no harm to the Palestinians in permitting such construction
In Barak’s mind, Arafat had to be made to understand that there was no “third way,” no “reversion to the interim approach,” but rather a corridor leading either to an agreement or to confrontation. Seeking to enlist the support of the US and European nations for this plan, he asked them to threaten Arafat with the consequences of his obstinacy: the blame would be laid on the Palestinians and relations with them would be downgraded. Likewise, and throughout Camp David, Barak repeatedly urged the US to avoid mention of any fall-back options or of the possibility of continued negotiations in the event the summit failed.
This logeic was interpreted by the Palestinians as an attempt to force on them accepting an agreement that they couldn’t swallow. I suggest reading the next part carefully (my italic):
behind almost all of Barak’s moves, Arafat believed he could discern the objective of either forcing him to swallow an unconscionable deal or mobilizing the world to isolate and weaken the Palestinians if they refused to yield. Barak’s stated view that the alternative to an agreement would be a situation far grimmer than the status quo created an atmosphere of pressure that only confirmed Arafat’s suspicions—and the greater the pressure, the more stubborn the belief among Palestinians that Barak was trying to dupe them.
On June 15, during his final meeting with Clinton before Camp David, Arafat set forth his case: Barak had not implemented prior agreements, there had been no progress in the negotiations, and the prime minister was holding all the cards. The only conceivable outcome of going to a summit, he told Secretary Albright, was to have everything explode in the President’s face. If there is no summit, at least there will still be hope. The summit is our last card, Arafat said—do you really want to burn it? In the end, Arafat went to Camp David, for not to do so would have been to incur America’s anger; but he went intent more on surviving than on benefiting from it.
As for the US, what damaged its role as a mediator more than anything was an exaggerated understanding to the Israelis’ political concerns at home.
As the broker of the agreement, the President was expected to present a final deal that Arafat could not refuse. Indeed, that notion was the premise of Barak’s attraction to a summit. But the United States’ ability to play the part was hamstrung by two of its other roles. First, America’s political and cultural affinity with Israel translated into an acute sensitivity to Israeli domestic concerns and an exaggerated appreciation of Israel’s substantive moves. American officials initially were taken aback when Barak indicated he could accept a division of the Old City or Palestinian sovereignty over many of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods—a reaction that reflected less an assessment of what a “fair solution” ought to be than a sense of what the Israeli public could stomach. The US team often pondered whether Barak could sell a given proposal to his people, including some he himself had made. The question rarely, if ever, was asked about Arafat.
A second constraint on the US derived from its strategic relationship with Israel. One consequence of this was the “no-surprise rule,” an American commitment, if not to clear, at least to share in advance, each of its ideas with Israel. (…) the “no-surprise rule” held a few surprises of its own. In a curious, boomerang-like effect, it helped convince the Palestinians that any US idea, no matter how forthcoming, was an Israeli one, and therefore both immediately suspect and eminently negotiable.
Ehud Barak was warned by the Israeli intelligence that failure in Camp David would end in another round of violence, yet he chose to try and impose on the Palestinians the final agreement he wanted to have. The US Administration had its issues with this approach, but it decided to back Barak. Dennis Ross, the US special envoy to the Middle East at the time, played a key role in this decision. Later, Ross had a major part in creating the American tendency to back the Israeli side and ignore the Palestinians during the negotiations. Aaron David Miller, who was on Ross’ team, accused him of leading the US to act as “Israel’s lawyer“. This policy had resulted in disastrous consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Barak and Netanyahu, The Israeli hawks that rejected the Oslo accord, are in power again, and Dennis Ross is again advocating pressure on the Palestinians so that they would agree to an agreement the Israeli public would have no troubles with.
The frightening part is that nothing really changed in the Israeli-American position since the year 2000. Israel still refuses land exchange that would leave the Palestinians with a territory equal to the occupied land of 1967 (according to Mr. Malley’s account that was a major part of the reason negotiations broke in Camp David). If anything, it seems that the current Netanyahu-Barak government is willing to fewer concessions then those of the Barak’s 1999-2001 government. Just like in the 90′s, Netanyahu is still refusing to evacuate the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem. The only difference is that now he is willing to call the remaining territory “a Palestinian state”.
The year 2000 was not that long ago, and I remember well the failure of Camp David. Back then, no one imagined how bad the second Intifada would be for both sides, just as it’s hard to imagine what a new round of violence might bring. I hope the Obama administration, whose motives I don’t doubt, would look deep into those lessons, and avoid taking the same path.
Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: noam | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Settlements | Tags: Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Bill Clinton, clinton parameters, Gaza, gush ezion, Hebron, mondoweiss, peace process, refugees, settlements | 8 Comments »
The New York Times and the Washington Post reported last week that the Obama administration is considering presenting its own peace plan sometime in the near future, possibly around the fall. Israel has made it clear it would oppose such a plan, and the current government is insisting that an agreement can be reached only through direct talks between the two parties.
Thought some US officials sort of backed down from the idea, claiming that the US “would not impose a solution“, I agree with those thinking that the leak to the WP and the NYT was a test balloon, aimed to show Israel what will happen if it would not commit to the peace process or if it would consider ending the limited settlement moratorium Netanyahu has declared.
Zbigniew Brzezinski and Stephen Solarz repeated the idea on a Washington Post op-ed this weekend.
This goes for the Israeli side. Alex Kane summed up on Mondoweiss the case against an imposed plan from a Pro-Palestinian perspective. According to Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera English’s senior political analyst, the administration’s plan would follow the “Clinton Parameters” from the failed Camp David summit. These include:
Sharing of Jerusalem; no right of return for the Palestinians; a return to the 1967 borders with mutual adjustments to allow Israel to annex big settlement blocks; and a demilitarized Palestinian state.
Kane argues that:
the terms presented above wouldn’t be “fair or just,” because they would relinquish the “right of return” for Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Nakba, a right “enshrined in international law and international humanitarian law, and isn’t for Obama to deny, nor even for Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO chairman, to give away.”
And a demilitarized Palestinian state? With Israel keeping a presence “in fixed locations in the Jordan Valley under the authority of the International force for another 36 months” and having Israeli “early warning stations” inside the West Bank (as the “Clinton Parameters” state)? That doesn’t sound like an end to the occupation.
I assume the Clinton Parameters would serve as a starting point for negotiations on an actual agreement (that what was supposed to happen in Camp David), but even if they were to be implemented as they are, I think opposing them would be a grave mistake, and a move that would play right into the hands of those who wish to prolong Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza.
Let’s start with the issue of refugees. This, and not Jerusalem, is the biggest problem in any future settlement. According to UNRWA, There are around 1.7 million registered refugees in the PA territory, and around 3 million registered refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. There are probably between several hundred thousands to several millions unregistered refugees living in other countries, mostly in the West.
Israeli Jews, from the far left to the right, are opposing any return of Palestinians to the state of Israel. The only Jewish MK to ever speak in favor of a return was Dov Khenin from Hadash, and even he meant a limited return of several hundred thousand people at maximum. Hadash, it should be noted, got around 0.5 percent of the Jewish vote in the last elections.
Naturally, the international community doesn’t need to accept whatever the Israeli public do or say, but it should be understood that while there is a political base in Israel for ending the occupation, a return of refugees would have to be imposed on the entire system. Even if there was a way to do it, this would mean prolonging the occupation in years, probably even decades.
Furthermore, I don’t understand how this return should look like. Most of the Arab villages are gone, and in many cases, Israeli towns and neighborhoods were built in their place. Would a solution to the problem include the expulsion of millions of Jews, many of them refugees from Arab and European countries themselves? As you can see, this is getting very complicated, both politically and a morally. It is not enough to say that the refugees must return. One should explain what is it exactly that he means by ‘return’. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: December 5th, 2009 | Author: noam | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, peace process, settlements, Yitzhak Shamir | Comments Off
Former US president, Bill Clinton, thinks there is a chance for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians this year. This is from his interview at Foreign Policy:
“I think that the long-term trend lines are bad for both sides that have the capacity to make a deal. Right now, Hamas is kind of discredited after the Gaza operation, and yet [the Palestinian Authority] is clearly increasing [its] capacity. They are in good shape right now, but if they are not able to deliver sustained economic and political advances, that’s not good for them. The long-term trends for the Israelis are even more stark, because they will soon enough not be a majority. Then they will have to decide at that point whether they will continue to be a democracy and no longer be a Jewish state, or continue to be a Jewish state and no longer be a democracy. That’s the great spur.”
What’s even more interesting is the reason Clinton is giving for why there might not be a peace agreament after all:
“I think one of the surprising things that might happen this year  is you might get a substantial agreement. Nobody believes this will happen, and it probably won’t, because of the political complexity of the Israeli government.”
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: August 26th, 2009 | Author: noam | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: Barak Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Bill Clinton, george mitchell, peace process, settlements | Comments Off
There are signs in the last couple of days that the diplomatic pre-game is about to end, and that we are heading for a renewal of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu has met with US envoy George Mitchell today, and although there is no agreement on the settlements freeze the administration demanded (maybe it’s even for the best), there are indications that the Israeli PM understands that if he won’t engage in some sort of meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians, he will end up with a “take it or leave it” American offer on his table, possibly as early as October. Since such a plan would put Netanyahu in a tough corner – he will have to choose between saying yes and losing his coalition to saying no and losing all credibility with Europe and the administration – he probably prefers to deal with Mahmud Abbas personally.
There are also other signals hinting that Netanyahu is willing to take some steps forward. In response to his deputy Moshe Yaalon’s nationalistic statements last week, Netanyahu has reaffirmed his commitment to the two state solution. As Akiva Eldar reported in Haaretz, his aids have even pointed out to foreign diplomats that in his recent remarks, Netanyahu didn’t demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State, as he did previously. There is even some nervousness in the right wing regarding Netanyahu’s plans. I guess that they are sensing something.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: June 10th, 2009 | Author: noam | Filed under: The Right | Tags: abu mazen, arab rejectionism, Bill Clinton, Camp David, ehud barak, Gaza, palestinians, phased plan, phased strategy, Yasser Arafat | 6 Comments »
Whenever the prospect of renewed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians remerges, those who oppose the peace process bring up again the famous “Phased Plan” or the “Phased Strategy” argument.
At the base of this argument is the assumption that the Palestinians don’t want peace, pure and simple. They might negotiate with Israel in the hope of winning concessions, but this is only in order to move to the next phase – from which they will start fighting again, to win more concessions, and so on, until all Jews – much like the Crusaders – are kicked out of the Middle East (“thrown into the sea”). During his lifetime, Yasser Arafat symbolized this approach in the eyes of the Israeli Right Wing and its supporters, and now they try to pin this to Abu Mazen.
It is almost impossible to argue against this logic – not because it’s true, but because the people who hold it claim to know the hearts and minds of the other side. Nothing the Palestinians do would satisfy the Phased Plan prophets: even if they abandon the armed struggle completely and start teaching Zionism in their school, it would only be perceived as a trick, aimed at getting more concessions out of Israel. And if the Palestinians continue the armed struggle – well, this is just further proof that they don’t want peace. It’s a perfect circle, who’s only possible conclusion is that you should never sign an agreement with the Palestinians or offer them any territorial concessions.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: May 20th, 2009 | Author: noam | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: Barak Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Bill Clinton, John McCain, settlements | 1 Comment »
Here are my two cents on the Obama-Netanyahu meeting:
- There were no gestures made after the meeting: Obama showed concern on the issue of Iran, but made no specific obligations. Netanyhu didn’t try to please his hosts – as some imagined he would – with talks about concessions. It mights suggest that there were no gestures inside the meeting as well, or that both sides estimated that it was in their best interest to keep these matters under the table.
- There were also no reports of personal gestures, small-talk or anecdotes – the kind that usually follows a meeting between an American president and an Israeli PM. My guess is that Netanyahu felt that this image of the meeting would serve him better at home. He probably understood well before the meeting that sooner or later he would reach some sort of confrontation with the administration, and he wants to present a tough and consistent line (but not to create the fire himself). The PM is much more careful than in his previous term – when a meeting with Bill Clinton ended with the frustrated president asking “who’s the fucking superpower here?”
- The Syrian channel wasn’t mentioned. It is all but officially off the table.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted: October 25th, 2008 | Author: noam | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, John McCain, peace process, Yitzhak Shamir | Comments Off
Aluf Benn predicts in today’s Haaretz, that the next president of the US won’t be too involved in the Arab-Israeli peace process. “Ever since efforts failed to achieve final-status agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and the Palestinians, in 2000, U.S. policy has been to ‘contain’ the Israeli-Arab conflict”, writes Benn, and concludes that more urgent problems – such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economic crisis – will prevent a change of policy, regardless the identity of the winner in the upcoming election.
To that we can add the fact that no administration has ever been very effective in the Palestinian-Israeli front on the first two years in office: it takes time before the administration forms its own ideas in regards to the middle east, and more time before medium level envoys (and above) arrive, and even then, both sides here are very good at playing tricks on the new guy: the Israelis promise him to stop building settlements and to dismantle some of the road blocks, but somehow by the next visit of the American envoy, there are new Jewish neighborhoods on the shrinking Palestinian land and more road blocks. The same goes for the Palestinian promises to fight terrorism and stop the anti-Israeli, and sometimes anti-Semitic, propaganda (though most observers agree there has been a significant improvement on these issues in the West Bank recently).
It took Bush the father three years to drag PM Yitzhak Shamir to the peace conference in Madrid, and Clinton offered his peace plan only when the negotiation reached a deadlock in 1999. By this time, it was too late. With McCain or Obama we might not have to wait seven years, but it’s clear that there won’t be any peace initiative coming from Washington before 2010.
With all this in mind, there will still be a big difference between the effects that each of the candidates might have, if elected, on the dynamics in the region. McCain’s, one must admit, will probably have a shorter learning period of the issues. But the real danger is that he will follow the policies of the current administration towards Israel, and that’s not something we can afford.
Already, some people wonder if the two states solution is still applicable, and with the growing settlements and the Hamas gaining power, it’s clear that in five years or so, establishing a Palestinian state will be all but impossible. Even now it’s hard to see an Israeli prime minister who will be able to pay the political price of taking down more than a handful of settlements. The Bush administration has practically given Israel a carte blanche in all of the west bank but Jerusalem. An Obama administration might change that.
Obama also seems more careful with the idea of using military force to change the political dynamics – something both PM Sharon (in the territories) and Olmert (in Lebanon) – tried to do, again, with America’s support. It is more than likely that Netanyahu will be Israel’s next PM, so we could use someone in the White House who can restrain him a bit. And finally, there is the Syrian front, where the Bush administration actually prevented the negotiations between Olmerts government and Assad after the war in Lebanon. It’s hard to see Obama taking the same approach.
So I support Obama, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up too high. No American president will save the Israelis from themselves.