In the last couple of months there have been vocal denunciations from the American Jewish peace camp of “peace skeptics,” those who scoffed at Kerry’s indefatigable trips to the Middle East and asked what he thought he was doing. Giving aid and comfort to the enemies of peace, we were accused of. Sure I was one of the scoffers; in fact I don’t know anyone who didn’t scoff, privately at least. I will be very happy to eat crow if and when the time comes, but it hasn’t come yet.
I applauded (and continue to applaud) Kerry’s energy. But the likely peace talk “principles,” not yet formulated, do not provide a lot of reason to believe that much can be signed, sealed and delivered. Reports are that either party will be free to disagree with any of those principles in any case. In other words, Israel won what it said it wanted, peace talks without preconditions. Abbas, obviously with reluctance, in the end gave Kerry (fronting, I suspect, for Bibi in this) what he wanted. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; but it means the big (very big) issues will be waiting on the table when the negotiators convene next week down the street.
At the talks, eventually, Bibi will have to put up or shut up. Will he accept a Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital – and can he put together a government that would implement that? In my view that is the ultimate question; all the rest, as Hillel said, is commentary. If he does that, the Palestinians will have to accept an effective (though not necessarily theoretical) renunciation of the Right of Return, otherwise there can’t be a deal. I have little doubt Abbas will be pressured by virtually all of his allies, American, European and Arab, to give that up, and he will have to do it. The greater doubt is the Israeli willingness to bite the bullet. No matter how many formulations are presented, that’s what Israel will have to do. And no one knows if this, or any government, can or will do it.
I’ve felt for years that the crucial player will end up being President Obama, though I doubt it’s a role he’s happy with, especially now. In my view, Bibi Netanyahu is ultimately an opportunist (the more positive word is pragmatist). If he’s pushed to the wall, he might do it, and then (irony of ironies) end his career as a hero of the left, like Ariel Sharon. It’s indeed hard to imagine, but not inconceivable. But he’ll have to be pushed, prodded, and essentially forced to do the right thing because all of his upbringing, education, instincts, and political experience scream to him not to do it. Moreover, most of his current party and governmental colleagues will regard him as a traitor, not to mention his late father’s ghost. Perhaps worse, those applauding him will be those he has despised all his life.
Can anyone imagine Barack Obama, three and a half years before the end of his administration and facing a Republican party willing to do anything to bring him down, putting Bibi in a political and diplomatic hammerlock in order to seal the deal? I can’t, though I wish I could. It’s not as though the Democratic party is exactly united on this issue, either. And ultimately, this is one issue out of many on his plate.
Perhaps I’m being melodramatic; I’ll be very happy if that’s the case. But the scenario above is stripped of its inessentials, like all the “issues,” including Jerusalem, borders, security, settlements, etc. They are all wrapped up in there. I doubt there is much room for maneuver by either party. But, in my view, it is Bibi that has to bite the bullet and Obama will have to make it worth his while, with a combination of carrots and sticks, to do it. And I really have no idea how this will play out. I have my crow seasonings out, but I’m far from sure that I’ll have to use them.
I was still a student at the Tel-Aviv University, listening to Junior General (Aluf Mishne) Meir Pa’il who was talking about some terrible things he witnessed (Dir Yassin) in 47. But I also heard him talking about his vision for peace prospects between what he called: “Yisrael and Ishmael”, namely the Jews and the Arabs. The way he put it, there is a an intractable asymmetry between the two sides. Israel is like a light weight boxer, quick on his feet, small and agile and thus can occasionally beat Ishmael on points. Alas, he could never beat him by a knock out. Ishmael on the other hand is tall and heavy if for now slow and inefficient. He can sustain many loses by points -but if at some point he would succeed in heating small Israel at a critically strategic point, he may beat Israel by a knock out. Thus, concluded the General – time, despite all our achievements and the humiliating defeats the Arabs had suffered from us so far, is not with us. The asset we have now is limited time, which would run out. We must use it wisely (“Shimush Muskal” as he put it) for a historic peace while our strength is still a deterrent. My memories from Yom Kippur war were still fresh at the time. Israel readily accepted the same conditions Sa’adat offered just few months prior to the war when those same conditions were dismissed with contempt. That is until the war took its toll on that many soldiers: dead, wounded and missing.
How short is the historic memory? How bloated are the egos of the leaders and how criminally vain can they be to allow more peace options to bypass them for more delusions of grandeur, soon to fatally burst in our faces?