Why Israeli Palestinian negotiations now?
So, here we go again. Getting ready for yet another round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. This time it is different, this time it is serious, insists Condi Rice. "We have better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op," she announces with a straight face. Really?
Worried Israelis listening to their hapless prime minister announce that Jerusalem is on the table cannot but join Barry Rubin in asking: And what do we get? "After all," as he points out, "Israel is negotiating with people who have no control over much of the territory or people on whose behalf they speak." So how can it give Israel what it wants, security, i.e., peace? It cannot even if it wanted and it is doubtful it wants.
But, then, of course, this round of negotiations as previous ones are NOT designed for the benefit of either Israel or the Palestinians. It is designed for the benefit of America's Middle East allies, most especially Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Gulf,inc.. These are the very same countries which are sold 1.6 billion dollars worth of advanced weapons and are about to be honored with a visit by Laura Bush. The women who in 2001 talked about women's rights in Afghanistan, is going to talk about breast cancer rather than support Saudi women's right to drive or warn about the dangers posed by the proliferation of the "morality" police forces.
Why does the US kow tow so to these distasteful monarchies? Because mistakes extract a price and by failing to exploit its early victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington came close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Triage was needed to forestall defeat. The US had to decrease the number of its Middle Eastern enemies which ultimately meant a choice between Sunni and Shia religious autocrats. Judging the post Saddam weakened Sunni ones to be the lesser of two evils, the Bush administration moved to secure Sunni help. That meant that democracy, Human rights and women's rights had to be shunted aside.
Sunnis anxious to demonstrate their usefulness rewarded Washington by pulling back their Sunni Jihadist attack dogs in Iraq. To enlist actively in the anti-Iranian cause, the Sunnis demanded that Washington help them recapture the Palestinian cause which has fallen into Iranian hands in the past few years. In other words, they demanded that Washington play its Israeli card. Note Condi Rice's effort to deny such linkage:
QUESTION: Has the strike in Syria at all affected this process going forward?
SECRETARY RICE: You mean the press reports that have been around? Okay, I'm not going to comment on the press reports. But the issues of proliferation I think are -- don't affect the Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts that we're making. The issues of proliferation concern us because the President has been -- as you know, it's been one of his highest priorities.
So, what does Israel get from the deal? It gets continued American support despite its failures in the second Lebanon War and hopefully it will not have to take out the Iranian nuclear systems solo or at least get help in surviving the heat such action would generate.
Has the price for such support become exorbitant? You bet. I have little to add to Rubin's list:
These risks are enormous yet they are largely ignored by others. . . . The Palestinian side has a bad record of not trying, and certainly not succeeding in meeting commitments. Even now, PA-Fatah makes literally no effort to stop incitement, end terrorism, or even push its own officials or members to respect past agreements.
It is also clear that any agreement would be extremely fragile. Hamas would reject any settlement and do everything possible to wreck it, including killing PA leaders and launching terrorist attacks to force Fatah to choose between guarding Israel’s borders or throwing away the arrangements.
Beyond this, if Hamas were to take over the West Bank or any Palestinian state, it would not be bound by any treaty and would immediately restart the conflict, using Israeli concessions to be more deadly. And there’s more bad news If Abbas and Fayyad made a deal along the above lines—or ones even better for the Palestinians—not only all the supporters of Hamas and smaller radical groups but also between 50 and 80 percent of Fatah itself would denounce them as traitors and reject the agreement.
Unfortunately, none of it matters as it would take stronger backbone than Olmert's to say no to the US following at this particular junction. What does matter is that though some Palestinians would genuinely yearn for peace, their Arab allies want the issue. Hence, this conference will end up doomed just like its predecessors. Peace will follow, not precede regional democratization. Hence, the retreat of democracy in the Middle East is bound to mean a retreat for peace prospects. In the meantime, all we can do is pray that the Jewish state will do what it has succeeded in doing in the past perilous 60 years, survive and even flourish.