Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday said that his country was willing to partition Jerusalem as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. “West Jerusalem and 12 Jewish neighborhoods that are home to 200,000 residents will be ours. The Arab neighborhoods in which close to a quarter million Palestinians live will be theirs,” Barak was quoted as saying. These remarks come a day before the United States hosts a meeting in Washington between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which will also be attended by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
While not unprecedented, what makes this offer extraordinary is that, save perhaps Barak’s own Labor Party, every other member of the coalition government led by Netanyahu’s Likud Party is dead opposed to giving up even an inch of Jerusalem, which is seen as the undivided capital of Israel. So what is the purpose of issuing such a statement? The answer has to do with the expectation that this latest round of talks, like all previous ones, will not produce any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, the second attack by Palestinian militants in the West Bank hours before the much-publicized summit meeting shows that Abbas is not in a position to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians who suffer from a geopolitical divide.
The offer to share Jerusalem, however, allows the Israelis to tell the Americans that they tried once again, and were even willing to consider tough concessions, but the problem lies with the Palestinians where there is no credible negotiating partner to deal with. This allows the Israelis to place the onus back on Washington and return to business as usual. This raises a key question: When peace between the two sides is not achievable, why is the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama pursuing the matter with such enormous optimism?
There is a view within Washington that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict engenders anti-American sentiment in the broader Arab/Muslim world, where there is immense anger because of perceived U.S. favoritism toward Israel. Indeed, in a March 2010 briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee, then-U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus drew a direct link between U.S. military efforts in the Middle East and South Asia and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing that the decades of stalemate on the Palestinian issue constituted a national security threat to the United States. The idea is that if the United States is going to be able to counter radicalism and extremism in the Islamic world, it has to demonstrate that it is serious about resolving the Palestinian issue, and the way to do that is to push both sides toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
“Minor moves on the part of Washington are not going to make any considerable difference in terms of the overall view of the United States.”
STRATFOR on multiple occasions has shown that a Palestinian state is not viable for a whole host of reasons, so we will not get into that discussion here. Rather, we would like to examine the notion that addressing the Palestinian problem can help counter anti-Americanism in the wider Muslim world.
This view incorrectly assumes the Palestinian issue is the central issue driving unrest in the Islamic world, which manifests as extremism and terrorism. Even a cursory glance at the various conflicts in Muslim countries will show this is not the case, as places like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen have their own unique national and sub-national issues that have nothing to do with the Palestinian cause. Jihadists and other non-violent radical forces in the Islamic world do attempt to exploit Arab/Muslim feelings of solidarity with the Palestinians to further their agendas, but this issue constitutes a very minor portion of the grievances against the United States and the West in any given Muslim country.
But let us assume for argument’s sake that addressing the Palestinian issue can provide some significant measure of geopolitical purchase for the United States in that it does help shape a better operating environment for Washington in Muslim countries. There are still many other factors that will continue to prevent the United States from realizing its desired objectives.
For example, after several decades, there is a significant degree of cynicism among Muslim masses toward any U.S. efforts at solving the Palestinian issue. Minor moves on the part of Washington are not going to make any considerable difference in terms of the overall view of the United States. Of course, periodic diplomatic initiatives on the issue have provided the means by which Muslim regimes allied with the United States can better manage domestic politics, but over time such initiatives offer decreasing marginal utility.
Any diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have to involve compromises that are unacceptable to Hamas, which represents a great many Palestinians. If the Palestinian community is not in agreement on an acceptable solution to the problem, then we can forget about the wider Islamic world. There are many reasons why it is in the interest of the United States to try and address the Palestinian conflict, but doing so will not produce the wider geopolitical benefits that Washington is hoping for in the peace talk efforts.