Is Obama Playing a 'Game of High Stakes Chicken' With Israel & the Palestinians?
In contrast to the immense transformation the Middle East is undergoing, President Obama’s speech Thursday offered only minor modifications to decades-old "solutions" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
These ‘solutions’ have been negotiated and repackaged numerous times under even more popular and willful Palestinian and Israeli leaderships. Yet, much-desired peace remains elusive.
Given the stagnation of the peace process and the tremendous regional instability, only a new and bold peace-making approach could establish positive momentum now.
My fear is that in the absence of strong leadership, the kind that promotes courageous and innovative steps, President Obama's speech might actually and inadvertently encourage Israelis and Palestinians to resort to go it alone and turn to violence and conflict.
Since Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects the ’67 borders and would prefer an entrenchment mentality until the Middle East stabilizes, he is unlikely to follow President Obama’s scheme.
At the same time, Palestinian Leaders are not likely to put aside their demands with regard to refugeeism and Jerusalem, nor are they willing to make brave concessions that will bring to conclusion what appear to be never-ending negotiations.
So where does that leave us? Unfortunately the key message both parties may take away from the speech is the president’s endorsement of Middle Eastern civic revolt and his tolerance of some governments’ counter-measures.
Thursday’s presidential speech seems to overlook the new emerging Palestinian strategy that abandons mutually-agreed upon accords as means to reach just and lasting peace. This new dangerous strategy was evident from Mahmud Abbass’s Tuesday op-ed piece in the New York Times. In the piece, Abbass deliberately ignored past agreements and most U.N. Resolutions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, the Palestinian president chose to emphasize unilateral steps over compromise through bilateral negotiations.
Such a strategy goes hand-in-hand with the PLO’s recent decision to join forces with Hamas, which favors the use of force over recognition of Israel’s very right to exist.
In the context of this strategy, one must also note the well-coordinated infiltration across Israel’s borders in the north and in the south last week, which could have been prevented should Hamas, Hezbollah or Assad’s regime would have wanted to do so. Multiple incursions clearly target Israel’s borders and sovereignty, while also challenging the ‘two states solution’ by promoting the notion of potential mass immigration into Israel.
As the Palestinians prepare to unilaterally declare statehood in September, it must be clear to them, and to the White House, that Israel will not sit still.
Playing high-stakes "chicken" could lead to disaster. While the Palestinian president might think that statehood and national unity can only be achieved through struggle, he risks entanglement in a violent conflict that might, in fact, backfire and hurt the Palestinian goal of statehood.
Yet, even if the Palestinian plan to gain de jure recognition from the U.N. does not materialize, Mahmud Abbass might still suffer a political backlash of unmet expectations.
This strategy is a double-edged sword.
Just as with other Arab regimes, the Palestinian strategy may actually expose the weaknesses of the current Palestinian regime, given high unemployment, corruption, large security apparatuses and limited democratic practices.
In order to avoid such deterioration, it is of upmost importance to adopt a new approach. Instead of outdated, all-encompassing agreements between elites, the U.S. should pressure both parties to take concrete reciprocal steps that could be implemented immediately.
Showing progress on the ground would build confidence, establish realistic expectations regarding the pace and scope of the process, and help avoid further destabilization in the region. Each operational initiative should touch upon one of the key issues Palestinians and Israelis have been negotiating (e.g. borders, refugees, business cooperation, etc.), and have a real impact on the daily lives of those involved.
Rather than being (non-)constructively ambiguous regarding the status of refugees and Jerusalem, the U.S. President should lead his allies in the region to support and sponsor the operational initiatives.
‘An Operational Peace Plan’ will enable Arab rulers to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ and demonstrate their actual commitment to human rights, economic mobility, refugee rehabilitation etc., through their support of an evolving Palestinian democracy de facto.
This in turn will help Arab governments garner domestic support for stability and gradual change, as they struggle to bolster their position in their respective highly-dynamic political arenas. And, as importantly, such a move can mitigate the risks and costs entailed in further destabilization of the region.
Eylon Javetz, an independent strategic consultant based in New York City, is a former peace broker and policy planner who participated in Arab-Israeli negotiations.