Obama’s Irrelevant Bid for Mideast Peace

The status quo hands the President a Mideast defeat.
by Benjamin Kerstein, PAJAMAS MEDIA

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not always a zero-sum game. Sometimes both sides win, and this is one of those times. It must be admitted that this is a somewhat counterintuitive idea, especially since most observers of the peace process seem to think that the breakdown in negotiations between the two parties is an unmitigated disaster for all involved.

In fact, it is a disaster only for the Obama administration, and both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas have the right to claim something like a victory.

The reason for this is a simple one: It is in the interests of both these leaders to preserve the status quo. Therefore the Obama administration’s insistence on renewing negotiations was a threat. That threat, for the moment, has been alleviated. Indeed, over the last several months, the entire negotiating process amounted to little more than pantomime, with both sides making the necessary gestures at progress while supplying the necessary obstacles to ensure that progress would not actually happen.

It is tempting to see this as a corrupt and debased way of dealing with a serious situation. Yet both sides have very good ideological and political reasons for adopting it. Netanyahu’s political reasons are clear.

In order to make concessions to the Palestinians, he would have to place his governing coalition — and, possibly, his entire political future — at risk. He would have to do so, moreover, to reach an agreement with an enemy he does not trust, which has already shown a willingness to abandon negotiations in favor of terrorist violence.

Netanyahu’s position is no better ideologically. While he has stated publicly that he would accept a Palestinian state with limited sovereignty, it is clear that the prime minister is unenthusiastic. For most of his political career, he has seen peace with the Palestinians — certainly with Fatah — as highly unlikely, if not impossible. The Palestinians’ refusal thus far to recognize Israel as a Jewish state can only harden that view. For Netanyahu, there is little point in destabilizing both his government and the current security situation by entering into serious negotiations.

Abbas has a less obvious — if in some ways more perilous — dilemma. His most dangerous enemy at present is not the Israelis (who, along with the United States, are propping him up with arms and money), but the Hamas regime in Gaza, which represents a serious popular threat to Fatah rule.

In order to reach an agreement with Israel, Abbas would have to make highly unpopular concessions on issues such as refugees and borders, likely destroying whatever remains of his legitimacy and opening the door to a Hamas takeover. Even if Abbas managed to survive, such a threat could expose the Palestinians to civil war. And to prevail in a showdown, Abbas would have to rely on American and Israeli aid, further solidifying his image as a puppet.
What’s more, it is not at all clear that some of Abbas’ misgivings are any less ideological than Netanyahu’s. Though Fatah has been politically rehabilitated as the preferable alternative to Hamas’s violent and theocratic ideology, it remains a resolutely anti-Zionist organization. Abbas makes a show of pragmatism for peace with Israel, but his sincerity remains very much in question. Case in point: his rejection of the very idea of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

Most importantly, the current situation remains in stasis because there is precious little to motivate either side to change it. The truth is that the status quo is not, at the moment, a bad one. The West Bank is experiencing impressive economic growth, and the Israeli economy remains surprisingly stable despite global financial upheaval. Violence is at a minimum, security services are cooperating, and both sides have a common enemy in Hamas.

Something like peace, in other words, is taking shape in Israel and the West Bank, though neither side may be willing to call it that. It is now quite possible that drastic moves toward a formal agreement would cause more violence than they would prevent.

That said, there are long-term pressures on both parties that will not go away. For Israel, there are the settlements, and the looming demographic problem they represent. For the Palestinians, there is the powder keg of Islamic radicalism and the refugee issue.

Sooner or later, domestic pressure will begin to build on both Netanyahu and Abbas to deal with these problems. Abbas’ recent moves toward requesting international recognition of a Palestinian state may be one such reaction. Nonetheless, at the moment, both men seem to believe that the status quo is the best they can make of a bad situation. As a result, both have struggled, in a quiet but stubborn manner, to preserve it.

Despite the best efforts of a president desperate for a breakthrough and seemingly indifferent to the possible consequences, they appear to have emerged victorious.

Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor who lives in Tel Aviv.

January 9, 2011 | 6 Comments »

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6 Comments / 6 Comments

  1. Narvey is there anything anyone might say that would move you to say that their comment was inappropriate, insulting to you personally because of any strongly held beliefs?

    I have not detected that you have any such strongly held beliefs religious or otherwise. If you do pls enlighten us so I can use something most insulting and offensive to you so that you might begin to understand what others find offensive and vile….

    How about it?

    Sorry Bill The Devil Made Me say That 🙂

  2. Bill, I don’t rub my religious convictions into people’s eyes on other blogs – which aren’t even religious affiliated blogs – unless the subject of Judaism comes up. It’s elementary courtesy. Didn’t your mommy and daddy bring you up properly?

  3. ShyGuy, Why so down on Robin? I don’t know if Robin is man or woman and so my comment covering both bases.

    He/she has his/her own style and reasoning in reaching the very same conclusions regarding Obama that others at Israpundit do in their own way.

  4. “Peace! Peace!” they say, when there is no peace. Jeremiah

    “they dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious,” THE BIBLE

    “While people are saying: PEACE AND SECURITY, dextruction will come suddenly and they will not escape.” – Thessalonians 4

    It is fitting for a man of lawlessness to come across as a man of peace, for we know that the beast out of the sea with two horns like a lamb that speaks like a dragon always uses the art of deception to fool the masses while keeping them enslaved.

    Obama belongs to the father of lies and was empowered by the devil’s advocates for the Revelation 20 set up.

    Israel is no doubt the center of world events in the last days, but God has promised to defend Israel and that no false peace or hostile war will succeed against the good and decent and faithful of Israel.

    The Abomination that makes desolate is what is on the Temple Mount today and this is the god that Obama falls down to and worships.

    Let Israel be strong in their God and in each other!