After President Obama’s historic speech in Cairo calling for reconcilation between US and the Muslim world, Muslims have hailed its tone but wants action. Israel’s response is a continuation of settlement construction. As much as Israel tries to taiji away the eyes of the world on the Palestinian issue to Iran’s nukes, President Obama is having none of it. In fact, President Obama’s speech has redrawn the battle lines. The focus is suddenly not so much a Islam vs Jew or Palestinian vs Israel issue but it is now a centrist/moderate vs extremism/hardliners issue. Here in the NY Times aricle titled “The Divisions within Israel and the Palestinians“, the author Ethan Bronner says
No matter how seriously and intelligently Mr. Obama presses Israel and the Palestinians to make peace with each other, little is likely to be accomplished until something else is addressed: the fierce and explosive divisions within each society between those who favor a deal and those who oppose one.
Sounds like President Obama’s Cairo speech may end up to be just that, a speech. Ethan Bronner is spot on on the main difficulties to achieve peace. Both sides have hardline, extremist elements within their societies. And these are the ones who will attempt to disrupt any peace agreement that is unpalatable to them. The Israelis and the Palestinians have signed an agreement at Oslo in 1993 before, but it broke down. On why, Shimon Peres, Israel’s president said
the challenge of making the accord work was heightened by the fact that only half of one nation had decided to seek peace with half of the other, which made disruption easy.
So what’s President Obama’s game plan ? He has promised action but the Palestinian side is now divided into 2 irreconcilable groups, Fatah & Hamas. A divided Palestinian side have no legitimacy of negotiating any peace accord. On the Israeli side, they are skeptical about living in peace side by side with Palestinians which may eventually turn out to be a rogue state at their doorstep. And to remove the settlers from the disputed lands is a political bomb. After the lifting emotions brought by the speech, it sounds like President Obama is naively signing on to something which is almost impossible to achieve and potentially explosive. So why in the world is President Obama so committed to and so confident about Mid-East peace ? Let’s take a look at what the alternative is if the status quo is maintained.
- For the Israelis, it means having to live with the periodic invasions into Palestinian territories to weed out terrorists. Sure you can send in the tanks and set up road blocks and keep the Palestinians impoverished, but every time you do that, you just take away karma points in the global eyes of every succeeding generation. And you cannot always guarantee a president Bush to keep your ass covered all the time.
- Israel risks alienating the US and they cannot afford to do so. America is the patron saint, the godfather of Israel. Without US “unbreakable” support and surrounded by hostile Arab enemies, their lives will get miserable because they only have limited influence on the region and the world. It’s also not lost on Israelis that President Obama’s renewed friendship with other Arab states will also sideline Israel in the region.
- The accord of settlement freeze is already agreed upon by the Israelis themselves, so it is difficult to defend on a moral standpoint. Israel also potentially stand to win recognition of their Jewish state by the Arabs if they compromise, finally living in peaceful coexistence with a bonanza of economic gains that will follow.
- The Palestinians are actually more of a peace killer than the Israelis. Though politically explosive, Israel can still weather the settler issue. But Fatah and Hamas have been at each other’s throats and hopes of them coming together is almost an impossibility. If there is a major stumbling block to peace, it will be because of pure stupidity on the part of the Palestinians. The Palestinians need to stop the whining and decry the violence, start governing and provide basic services for the people before any negotiations can begin with Israelis. Barring which, Israel will use the excuse it does not feel safe bargaining with half of Palestine again.
- The Palestinians are going to be forgotten and relegated to the sands of history if they don’t get their act together. After President Obama, there is very little chance another US president will be as patient and sympathetic to their cause. In future, nobody will care, not even Arab countries and those who care are the extremists and terrorists. If they don’t realize this, they will be annihilated or just go extinct 20-30 years from now. Israel is prepared to endure terrorism & just wait out for the ultimate demise of Palestinians. It is absolutely vital that the Palestinians stand with this US president in ths critical time of history to ensure their hopes for statehood. They have a lot to do to win credibility.
- For the rest of the Arab world, extreme groups will not want to see peace for the Palestinians. Also if Iran turns conservative and acquires nuclear weapons, other Arab states and Israel will not sit idly by adding to the complexity of the situation. Here, the popularity of President Obama will be put to the test, whether he can help influence moderate, centrist groups in Middle-East to take charge. They also want to see US disengage militarily and they will probably help if only to quickly get rid of the US. If Arabs become more moderate, the pressure will also be more intense for Palestine and Israel to sue for peace. The darker alternative is a total collapse of order in the Mid-East to extremist groups with the world containing conflicts within it by military means which is a lose-lose for everyone.
- America will not be trusted as an impartial honest broker and will have to continue living with the scourge of Islamist terrorism who will continue to use the Palestinian failures as a rallying cry. It will become a cancer that will keep relapsing every now and then, with every incident threatening a real “clash of civilizations” with apocalyptic consequences.
There are other more complex scenarios for how this game will be played out. But President Obama is the only US president in recent memory who can see through the thick fog to a much better alternative for all parties. For Israelis and Palestinians, the time now is for their extreme groups to assess the threshold of pain they can endure. If the Palestinians think they can bear with the situation now and suicide bomb their way to statehood, then there’ll be no peace. If the Israelis think they can get away with ethnic extinction of Palestinians and sit out President Obama’s term, then there’ll be no peace. If the Arabs are not supportive and they still think in terms of winner-take-all mentality, then there’ll be no peace. It will be a combination of carrots and sticks that will convince the parties to act. Nevertheless contrary to Ethan Bronner, I would say these are actually better than normal odds for a real positive change in the Middle East under President Obama.