When Peace Is Not a Priority


U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell is here in Israel again, and it’s not stirring much excitement or even interest. On Sunday he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the latter saying Mitchell had “interesting ideas” on how to get Israeli-Palestinian talks going again but not saying what the ideas were.

On Friday Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas reiterated to Mitchell his refusal to talk with Netanyahu absent a total ban on Jewish building in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and East Jerusalem. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the fact that Israel had positions at all—on not giving up every inch of the West Bank, on the demilitarization of a future Palestinian state—made negotiating with Israel impossible.

Based on his statements to Time magazine’s Joe Klein last week, it can be surmised that President Barack Obama is not all that surprised by Mitchell’s inability to get anything moving. “This is just really hard,” Obama told Klein.

“Even for a guy like George Mitchell…. Both sides—the Israelis and the Palestinians—have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation…. From Abbas’ perspective, he’s got Hamas looking over his shoulder and, I think, an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.

“And on the Israeli front—although the Israelis, I think, after a lot of time showed a willingness to make some modifications in their policies, they still found it very hard to move with any bold gestures….”

It is easy to poke holes in Obama’s evenhandedness here: the fact that while Netanyahu has been ready at all times to negotiate with Abbas, with not even his most right-wing coalition partners objecting to negotiations per se, it is Abbas who has stonewalled; the fact that it was not “after a lot of time,” but very quickly—in a matter of months since taking office—that Netanyahu made quite bold gestures of reversing his lifelong opposition to a Palestinian state and then announcing an unprecedented ten-month settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria, none of which has sufficed to lure Abbas back to the table.

It is also easy to cite the usual political reasons for the stalemate—that Obama, by hitting Israel hard on the settlements issue particularly in his Cairo speech in June, forced Abbas into an uncompromising stance where he could not appear less Catholic than the pope; that the Palestinians, more generally, saw Obama as an ally and were disappointed when he showed understanding for some of Israel’s positions. All of which is valid—but only grazes the truth.

Looking more deeply into what has “gone wrong”—and has kept going wrong ever since the formal Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process began in 1993—would require taking account, for a change, of the cultural difference between Israel and the Palestinian side.

It was less than three weeks ago that Netanyahu complained to the White House and State Department about Palestinian incitement—and not by Hamas in Gaza, but by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Netanyahu was reacting to two particularly egregious incidents. In one, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad paid homage to three Palestinian terrorists who had been killed by Israeli forces after murdering an Israeli rabbi and father of seven. In the other, Abbas named a square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian woman terrorist who led the “Coastal Road Massacre” in 1978—the worst terror attack in Israel’s history, killing 37 including 10 children. (More details about the Palestinian Authority’s lionization of these killers here and here.)

Obama, for his part, had no public reaction to Abbas and Fayyad’s behavior, did not mention it in his interview to Klein, and clearly was not deterred by it from sending Mitchell for another round of attempted diplomacy. As Obama did say to Klein: “we are going to continue to work with both parties to recognize what I think is ultimately their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution in which Israel is secure and the Palestinians have sovereignty and can start focusing on developing their economy and improving the lives of their children and grandchildren.”

In other words, even-steven—both sides wanting their peaceful place in the sun. The possibility that peace is not a value for the Palestinian Authority in the way it is for Israel—that there may be an unbridgeable gap between a Western democracy and a non-Western entity that glorifies and perpetrates terrorism—does not, from the evidence available, exist in Obama’s, or Mitchell’s, mental lexicon.

But it is high time that it did, high time that the administration start giving its democratic ally, Israel, more credit and start reexamining the assumption that achieving sovereignty for the Palestinians—Dalal Mughrabi Square and all—is an American interest. Which is, alas, too much to hope for from this administration.

  • Gamaliel Isaac

    The article Game Theory in the Middle East sheds some light on why the "peace" process doesn't bring peace.

  • William Smart

    Abbas is a quisling, a collaborator. Israel gave him the kit to wipe out the elected government in Gaza, which instead fought back successfully.

    There’s no other explanation for Abbas dismissing the Goldstone report. Anyone who still believes Israel’s is “the most moral army in the world” needs to read paragraphs 38 through 75 of that report.

  • AntiFascist18

    Obama, like William Dumb NOT Smart, is an anti-Semite, an Israel-hater from the time even before he took office. His Black NAZI of an Uncle, Jeremiah and his crack 'ho mommy saw to that.

  • solemnman

    Abbas has every reason to believe,given the universal disdain in which israel is held, that the majority on the security council- with the support of the vast majority,in the U.N.- will pass a resolution demanding that Israel withdraw to the 49 armistice line(popularly known as the pre 67 borders).a resolution will be passed demanding Israel's withdrawal to what Abba Eban called "the Auschwitz borders".If it is not vetoed- punishing sanctions will be implemented when Israel refuses to comply with the U.N. resolutions and Israel's leaders will be referred to the world court for prosecution.This,anyway,is what Abbas believes- and he may be right.

  • John C. Davidson

    Indifference to problem is the meat which politicians thrive on to sustain themselves in the public eye. They just do not understand how boring they've become, though. They all fly about like constipated pigeons littering the landscape with a white powder substance.

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