Washington (UPI) Nov 22, 2010 The Middle East peace process is beginning to look like the Theater of the Absurd. Absurdism posits that while meaning may well exist in the universe, human beings are incapable of finding it due to some form of mental limitation. In the Mideast, neither Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seem capable of crossing the Rubicon or embarking on a course of action on which there is no going back.
Egypt and Israel were similarly deadlocked after the 1973 Yom Kippur War and it wasn't until 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat stunned the world by flying to Israel to address the Knesset and convince Israel he was serious about peace.
Sadat had taken matters out of U.S. diplomatic hands to reach a peace agreement with the erstwhile enemy -- and signed his own death warrant. He knew Islamist fanatics would sooner or later kill him, which they did Oct. 6, 1981.
Now there is only one person who could impose a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians -- U.S. President Barack Obama himself, not Vice President Joe Biden. It would require direct involvement by the president of the United States, commuting, as President Jimmy Carter did in 1978, between two log cabins (occupied by Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin) at Camp David for 12 days. The result was a peace treaty and the establishment of full diplomatic and commercial relations.
Could the diplomatic hat trick be repeated by Obama? A recent 10-month Israeli moratorium on new construction in the occupied territories excluded East Jerusalem, and in the West Bank new buildings went up in several settlements -- below radar detection. Now Netanyahu has agreed to a further 90-day moratorium -- but exacted a stiff price from Obama.
First, there would be no further extension of the moratorium. Second, East Jerusalem won't be part of negotiations for a Palestinian capital. Third, the United States will veto any attempt by the Palestinians to win U.N. recognition of their still mythical state. Fourth, in a buy-one-get-one-free deal, Obama will ask Congress to approve a $3 billion gift of 20 fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters (in addition to the 20 F-35s Israel is buying with the almost $3 billion it gets every year from Washington).
For angry Palestinians, it is simply a matter of a costly bribe to get Israel to fulfill basic international obligations. All the United States gets for a 90-day extension of the moratorium on new construction in the West Bank (not in East Jerusalem, which the rest of the world doesn't recognize as Israel's capital; foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv) is Netanyahu's agreement to talk on-and-off for three more months.
None of this bodes well for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. But Israel scored big in Washington. And the Palestinians conclude yet again that Israel, backed up by still more American Israeli Public Affairs Committee -- an Israeli lobby -- supporters since the mid-term elections, is under little pressure to make possible a viable Palestinian state.
There is also a nascent Palestinian leadership vacuum. Abbas, who is head of the Fatah party, head of the PLO, and head of the Palestinian Authority, announced he won't be running again. Both his term and the legislature's are up before year's end. They will all stay in office until elections can be organized. But there is no obvious successor to Abbas.
Hardly a propitious time to resume negotiations with the Israelis.
Besides, the result is preordained. All the Israelis have to do is talk with the Palestinians for another 90 days -- safe in the knowledge that another $3 billion in U.S. military aid is in the pipeline.
For Netanyahu and his hard-line ministers, there is little doubt that if they agreed to end the occupation of the West Bank, moderate Palestinians would be crushed by Hamas, the Islamist extremist party that now rules the Gaza strip. And a West Bank ruled by Hamas is bound to look at the Mediterranean Sea as the next frontier.
A Hamas-dominated Palestinian government would also have powerful allies -- Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iran. And if such Palestinian state emerged, many Israelis, backed by many Americans, would be itching for a military showdown with Iran.
For the United States, the emergence of a truly independent Palestinian state is a geopolitical imperative. Al-Qaida's propaganda, from the Internet's sympathetic online magazines to many Arab publications who blame the United States for what they see as Israel's brutal suppression of Palestinians, Washington is in a hurry for a course correction.
The seemingly deadlocked Palestinian peace talks -- and the United States' inability to get Israelis off the West Bank -- are constantly blamed by Arab media on a secret U.S.-Israel compact. Most educated Arabs, including many who have earned stateside degrees, believe that United States and Israeli intelligence services conspired to carry out the 9/11 plots. Many Arab newspapers use this monstrous canard to pigeonhole America and the Jewish state.
The founding charter of Hamas, written by the extremists who rule Gaza, says Jews seek to conquer all the land between the Euphrates in Iraq and the Nile in Egypt. Similar thoughts are articles of faith, often conveyed online where scores of pro-al-Qaida Web sites compete for attention.
After what was described as a grueling seven-hour session Nov. 11 with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York, Netanyahu flew home. It taxes credulity to accept what was widely described as a "$3 billion American bribe" as a major step in the peace process. Britain's Independent wrote, "the fact that the West and its political and journalistic elites … take this tomfoolery at face value … is a measure of the degree to which we have taken leave of our senses in the Middle East."
Monday, November 22, 2010
Commentary: Waiting for Godot Israeli MPs pass Golan, east Jerusalem referendum bill Jerusalem (AFP) Nov 22, 2010 - Israel's parliament on Monday passed a law calling for a national referendum ahead of any withdrawal from annexed east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, a move that could derail future peace deals. The law, which had the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, passed with 65 lawmakers in favour and 33 against in a late night vote. There were no abstentions. Under the new legislation any government signing a peace agreement ceding the annexed territories of east Jerusalem or the Golan, or any other sovereign territory within Israel itself, would be unable to implement the treaty without the approval of parliament and a national referendum. It would not affect territorial concessions within the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, which Israel has not annexed. Netanyahu, who is currently engaged in efforts to revive stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians, praised the passage of the law. "Any peace agreement demands a broad national agreement and this law provides this," a statement from his office said after the vote. "The Israel public is involved, informed and responsible and I trust that on the day of decision they would back a peace agreement that answers the national interests, security needs of the State of Israel," he said, according to the statement. But opponents accused Netanyahu of pushing the bill, initiated by a member of his Likud party, to give him a way out if he finds himself pressured by world opinion into a peace treaty with the Palestinians or Syria with which he is uncomfortable. Speaking at the start of the televised debate, Haim Oron, head of the left-wing opposition Meretz party, described the initiative as a "trick" by the right to hobble any government peace attempt. The vote was on an amendment to existing legislation passed in January 1999 in the final days of Netanyahu's previous government. That legislation has the same basic premise but fails to spell out the mechanism for a referendum, which has never been held in Israel before. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, whose Kadima party commands 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, ordered her members of parliament to vote against the amendment. "We have here a weak prime minister for whom it is convenient that he is hindered," the Ynet website quoted her as saying. "We're not talking here about a desire to listen to the will of the people but about setting up a veto on decisions of the government." East Jerusalem was annexed shortly after the 1967 Middle East war, while the Golan Heights plateau was formally annexed in 1981. Both were captured in the conflict. Any pullout from mainly Arab east Jerusalem would only occur as part of a peace deal, but talks between Israel and the Palestinians are currently suspended over a dispute about Jewish settlement building. Among possible solutions for an eventual agreement with the Palestinians could be an exchange of Israeli land for tracts of the West Bank populated by Jewish settlers. Any withdrawal from the Golan would only be likely as part of a negotiated peace treaty with Syria, but both countries remain technically at war and no talks are under way. by Arnaud De Borchgrave
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