Some recent opinions suggest that AIPAC shot its wad by bringing down the Freeman nomination and will now recede into the background, no longer capable of influencing Israeli-American relations. But is AIPAC really flinching at this critical time, when Likud has the reigns in Israel, and Netanyahu is talking about nullifying any prospect for a Palestinian state, ending it once and for all by taking the Jordan Valley? Doubtful. Netanyahu is scheduled to speak at the next AIPAC convention in May.
The really big question is not AIPAC: it is whether Obama will flinch and backtrack from his Middle East agenda where a Palestinian state is up front and clearly voiced by Obama’s envoy, George Mitchell.
Yet, even before Freeman’s nomination was withdrawn, we already saw signs of kowtow from Obama. For example, Obama never responded after his request that Israel permit humanitarian aid into bleeding Gaza was ignored, even flouted. Now we hear Hillary threatening to withdraw 900 million dollars pledged by the US to help rebuild Gaza if the Fatah-Hamas coalition being negotiated in Egypt does not formally “recognize Israel’s right to exist.” The “right to exist” pledge demanded from Hamas, which only represents about 20% of the Palestinians living in the territories, is clearly an obstacle created by Israel to avoid peace negotiations, and although the administration is probably not oblivious to that fact, it seems to be acquiescing. But while not negotiating with Hamas appeases Israel, it also counters Obama’s diplomacy tact in his pledge to change the Middle East.
It is not known whether Obama appreciates that he cannot linger when it comes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as time may be running out. Israel’s colonialism is inexorable and recently showed signs of acceleration, with the government’s approval of another 73,000 homes to be built in the Palestinian territories (reported by Peace Now).
Henry Siegman made the “time running out” case in the January 12, 2009 edition of The Nation: A Last Chance at Middle East Peace?. The right wing Likud party and its American counterparts like AIPAC will undoubtedly be working to plant further obstacles in front of Obama’s feet.
President-elect Obama will be the last American president who has a chance to save the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. If he does not achieve this goal during the first year of his presidency, the two-state “horizon” that George W. Bush pursued so ineptly is likely to disappear for good. But even a quick engagement by the new president will fare no better than previous US peace initiatives–all of which have gotten nowhere–if Obama and his advisers approach the task believing that some more “peace processing” or “confidence-building measures” will achieve the goal.
The Israel-Palestine conflict has defied US “facilitation” over these many years not because of procedural shortcomings or a paucity of ideas. The terms of a workable agreement–formulated in the so-called Clinton Parameters of December 2000 and elaborated in the Taba discussions that followed in January 2001–are well known and enjoy near-universal support. They call for minor rectifications in the 1949 armistice line (which served as Israel’s pre-1967 border) in order to allow Israel to retain a cluster of nearby settlements based on an agreed equal exchange of territory on both sides of the border; a capital for the new Palestinian state in Arab East Jerusalem; a limited return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel in agreed numbers that do not significantly alter Israel’s ethnic and religious balance; a nonmilitarized Palestinian state that addresses Israeli security concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty; and a US-led international force that would ensure security and assist with Palestinian nation-building for a transitional period.
What has been missing is the political will to get the parties to act on these parameters–a political and moral failure that has doomed all previous efforts. This failure has not been the result of ignorance but of cowardice–a willful disregard by Israel and successive American administrations, as well as by much of the international community, of certain unchanging fundamentals that underlie this conflict. Peace initiatives that ignore these fundamentals and seek an agreement on the cheap cannot succeed.
(LINK to the rest of the article above)
Siegman’s main thesis is that America is the only party to this conflict capable of negotiating a successful peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but that peace must be concluded now or be relinquished forever. In Siegman’s view, a Palestinian state must result, possibly based on the Clinton-Taba parameters, within the first year of Obama’s first term. The upcoming struggle is between the view of Obama, the American view, and that of Netanyahu, the right wing Likud view, a contrast that wouldn’t be wider. The battle lines appear set.