Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, a team who have written a number of key and informed articles for intellectual media about how the U.S. conducted the unsuccessful Camp David negotiations (hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton) in late July 2000 between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, have written today in The Guardian that “amid speculation over how Israelis and Palestinians might now resume their talks, a reality is taking hold: the point is fast approaching where negotiations between the two will be, for all practical purposes and for the foreseeable future, over. As emissaries are dispatched and ideas explored, discussions could well carry on. But they will have lost all life, energy or sense of purpose”.
This piece of analysis is rather trite in describing the motives and situation of Israel’s current Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. It is better at taking on the current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
They write: “Two years ago [when Barak Obama had been elected and his transition team was putting together his new administration] Abbas also harboured a faith of sorts. Part of it was fuelled by a lifelong belief that Israelis could be persuaded by sheer force of reason and logic of the need for compromise. He also invested high hopes in President Obama and, based on precedent, had little cause to believe a rightwing Israeli prime minister would necessarily be worse than a centrist or leftwing one. What optimism there was did not last long, replaced by a growing sense of dejection. Abbas faced a heroic task for which he needed help from all. He got it from virtually none. Belief in the United States soon started to fade, a victim of Washington’s serial tactical misjudgments and inability to live up to its promises. Abbas felt betrayed too by Arab regimes that had pledged their support only to desert him at the first opportunity. On the domestic front, there is no political weight or momentum behind the negotiations. Not unlike Netanyahu, the Palestinian president emerged profoundly discouraged from their meetings, shaken by his counterpart’s demands, staggered by the chasm separating their respective positions. For Abbas, who has staked all on negotiations, the realisation was especially deflating. His rejection of violence is heartfelt and not something he is about to revisit. Yet only now is he coming to terms with its practical consequences, with no viable alternative to the failed diplomatic diplomatic strategy”.
What is the situation now? “The result is an acute feeling of powerlessness. To which one must add the Palestinians’ wholesale reliance on foreign donors for economic and political support, further narrowing the scope for autonomous action. It would not be the first time that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations reached an impasse. Yet this would be something different. If Netanyahu fails to reach an agreement, it could be a long while before any other Israeli leader succeeds. It would conclusively establish in the eyes of most Israelis that for now, peace is unattainable. A more centrist successor government would confront a more hostile landscape: a deal signed by the right would rally the left in support; a deal signed by the left would mobilise the right in opposition. And no successor to Abbas with the required legitimacy or history waits in the wings. After him, the Palestinian movement – already tired and broken – will further tear itself apart. A long and arduous process of redefinition will commence. A historic compromise will not be on the cards. Netanyahu’s and Abbas’s disillusionment is not merely a crisis. Short of an unexpected and seismic shift, it will represent, in more ways than one, the end of a road”. This Hussein Agha + Robert Malley piece can be read in full here.
An editorial published in yesterday’s issue of The Guardian says that “The Middle East peace process died a quiet, undramatic death with the statement last week that the US had given up trying to persuade Binyamin Netanyahu to stop building on occupied land as a prerequisite to direct talks with the Palestinians. Few, however, are interested in burying the corpse. The rightwing coalition under Mr Netanyahu is relaxed about the failure to restart the talks, because half the cabinet do not accept that they are occupying any land other than their own. And anyway, every day without a final status agreement is another day when the cement mixers can whirl and the cranes swivel. Palestinian leaders who recognise Israel are also reluctant to make good their pledges to resign, because they, too, would lose position, power and political meaning … The US is unwilling to set a date for the funeral, because to recognise that a death had taken place would entail an inquest and an examination of 18 fruitless years of failed attempts. And that is the last thing a US president fighting re-election will do. The radical part of Barack Obama’s Middle East strategy has already been and gone. He has spent his political capital and needs to conserve the dimes in his pocket. All of these are compelling short-term reasons for doing nothing, for saying, as if this has not been said often enough in the past, that the time is not ripe, the leaders are too weak, the sides are not ready. But they are dreadful long-term ones. Israel will continue to impose its own one-state solution, with separate roads, and separate governance for Jew and Arab … The contradiction at the heart of US policy is that its support for Israel is unconditional. Even the offer of billions of dollars of aid did not turn Mr Netanyahu’s head, because he knew, if he refused, the flow of US money and weaponry would continue unabated”. This editorial is posted on The Guardian’s website, here.
Inexplicably, the Obama Administration does not — yet — appear to be worried.