Arrogance, Anguish, and Frustration: Mideast Peace a Big Disappointment
If you haven’t been paying that much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, you are in luck; there is not much to report. That is unless you are surprised that both sides have continued to stonewall negotiations.
Essentially, this is all that has happened over the past few weeks. Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian coalition are fixed on their settlement demands (the Israelis must freeze construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem indefinitely) and P.M. Netanyahu continues to meet those demands with more obstructionist rhetoric.
I am beginning to wonder whether George Mitchell’s efforts in the region are worth this type of aggravation. Stephen Walt tends to think that his reputation can be saved by resigning from his envoy post altogether. While I would not go that far, I do understand his frustration; the only thing that Mr. Mitchell has managed to accomplish over the past year is a lot of frequent flier miles and a ton of jet lag.
I hate to sound like a pessimist, but no Middle Eastern peace accord will be signed by both parties unless the Israelis are willing to give up some of their privileges. By privileges, I mean the expansion of large settlement blocks that are scattered throughout the West Bank; the same land that Palestinians want for a future state. Unfortunately, P.M. Netanyahu is only willing to go so far. A 10 month settlement freeze is a start, but what is the point of such a measure if building resumes later in the year? This is the equivalent of promising Afghans that U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan for 10 months, only to invade the country again.
And what about the recent demands made by the Israelis over the past couple of days. Not only does Netanyahu want permanent Israeli control over some portion of the West Bank…he wants a permanent Israeli troop presence on the Jordanian border. This goes against the very fabric of state sovereignty; the basic and universal principle that all legitimate players in the international system respect and admire.
The rationale the Israelis use to justify a fixed troop presence on the Jordanian border is also lacking. The Israeli Government argues that this measure would help suppress rocket fire into Israel and would stop any illegal weapons shipments from getting to Hamas militants. Little do they know that it is through the porous borders of Syria and Lebanon- not through Jordan- where weapons, rockets, anti-tank missiles, and mortars slide into the Gaza Strip.
And would an Israeli checkpoint on the Jordanian border really make that much of a difference? The Israelis have a pretty good grasp on their northern border with Lebanon, but a heavy presence does not necessarily stop each and every weapon convoy from reaching Hamas.
The bottom line is that Israelis need to start acting realistically and need to denounce their disillusioned fantasy of a “Greater Israel.” Sure, the Palestinians have some work to do as well; they could stop insisting that their preconditions be met before peace talks resume. No one is immune from criticism.
But Palestinian grievances aside, brute talk from the Israelis doesn’t give Abbas and Company the right frame of mind for peace talking. Citing Israel’s imperialistic demands, why would Abbas return to the table?
**Comments courtesy of the Economist**
-Daniel R. DePetris