Monday, September 14, 2009

U.S. is blind to limits of Palestinian politics

Akiva Eldar, senior political correspondent for the Israeli daily Ha-Aretz explains why the United States has never been able, since the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993 (and, in fact, long before that) to act as an honest broker in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Drawing on the writings of Aaron David Miller, a retired State Department official who spent decades on Arab-Israeli issues, Eldar explains that American officials have always been empathic and sensitive to the requirements of Israeli domestic politics. But they have understood or cared little about internal Palestinian politics. Consequently, Israeli demands have set the pace and limits of peace negotiations. Eldar argues that the Obama administration has not broken with the approach of the Clinton and Bush II administrations in this regard - Joel Beinin

U.S. is blind to limits of Palestinian politics

Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Sept. 14, 2009

After a drawn-out and frustrated negotiation over several hundred housing units in the settlements, the Obama administration realized that instead of tasting the grapes, it is wasting its time fighting with the vineyard's gatekeeper. They also revealed that the greatest superpower came to the fight unarmed. They discovered that to threaten Benjamin Netanyahu and Moshe Ya'alon with ceasing construction in the West Bank by pain of not resuming the Oslo process, was akin to threatening them that if Israel does not remove the outposts, the United States would bomb Iran. This made reverting to the old and tried concept of "grab all you can" a near sure thing, that same concept that managed to bring the Oslo Accords, 16 years after the ceremonious signing at the White House, back to square one - at best.

In line with that concept, the peace process must be advanced slowly, if at all, and always with Israel's domestic considerations. During the 1990s, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had coalition trouble - and president Bill Clinton put up with the vast land expropriations that accompanied the establishment of Har Homa. Netanyahu's successor, Ehud Barak, warned that his coalition partners from the right were threatening to pull out if he carried out the promise to evacuate villages in the area of Jerusalem - and Clinton urged Yasser Arafat to give in. When prime minister Ariel Sharon opted for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza rather than bilateral talks on the West Bank, president George W. Bush welcomed the move. Prime minister Ehud Olmert did not meet his promise to lift the roadblocks - and Bush made do with complaining. Now, when "the new" Netanyahu agreed to talk about the borders of the West Bank, U.S. President Barack Obama gave him a pass on the issues of Jerusalem and the

The American designers of policy, who tend to sew the peace process according to the measures of the Israeli coalition, are blind to anything having to do with the limits within which Palestinian politics operates. Over and over they offer a quilt that is too short, but which keeps the Israelis warm, only to complain that the Palestinians are the ones getting cold feet. Proof of this can be found in an article by Aaron Miller, who served for many years as deputy to Dennis Ross in the American mediation team, and which was published in the Washington Post in May 2005. Under the title "Israel's Lawyer," he wrote that "For far too long, many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel's attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations."

In his book "The Much Too Promised Land" (2008), Miller revealed that he found it difficult to avoid chuckling every time he heard Ross say that the Israelis were complaining that he was an advocate for the Palestinians. According to Miller, none of the American officials who were involved in the negotiations was prepared, or able, to present an Arab point of view, not to mention fight for one. Miller admitted that empathy toward Israel prevented him and his colleagues from exhibiting firmness on the issue of the settlements and to adopt initiatives with regard to a permanent settlement, and by then, "we had missed the train." Alas, in recent days Obama, the man of change, brought Ross back to the locomotive.

True, Netanyahu has declared that his government is committed to the agreements signed by his predecessors (how could it be otherwise at a time when Israel is demanding a boycott of Hamas because of its refusal to accept those same accords?) - but he expects consideration for his position. Has the U.S. president not heard about Tzipi Hotovely? The road map, which received the backing of the UN Security Council, requires that there be negotiations on all core issues, with no exceptions, but how can Washington ignore the warning of Minister Eli Yishai that the moment Jerusalem becomes part of the negotiations, Shas will leave the coalition? Israel promised seven years ago to freeze settlement construction, including that which was meant to meet natural growth, but at the White House they certainly know that Netanyahu's deputy, Ya'alon, argues that it is the "right" of every Jew to build a home - in the middle of the Nablus casbah.

This approach only causes a loss of Arab trust in the willingness of Israeli governments to do justice by the Palestinians; it mortally undermines their trust in the willingness of the Americans to use their power and influence in order to carry out U.S. interests in the region. If Obama is worried about fighting with the gatekeeper, and so lets Netanyahu rule the vineyard, we will all eat grapes of wrath.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to

No comments: