Sunday, February 09, 2014

Any Room for Optimism?

I know literally no one who is optimistic about the Middle East, and especially Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, except - of course - those whose job it is to convey enthusiasm, mainly Obama Administration officials, and I don't speak for them.  But as one who likes to speculate and put together disparate bits of information, perhaps we can sniff something in the wind. I would label this informed speculation and certainly wouldn't bet the family jewels on it, but here it is.

Item: Kerry is no fool and certainly recognizes that if the process fails, his legacy probably goes with it.  Obama has not taken a great part in Kerry's process, but recently went out of his way (at the National Prayer Breakfast) to identify with and praise him.

Item:  Perhaps the greatest single obstacle to the process since 2009 has been the drag that US domestic politics has exerted on America's role as a mediator and sponsor.  Bibi used his popularity in Congress to great effect - and Obama ended up essentially wasting his first term with regard to this issue.  However, with AIPAC having suffered two successive and unprecedented defeats (three if you count Hagel's nomination), and reports circulating that its overriding objective now is to gain Republican control of the Senate, its congressional base is in disarray. That base has traditionally been among Democrats, and since the vast majority  of American Jews are liberals and vote Democratic, it is alienating them as well.  In the short term, however, it is likely that Congress will now give Obama and Kerry more leeway.  The fact that the Republicans control the House is less important in foreign policy than elsewhere.

Item:  The repeated insults to the U.S. by top Israeli officials affiliated with (or senior members of) the Government has done little to endear the priorities of that government to this administration.

Item:  While BDS as a comprehensive campaign to prevent dealings with Israel has had limited success, and I think that will continue, elements of the parallel campaign to delegitimize Occupation have been producing results.  Israel's reluctant signature a few months ago to an EU agreement that denies funding to any institution connected with the West Bank was a watershed.  Every day brings further news of more such actions.  It is becoming increasingly clearer to Israelis that the settlements are an albatross around the country's neck and that it is the settlements and their supporters that are serving to delegitimize Israel in the world. The settlers may not care but Bibi does not want to see Israel isolated.

Item: The most recent Israeli/AIPAC defeat, on the premature increase in sanctions on Iran, has a significant policy as well as political component.  I think tensions with Iran will be decreasing - and there is virtually no chance now of Israel flying in the face of American policy and attacking Iran.  Concurrently, Bibi's ability to use Iran as a delaying tactic for peace with the Palestinians is rapidly waning.

Item: While the Palestinians are dead set against a permanent or decades-long Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, they have (somewhat surprisingly) acceded to a 3-5 year deployment there.  They also will accept foreign troops on a permanent basis.  This is likely to go far towards allaying Israeli security concerns and there is already a debate going on in Israel, with some ex-security officials denying that Israel needs troops in the Valley at all.

Item: The continuing turmoil in the Arab world serves as a strong argument for peace, even though hawks try to spin it in the opposite direction.  Syria is no longer a military threat and Israel has disbanded a number of armored brigades in recognition of that fact.  No matter who emerges on top eventually - and that may be a long time in coming - it will have a very difficult time in trying to rebuild the country.  What they think about Israel will be irrelevant.  Israel's greatest fear from Syria concerned its WMD, and assuming they are destroyed, even behind schedule, Syria can no longer serve as a pretext for preventing peace.

Item:  More generally, it should be clear to all but the most dyed-in-the-wool hater of Arabs by now that most Arab governments see Israel as an integral part of the status quo they are trying desperately to maintain.  Saudi and Jordanian leaders - and many others - are saying over and over that the only thing preventing close relations with Israel is the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Even those populations that hate it are more concerned with local affairs than with Israel.  Perhaps the only policy shared by Morsi and the military that overthrew him is maintaining the peace with Israel.  The old mantra that the Arab countries are just waiting for an opportunity to destroy Israel has been out of date for 30 years; it is time that Israelis recognized that.

Item: Hamas is at its lowest ebb since its formation.  It regularly denounces the peace talks, but is simultaneously doing all it can to prevent more radical factions from attacking Israel.  It is highly unlikely that Hamas would choose to violently disrupt a peace agreement, and if it went into effect they might have to accept it.  But squeezed between a hostile Israel and an even more hostile Egypt, and without any current allies, it can do little.

Item: The question comes down to: can the traditionally intractable issues be resolved?  Bibi has staked all on "acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state."  While I have argued that this is a meaningless issue, and Palestinians have resolutely refused to consider it, it is by no means impossible to find wording for a compromise.  The same with the "Right of Return," which most Palestinians I've spoken to privately agree will have to be renounced as part of a final agreement.   Though Kerry's framework apparently doesn't include Jerusalem, a formula for sharing it can and must be found.

Item: The current Israeli coalition is in greater disarray than ever, even apart from out-of-line comments about the US  The relations between Jewish Home Chair Naftali Bennet and Bibi seem about to break.  Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party and Finance Minister, is making more and more noises about the economic disaster that failure of negotiations will bring. More surprisingly, Avigdor Lieberman, the perennial bad boy of Israeli politics and diplomacy, seems to have decided to largely play the part of a responsible adult and has avoided joining Yuval Steinitz and Defense Minister Ya'alon in lobbing verbal bombs, something he used to do with embarrassing frequency.  While he still says that Israeli Arab areas must be transferred to a Palestinian state, it does not seem that he will held up an agreement on that issue.

Item: To bring about peace a new Government would be necessary.  Bibi could form one with
  • Yesh Atid (most or all MK's; say at least 15 of 19)
  • Labor (15)
  • Shas (Arieh Deri could probably bring all MK's aboard -11)
  • Hatnuah [Livni's new party] (6)
  • Meretz (6)
  • Kadima (2)
  • Likud Beiteinu would split but I think Bibi could bring at least 10 of 31 with Lieberman
  • United Torah Judaism (unknown, but might go with a majority - 7)
  • The three Arab parties would at least form a blocking group on the issue of peace (11 MKs)
Even without UTJ and the Arab parties, that gives a peace government a reasonably secure majority of 65.  And if Bibi endorsed a peace deal, it would certainly be approved in a referendum.

Of course, this is not meant to be prophecy, and there are innumerable things that can go wrong.  And the idea of even putting "Bibi" and "peace agreement with the Palestinians" in the same sentence illustrates the difficulty.  My point is simply that it is not foreordained that things can not go right.

Just saying...

3 comments:

Michael weil said...

I agree with all your items except the implied conclusion ; namely that peace should be pushed and all sides interested.
To my mind Bibi and most Israelis have no or little interest in peace with the PLA such a weak partner.
Bibi is really just playing with Kerry and Obama.
Also having Israel's Neighbours (especially Syria and Egypt) in such disarray is more threatening than thir previous despotic but stable and predictable governments.

Molly Freeman said...

Stunning analysis

warren said...

Interesting thoughts. I think there is too much emphasis on so-called Israeli influence on the Congress. Yes, Congress is a strong supporter of Israel, primarily because we share the same values of democracy and individual rights. In yesteryears, this support came primarily from democrats, but now we see powerful support from Republicans, fueled by Christians recognizing Jews have a biblical and historical right to the Promised Land. As for AIPAC – your claim that it suffered two successive and unprecedented defeats is wrong. It was right in opposing Hagel and in encouraging congress to increase sanctions against an Iran that has been given a free ride to build nukes. Whether influenced by AIPAC or CUFI, congress overwhelmingly voted for more severe sanctions and Obama threatened a veto. Has anyone seen the agreement the USA made with Iran that resulted in releasing billions to Iran but getting nothing in return? I disagree with you that tensions with Iran will decrease. In fact, tensions will increase as Iran continues to develop nukes and the missiles to deliver to the USA.
Saying that settlements are an albatross around the neck of Israel begs the issue. Most all settlements have been Jewish Communities for centuries except for the time period 1948 – 1967 when Jordan invaded the West Bank and destroyed every Community. Reference the Christian and Jewish Bibles, the historical recordings and excavations to learn about the Jewish presence in the west bank throughout history. Heck, during the time of Jesus, the Bible records he visited many of these Jewish communities. One can question whether the majority of Palestinians are truly squatters on land not their own. Why do so many duck the gorilla in the room obstacle – namely, the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize and accept a Jewish state on what they claim is their land? And what about the Islamic doctrine that Islam replaces both Christianity and Judaism, so what better way to demonstrate this other than controlling eastern Jerusalem, the site of the two most holy sites to both religions – the Temple Mount and the Holy Sepulcher? Why should people continue to state that the question of accepting a Jewish state is a meaningless issue? It is fundamental to reaching some kind of agreement, one that stops the Palestinians from; 1) continuing their incitement to violence against Jews 2) declaring Israel is an occupier of their “stolen” land and 3) demonstrates they are willing to live alongside a Jewish state