Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Family Affairs

July 28, 2009
Family Affairs
Obama’s ostensibly more realistic and sophisticated positions regarding foreign relations, which were supposed to have replaced US arrogance under Bush, are quickly dissipating. No sooner does Obama embark on steps designed to improve the US image abroad, than key people in his administration such as Clinton and Biden come out with declarations echoing the “cold war” policies of the previous administration.
Here in the ME, Obama is losing positive momentum created by his Cairo speech. His team, despite the addition of a “realist” diplomat here and there, is still the same old cluster of people whose main expertise is in organizing a peace process which is bereft of any substance at all. Since Obama’s real policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue is far from clear , there is room for endless diplomatic procrastination and bickering. How far can Obama go along the road to peace when he and his administration take care to remind us on every possible occasion that any differences with Israel are “in the family.”
In a recent statement at the beginning of the month, Xavier Solana, the retiring EU Minister of Foreign Affairs and a pro-US, pro-NATO politician if there ever was one, proposed a serious alternative to the current “piece by piece” technique. Solana’s proposal demonstrated the gap between the Mitchell mission and real action on the Israel-Palestinian issue. Solana merely suggested moving the whole issue to the UN Security Council, including setting a tangible date to work out a clear compromise on the final status agreement. Of course, Israel rejected the idea in less than 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the US and other important players on the international scene are busy expressing their displeasure at Israel’s continuing settlement provocations beyond the Green Line (the June 1967 borders). While it is a pleasant diversion to watch the Israeli establishment writhe and squirm in the July heat, one fears that Obama is helping Bibi on the tactical level and falling into the old “piece by piece” trap.
It is hard to describe the paroxysms of simulated righteous indignation which seize Israeli leaders over U.S. “intervention” in Israel’s “internal affairs.” Since holy Jerusalem was involved, the local media got busy declaring a new Israeli consensus supporting Netanyahu:
‘The US position which challenges our sovereign rights in Jerusalem is totally unreasonable and simply unacceptable. Jerusalem was ours long before DC was built. It is impossible to understand that the US cannot understand this.’
Though it is clear to any serious observer that the excitement in Bibi’s outfit is pure hypocrisy, the U.S. behavior is actually helpful to Netanyahu on the tactical level. The demand for cessation of building, even in East Jerusalem, seems to the average Israeli as a concession, unless it appears as an element in real, practical negotiations on peace with the Palestinians. Serious, active negotiations are what are needed to convince public opinion that it is worth compromising to reach peace.
At this point, every diplomatic meeting here begins and ends with ritual declarations by the U.S. that Israel is our faithful ally, with common goals and interests. This catechism of “kutzenyu, mutsenyu” (intimate familiarity) merely increases Bibi’s credibility when he claims that there are no real problems in the “special alliance.” However, the U.S. is only fooling itself when it pretends that direct, genuine, productive negotiations in the region are possible while Bibi is in the Israeli driver’s seat.
In truth, the U.S. could get rid of Bibi or cut him down to size with relatively little effort. A demand for vigorous actions against the outposts would meet with general approval here and suffice to shatter Bibi’s coalition. The U.S. reticence to do some of the vital work to clear Israel’s political swamp is another indicator that Washington is still far from being serious about real action for peace in the region.
It may be that Washington thinks that it has plenty of time to weaken Bibi’s power and prestige. This is another dangerous illusion. Cheap little chauvinist politicians like Bibi Netanyahu usually cultivate a gang of military strategists whose fondest dreams are to launch adventurous mega-provocations with gigantic destabilizing effects - perfectly designed to scuttle any possibilities for diplomatic progress. Uzi Arad, the Israeli choir master of the Dr. Strangelove disciples of the absolute deterrent, is only the tip of the non-conventional iceberg. The present Israeli coalition would prefer destabilization and chaos over the imposition of a just peace.
As George Mitchell, Bill Gates and James Jones come and go an eerie queasiness descends on the region. Is it really the case that Israeli-Palestinian peace is not urgent? Is it the least important element in this endless churning? One is tempted momentarily to believe that with all this motion something important must be happening on the peace front. However, despite al the diplomatic flurry, watching Bibi Netanyahu smirking at the head of a stable Israeli government should help to dispel any illusions.