Being a veteran kibitzer, I’m way beyond expecting creative thinking – let alone inspiration – from politicians. The passion I felt when Robert Kennedy visited South Africa (I must have been about 17 at the time) is unlikely to ever return, alas. Nevertheless, it would be nice if they would, at the very least, refrain from saying stuff that is so patently stupid that it’s an insult to the intelligence, even one as average as my own.
Take, for example, Netanyahu’s statement just before the Palestinian vote at the UN that “the only way to achieve peace is through agreements that are reached by the parties directly; through valid negotiations between themselves, and not through UN resolutions.”
As if negotiations haven’t been flogged to death already. The experience of the past several decades teaches us that if either, or both, the parties enter the negotiations without a true willingness to achieve peace, then it will never be achieved. And that, of course, is precisely the tactic of the Netanyahu government. For Bibi and his ilk, “peace negotiations” is code for “dragging things out for ever and ever, amen.”
Unlike the Obama Administration, the Palestinians have the code book, so they understand Bibi-speak. Rather than playing Israel’s game, they’re going for statehood – and the UN happens to be the place to do it. Israelis of all people should understand that, seeing that it was a UN resolution of December 1947 that led to the establishment of Israel. I’m not aware of Israel having negotiated with the Palestinians about that one.
As nonsensical as Bibi’s statement was Hillary Clinton’s “the path to a two-state solution that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people is through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not New York.” Why? Since when is there only one way of establishing a state? The path to an independent Bosnia wasn’t through Belgrade and Sarajevo, but through Dayton, Ohio (and under the tutelage of Clinton’s husband.) Was that somehow illegitimate?
There are other examples of UN-sponsored statehood, such as East Timor. The point isn’t that the UN is the ideal forum for resolving conflicts – it clearly is not. But the world has yet to come up with the perfect forum. Until then, the UN is as good as any other. The important thing is that the conflict gets resolved, not the forum in which it happens.
So, what is one to make of the Obama Administration’s insistence on direct negotiations between the two sides, in the face of decades of abject failure? Surely, if you’ve been playing the same tune from before Nixon’s time and no-one has yet gotten up to dance, it’s probably worth trying a different tune?
The most charitable explanation is stupidity. A more likely explanation, though, is that America’s rigidity is a way of avoiding the issue altogether, while giving the impression of being intensely engaged. By insisting on something that obviously is not going to happen – or, if it happens, is not going to bear fruit – the Administration thinks it will be able to see out the next four years without having to step too deeply into this particular pile of shit.
One doesn’t need a medical education to know that the absurdly-named peace process is clinically dead and cannot be revived. Israel is not going to give up the bulk of the occupied territories, which is the starting point for any conceivable solution, and the Palestinians are too divided to even know what they want. The two sides are trapped in a spiral of tit-for-tat violence and recrimination that they are unable to escape. Left to their own devices, they will simply continue doing more of the same.
I’m sure it’s tempting to simply let the kids fight while the adults get on with more important things. But there are other, meaner kids waiting to join in: nuclear-obsessed Iran, Egypt under a new, fundamentalist dictator, Nasrallah’s Lebanon and dying Syria, which still has stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Israelis and Palestinians don’t throw their toys at each other in isolation. Left unresolved, the conflict will inevitably escalate into something that is likely to make today’s Middle East look like a tea-party.
It’s incomprehensible to me how the US could march into Iraq and Afghanistan with such merry abandon yet be so timid about asserting its muscle where it is needed most. Even given Israel’s sacred cow status in American internal politics and the widespread loathing for Moslems in both Europe and the US, any sober Western assessment of the dangers inherent in the current situation should surely provoke a more activist response?
As Israel was quick to point out, the vote for Palestinian semi-nationhood in the UN has little immediate and practical significance on the ground. The same can’t be said of Israel’s knee-jerk announcement that 3,000 more settlement housing units will be built, which could put paid to the two-state solution forever. It’s time the adults paid a little more attention to the mayhem being created by the kids in the den.
Israelis and Palestinians need to be maneuvered – and, if necessary, forced – into a settlement; they are incapable of doing it by themselves. America disgraced itself by voting against the resolution in the UN. Is there any sense in hoping that it will redeem itself now by wielding the big stick?