The Peace Process Is Dead: Thanks, Obama

As the curtain drops on 2017, it drops too on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as we have known it. At the age of 24, that process has finally died, with none other than President Donald Trump

Shimon Peres, John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum in May 2013

pulling the plug. But let’s not give him too much credit or blame for that. The killing blow was struck by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

There was much to like in Obama’s presidency, especially given the mess he was handed in 2009 and the unprecedented obstructionism of the Republican Party during his tenure. But he also had abject failures that were due to his own shortcomings, and the sharp degeneration in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his watch is at the top of the list. Read more at LobeLog

The Fall of Netanyahu: Too Little, Too Late

It seems the long reign of Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to its end. Nothing is certain yet, and there will doubtless be more scenes in this tragedy before the curtain falls. But the prospects of Netanyahu continuing as Israel’s prime minister are growing dim.

More than a few are understandably celebrating the light at the end of the tunnel of Netanyahu’s tenure. And, unlike some, I would contend that Israelis have reason for optimism. But for those of us outside of Israel who support the rights of Palestinians as well as Israelis and wish for all of those in the troubled region to enjoy equal rights, the fall of Netanyahu comes too late to make much difference.

In fact, it might set us back in some ways. Read more at LobeLog

The Middle East Vision of Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders is no stranger to igniting fiery passions with his views and speeches. But he is better known for doing so on economic and even social issues than on foreign policy. At the bernie-at-j-streetannual conference of the dovish, pro-Israel lobbying group J Street, however, Sanders gave a speech that can and should become the impetus for a new policy discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During the race for the Democratic nomination last year, Sanders exploded myths by calling forcefully for Palestinian rights while also strongly affirming Israel’s right to exist and need for security. When, in the wake of those remarks, the editorial board of the New York Daily News asked him more detailed questions, it was clear that he had not given enough study, time, or thought to the matter.

That has changed, and Sanders’ rousing speech at the J Street conference on Monday demonstrated a different, more nuanced, but no less powerful stance. Sanders advocated strongly for an approach that treats Palestinian and Israeli needs for security, hope, and justice equally. Read more at LobeLog

Poll: Increasing Support In US For One-State Solution

On Friday, yet another poll on the Middle East was released. They seem to come in a very steady stream, and once

Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat flanking John Kerry at the kickoff of the new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat flanking John Kerry at the kickoff of the new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2013

you identify the questions, the results are almost entirely predictable.

But Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, regularly produces polls that are always worth looking at. Unlike most surveys of American views on US policy in the Middle East, Telhami tends to dig deep as opposed to simply establishing general opinions. The poll he released Dec. 5 includes some very interesting developments and reminders as to why things still aren’t changing—in the region or in Washington.

The most stunning development Telhami reported is that support among US citizens for a single-state in Israel and the Occupied Territories—where all would have full and equal rights—increased a whopping ten percentage points in the past year. The 34% who support that outcome now rivals the 39% who support two states, and it represents a jump of ten percentage points from a year ago.

What does this tell us? Most of the leading advocates for a one-state solution have based their advocacy on the idea that a single, secular and democratic state with equal rights for all represents the fairest, most just solution for all parties; that the two-state solution could not possibly fully address the grievances of Palestinian refugees; and that two states would leave most of the best land in the former area of pre-1948 Palestine in Israeli hands. (Two-state advocates have generally argued that partitioning the land was the fairest way to maintain security for Jews, who needed a state, and allow the Palestinians an opportunity to build an independent state of their own.)

Did a whole bunch of two-state advocates suddenly decide that the one-staters were right all along and that the single, democratic state was the more just option? This seems unlikely, especially since the two-state solution has been, and still is seen as the pragmatic choice.

No, that shift is the result of the despair that the collapse of the Oslo process has produced. Those shifting opinions are also coming from a realization that Israel is lurching ever rightward, making a two-state solution less likely in the near term, while settlements expand and make it increasingly difficult to conceive, much less achieve, two states in the longer term.

Of course, a one-state solution was never seen as a viable option among US citizens, much less in Washington. But now it has nearly as much popular support as two states, even while the discourse on Capitol Hill has not changed a bit. One reason for the split between the public and its representatives is included in this poll.

When asked whether the United States should favor one side or the other in the conflict, 64% said the US should favor neither, 31% said the US should favor Israel, and only 4% said it should favor the Palestinians. This is fairly consistent with long-term trends; most US citizens believe their government should be acting as a neutral arbiter in the conflict or not be involved in it at all, and polls have reflected this for a very long time.

But the minuscule figure who believe we should be favoring the Palestinians, as opposed to the significant minority that support favoring Israel, goes a long way toward explaining why policy and the Washington discourse is not following, even in a small way, the national discourse and gradually shifting views among US citizens. The Palestinians are a generally disliked group—essentially seen as “the bad guys.” Even among Democrats, who, for the most part, exclude those who base their support for Israeli policies on the Bible (most of these so-called Christian Zionists are overwhelmingly Republican), only 6% favor siding with the Palestinians, as opposed to 17% who favor siding with Israel.

You’ll be hard pressed to find another issue where public opinion among those who favor some type of intervention is so lopsidedly opposed to helping the downtrodden and dispossessed. For such an entrenched policy, which has the most powerful and active foreign policy special interest lobby pushing to maintain it, this lack of sympathy for the Palestinians is a major obstacle to change, no matter how much the discourse might shift.

That discursive shift has had the effect of seriously diminishing the positive view of Israel in the United States. The Netanyahu government has contributed more than its share to that cause, of course. But so have the efforts of Palestinian activists and other pro-peace groups who have made an issue of Israeli rejectionism and the flaws in US policy.

But none of that has changed the view of the Palestinian cause in the United States. As Telhami’s poll and a long line of polls preceding it imply, most in the US believe that Palestinians’ rights should be respected in the abstract, but Palestinians are still seen as the less sympathetic combatant in this conflict. And Israel’s diminishing image hasn’t changed that.

Nor is there sufficient support for punitive actions against Israel for settlement construction. Sixty-one percent of respondents in this poll said the US should do nothing or just stick to making statements against settlement construction. With a mere 39% supporting more concrete action, Congress will feel very safe in continuing its absolute opposition to any pressure on Israel to desist from this practice.

All of this helps explain why, despite Israel’s reduced appeal in the United States and despite the increasing popularity of a solution that protects democracy rather than Israel’s Jewish character, nothing has changed in Washington. But if the mood among the US public continues in this direction, could that change?

It could, over time, especially considering the profound partisan differences in how Democrats and Republicans view the conflict. That should be a clarion call for those who still want to see a two-state solution emerge. Right now, Israel is pursuing various permutations of a single-state solution, but one where institutionalized discrimination privileging Jews over Arabs is strengthened. The Israeli right can push this agenda in the vacuum created by the apparent death of the two-state solution.

Yet the notion of two states need not die. The Oslo process was flawed from the very beginning. It was born out of documents and agreements that never explicitly stated that a Palestinian state next to Israel was a goal, nor did they offer any sort of human rights guidelines, let alone guarantees. Efforts in Oslo to restrict violence were horribly lopsided, with a laser-like focus on Palestinian violence while virtually ignoring the violence of the occupation itself, as well as that of many of the Jewish settlers. And while the very structure of the occupation provided both Israel and the United States with methods of coercion and pressure against the Palestinians, nothing of the kind was regularly exerted against Israel when it failed to fulfill the letter or spirit of agreements.

Oslo and the two-state solution became synonymous and, as a result, when the process failed, many came to believe that it was the very notion of two states that was fatally flawed. The despair leads more and more to abandon the two-state concept entirely. But that need not be.

It is entirely possible that one state is a better solution, or that Israeli settlement expansion through the West Bank and East Jerusalem already have too much momentum and have gobbled up too much land for a viable two-state solution to be possible. But the failure of Oslo, in and of itself, tells us nothing about whether a two state scenario could work. A two-state model—that includes basic standards of human rights and equal rights (political, civil and national) for all people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, including Gaza, and includes penalties for both sides for failures of compliance based on a broad but clear, internationally agreed upon vision of the final agreement—could still work.

Undoubtedly, support for a single, secular and democratic state is growing. As people of good will continue to work to resolve this long, bloody and vexing conflict, it is an idea that needs to be considered. It is increasingly popular and based on notions of fairness, and stands against myopic nationalism and ethnocentrism. But it shouldn’t be the only option. A two-state vision, one very different from Oslo, should accompany it. In addition to the conditions I mentioned above, it should also include agreements of cooperation on commerce, economics, resources (especially water) and security. It should not mean Palestine would be de-militarized and eternally vulnerable, enjoying only partial sovereignty. Instead, security for both states would be ensured, and prosperity for both states would be promoted, by interdependency, based on treaties and agreements.

Both two-state and one-state scenarios have weaknesses and inherent flaws that can doom them. Given the hopelessness with which Israelis, Palestinians and all who care about the issue are facing now, we need to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater. While those who believe in such scenarios work to promote their one-state visions, two-state supporters need to immediately re-align their vision and reset the two-state idea. What’s needed in Israel and Palestine is not stubborn ideology, but a willingness to accept the best idea for moving forward. And the way to start doing that is by opening minds to new possibilities rising out of the inevitable failure of the process that laid exclusive claim to “peace” for twenty years.

Changing Course: Mahmoud Abbas At The UNGA

Reaction to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the UN General Assembly today was swift and sharp. One of the most incisive

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN general Assembly, 9/26/14

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN general Assembly, 9/26/14

Israeli columnists, Chemi Shalev of Ha’aretz, broke it down very well. He considered Abbas’ speech to be a welcome gift to the Israeli right. And I agree with him. But that’s not really the point.

Abbas has often used the UN podium as a way to be more direct and combative than he usually is regarding Israel, de-emphasizing the “partner for peace” charade and instead being more of an advocate for and leader of the Palestinian cause. But this time, he really turned up the heat. His reference to the attack on Gaza as “genocide” was calculated to play very well in Ramallah and Gaza City, and he willingly sacrificed the rest of the world’s approval. Continue reading