Monday, August 31, 2009

What Obama is missing in his policy on Israel
Published: August 30, 2009

On my run along the Tel Aviv boardwalk, I pass the Dolphinarium, a former disco now decaying and vacant. In 2001, a Hamas suicide bomber detonated there, killing 21 teenagers. A memorial states, "We’ll never stop dancing.” As I continue, I catch a glimpse of the back of the building, now converted into a chic seaside nightclub. Israelis keep dancing, but are constantly reminded that the perverse accomplishment of the Second Intifada was death of innocents with no improvement in the Palestinian predicament. This intifada followed the Bill Clinton-brokered Camp David summit of 2000. The view from Tel Aviv is unlike that from Washington. Several misconceptions have permeated American foreign policy in the Middle East. First, that applying pressure on Israel will placate its adversaries enough to bring them to the negotiating table. Second, that an Israeli settlement-freeze is the key to unlocking peace in the region. Third, that an American-imposed agreement will take hold. Fourth, that there is a Palestinian government capable of striking and implementing a peace deal on behalf of all Palestinians.

Historical due diligence clearly shows that pressure on Israel will only yield Israeli resistance to negotiations and will embolden Arab opponents of a peaceful solution. The Obama administration’s preoccupation with a settlement freeze legitimizes further Arab finger pointing and is antithetical to progress. As evidenced in Sinai, Israel has shown willingness to uproot settlements when there is hope for a lasting peace. An enduring American-brokered peace agreement must involve two willing and capable parties, as were Egypt and Israel in 1979.

Though Fatah shows signs of attempted restructuring, its latest conference in Bethlehem highlighted deep inner divisions and an eternal deadlock with Hamas. The Palestinians have perpetually failed to demonstrate the ability to unite and self-govern. Preponderant corruption, tribalism and internal strife have preoccupied and jaded Palestinian society. Sadly, there is no unified or competent partner for negotiations in the West Bank or in Gaza.

President Obama’s insistence on the ripeness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for solution is fundamentally miscalculated. With whom should Israel sign a peace deal? With Fatah, whose calls for peace ring hollow by its failure to recognize Israel’s basic right to exist? With Hamas, who is openly committed to Israel’s destruction, rules Gaza by brute force, and whose fruitless rocket campaign against Israel left the Palestinians in greater despair and destitution?

Unless the Palestinians create a cohesive government, recognize Israel and eliminate hateful indoctrination, peace attempts will prove futile. Israel must make a concurrent effort to quell settler behavior that disregards Palestinian dignity, and must remain steadfast in its ban on settlement expansion.

I studied in Israel during the Second Intifada, when suicide bombers disrupted the social and economic fabric of Israel but stiffened its resolve. Regrettably for me, as for many Israelis, today’s relative quiet is the "peace” that is most realistic until there is a viable partner on the other side. A hasty American solution will only lead to unsustainable peace and deepened hostility.

Reshef of Oklahoma City is studying at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the IDC Herzliya, Israel.

A hasty American solution will only lead to unsustainable peace and deepened hostility.

No comments: