President Obama is hosting a dinner for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sept. 1, in order to kick off the new round of direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. As regular readers know, I don't think this effort will go anywhere, because the two sides are too far apart and because the Obama administration won't have the political will to push them towards the necessary compromises.
Monday, August 30, 2010 -
Monday, August 30, 2010 -
Furthermore, there are now a few hints that the Obama administration is about to repeat the same mistakes that doomed the Clinton administration's own Middle East peacemaking efforts and the Bush administration's even more half-hearted attempts (i.e., the "Road Map" and the stillborn Annapolis summit). Last week, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronoth provided a summary of a conference call between Obama Middle East advisors Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and David Hale and the leaders of a number of influential American Jewish organizations. According to the article (whose accuracy I cannot vouch for), the goal of the direct talks will be a "framework agreement" between the two sides that would then be implemented over a period of up to ten years.
Excuse me, but haven't we seen this movie before, and isn't the last reel a bummer? This idea sounds a lot like the Oslo Accords, which also laid out a "framework" for peace, but deferred the hard issues to the end and repeatedly missed key deadlines. Or maybe it's another version of the Road Map/Annapolis summit, which offered deadlines and bold talk and led precisely nowhere. Or perhaps what they have in mind is a "shelf agreement" -- a piece of paper that sits "on the shelf" until conditions are right (i.e., forever). It is this sort of charade that has led veteran observers like Henry Siegman to denounce the long-running peace process as a "scam," and Siegman is hardly alone in that view.
Here's the basic problem: Unless the new "framework" is very detailed and specific about the core issues -- borders, the status of East Jerusalem, the refugee issue, etc., -- we will once again have a situation where spoilers on both sides have both an incentive and the opportunity to do whatever they can to disrupt the process. And even if it were close to a detailed final-status agreement, a ten-year implementation schedule provides those same spoilers (or malevolent third parties) with all the time they will need to try to derail the deal. I can easily imagine Netanyahu and other hardliners being happy with this arrangement, as they would be able to keep expanding settlements (either openly or covertly) while the talks drag on, which is what has happened ever since Oslo (and under both Likud and Labor governments). Ironically, some members of Hamas might secretly welcome this outcome too, because it would further discredit moderates like Abbas and Fayyad. And there is little reason to think the United States would do a better job of managing the process than it did in 1990s.