The Palestinian Refugee Issue is Not Going to Resolve Itself

When I started getting serious about action on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the associated US foreign policy, I found it imperative to Talbieh Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordanconvince people that the Oslo Accords were doomed to fail. There were the obvious critiques of the accords: the lack of any sort of human rights framework, the absence of consequences for failing to abide by conditions or fulfill agreed upon commitments, and the formal recognition of Israel without any mention whatsoever of a potential Palestinian state. But I saw an even bigger obstacle.

Conventional wisdom has it that Jerusalem is the most difficult stumbling block. But I have always maintained that it is the Palestinian refugees that were the most serious obstacle to a negotiated solution. Read more at LobeLog

Obstacle: The US Role In Israel-Palestine

Obstacle: The US Role In Israel-Palestine

A slightly edited version of this article originally appeared at LobeLog, where I and many other foreign policy experts regularly

Photo: US Secretary of State John Kerry leaves the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, behind as he concludes his failed trip to Israel on April 1, 2014. Credit: State Department

Photo: US Secretary of State John Kerry leaves the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, behind as he concludes his failed trip to Israel on April 1, 2014. Credit: State Department

publish. I’d recommend the site just as strongly even if they didn’t publish my stuff. 

There are many false clichés about the Israel-Palestine conflict. There are also some very true ones, though these are heard less frequently. Perhaps the most profound of these was proven once again this week: the United States is incapable of playing a positive role in this arena.

There is nothing about that statement that should be controversial. A decades-long line of U.S. politicians and diplomats have spoken of the need to resolve this conflict. In recent years, these statements have often been accompanied by an acknowledgment of the need for “Palestinian self-determination.” But Israel is the one country, among all of the world’s nations, of whom those very same leaders speak in terms of an “unbreakable bond,” a country between whose policies and ours there “is no daylight.”

Let’s say my brother gets in a dispute with someone else, perhaps even someone I am acquainted with. Would anyone think that I would be the appropriate person to mediate that conflict? If my brother also had a lot more money and influence in the conflict, and therefore a fair mediation needed a broker who was willing to pressure my brother into compromise because, right or wrong, he does not have incentive to do so. Am I the person to be expected to level that playing field? Continue reading

Mideast Peace Talks Get New Lease on Life

My report for Inter Press Service on the renewal of peace talks between Israel and the PLO.

Indyk to be US Rep. to Israel-Palestinian Peace Talks

This piece originally appeared at LobeLog

Martin Indyk is about to be named the US representative for the resuscitated Israel-Palestinian talks, according to a report from Israel’s Channel 2. (Though it seems Channel 2’s Ehud Yaari was not first with the news. That was actually the inestimable Laura Rozen at al-Monitor)

David Ivry, Paul D. Wolfowitz,  Ariel Sharon, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Martin Indyk, at the Pentagon, March 2001

David Ivry, Paul D. Wolfowitz, Ariel Sharon, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Martin Indyk, at the Pentagon, March 2001

This says a great deal about the US role in the “peace process” and, indeed, the conflict in general. Indyk was the key force in founding the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which is, in essence, the think tank of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In fact, Indyk went from working for AIPAC to working for them as WINEP’s first Executive Director in 1985.

He went on to be Bill Clinton’s special assistant for the Middle East and senior director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. His government service culminated in appointments as US Ambassador to Israel from April 1995 to September 1997 and again from January 2000 to July 2001. Indyk was as central as any figure to the construction — and failures — of the Oslo process, the Camp David II summit in 2000 and the following years of downward spiral. Continue reading

Losing American Interest

President Obama has now left Israel and is winding up his trip. His speeches sounded very counter-productive, offering no hope for progress. And I suspect that was just the message he was sending, especially to Israel. I explain in this week’s Souciant column.

Former Top Aide Offers Insight on Mideast and Iran

In my latest piece of reporting for Inter Press Service, I talk about the appearance yesterday of Dennis Ross at his new/old home, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The combination of Ross’ experience and WINEP’s role in the Israel Lobby will make his a powerful voice even outside of government. It’s worth hearing what he had to say.

Is Obama Charting a New Mideast Peace Course?

Now that the United States has officially abandoned its attempt to convince Israel to stop building settlements for just a little while, please?, everyone is waiting for Plan B. Those who still hope for a peaceful resolution to the Middle East conflict are hoping that the Plan B will include an American assertion of its positions, at least on the matter of borders.

Well, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was supposed to present Plan B on December 10 at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institute in Washington. But while her speech was more even-handed than what we’ve gotten used to, it

Ehud Barak and Hillary Rodham Clinton

was too short on specifics to be said to really mark a new direction. She reinforced the US commitment to Israeli security and the two-state solution and claims that, through renewed shuttle diplomacy, the US would facilitate continued negotiations that are purported to tackle all of the core issues.

The familiarity of her statements cannot but breed contempt, but there were a few hopeful signs. The first one was the Israelis in attendance. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni, the two most prominent leaders vying for Benjamin Netanyahu’s job, represented Israel. That can easily be interpreted as a public American recognition that the current Israeli government, and its leader, is not interested in peace, which is, of course, true. There was also the clearest endorsement yet for the Arab Peace Initiative, and for the most part, Clinton put more than the usual onus on Israel.

Still, the Obama administration continues to repeat the mantra: “…negotiations between the parties is the only path that will succeed in securing their respective aspirations.”

It is, of course, true that there are details that must be worked out between Israelis and Palestinians, but if there is one myth that the Obama administration has shown the emptiness of, it is this holy grail of bilateral negotiations. It is time we examine the assumptions that underlie that axiom. Continue reading