Obama hints that "two-state solution" may be impossible

Remarks during arms negotiations show Obama administration's uncertainty about peace in region

Published April 14, 2010 9:15PM (EDT)

President Barack Obama acknowledged Tuesday that, despite the expenditure of substantial political capital by his administration, progress may not be made on Israel-Palestine peace. The AP quoted his reply to a question about how recent successes in negotiating nuclear arms reduction with Russia -- and getting 48 nations to sign on to a nuclear material security agreement -- might translate into diplomatic successes elsewhere.

The two sides "may say to themselves, 'We are not prepared to resolve these issues no matter how much pressure the United States brings to bear,'" Obama said.

Obama reiterated that peace is a vital goal, but one that may be beyond reach "even if we are applying all of our political capital."

Obama may be right. But note the implications of no progress between Israel and the Palestinians on political settlement of their dispute:

  1. Iran – the primary rejectionist state in the region, will grow in power and popularity in the Middle East
  2. Anger in the Arab world toward Israel and the US will grow in intensity
  3. Israeli policy toward East Jerusalem could itself be the cause for a war. Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims and Christians as well as to Jews
  4. Israel’s status as a de facto Apartheid state will be made permanent and the boycott movement will grow, ultimately affecting the Israeli economy
  5. If the two-state solution is dead as a doornail Israel will either have to give the Palestinians citizenship or face a long and bitter struggle to make their own state in the teeth of Israeli opposition

Obama’s team tried to get Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to restart negotiations last year, but the long-suffering Abbas insisted first on a freeze of creeping Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank. That is, he insisted that Israel not be actively annexing the very territory at issue while the talks proceeded. It would sort of be like negotiating to buy a mansion from a seller who was dismantling wings of it, carting them off to his new residence, while he kept jacking up the asking price on his increasingly diminished domicile.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally agreed to an eight-month settlement freeze on the West Bank. But the offer was insincere. Building within existing settlements would continue; they would just get denser. And the parts of the West Bank Israel had illegally and unilaterally annexed to its district of Jerusalem would continue to be settled.

The first, flawed offer by Netanyahu was enough to bring Abbas to indirect negotiations. But then the implementation of the second bit of insincerity scotched any movement toward peace talks as the Palestinians decided that they had to retain a modicum of self-respect. The building of 1,600 new homes on Palestinian land near Jerusalem was announced just as Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel to kick off the proximity talks made it look as though Israel is not only a fickle and unreliable diplomatic partner. Beyond that, it looked as if its government was intent on kicking Biden in the teeth and humiliating Washington.

One problem Obama faces is that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a coordinating body for the Israel lobbies, has successfully mobilized congress against him with regard to putting further pressure on far right-wing Netanyahu to stop building settlements. Congress decides on how much money to give Israel annually, and how many weapons to sell it. Obama cannot effectively threaten Netanyahu with a reduction in the billions of dollars a year in aid, trade privileges, loan guarantees, and military equipment sent to Israel by the U.S. Those goods are giftds from Congress, and Congress typically yields to AIPAC and its colleagues.

As John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have demonstrated in The Israel Lobby, these lobbies cultivate congressmen and senators from the beginning of their careers. The Christian Zionists, who form a significant movement within U.S. evangelicalism, probably number some 10 million, and it is not hard to get them to write their senator on behalf of Israeli expansionism. Pro-Israel organizations and individuals are disproportionately politically active and likely to give to political campaigns.

A recent Israeli government decree that could lead to the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank has stirred extreme anxiety in the region.

Aljazeera English has video on the new rules:

According to the London pan-Arab daily, al-Quds al-Arabi, the Jordanian government fears that Netanyahu and his even more right wing foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, will engineer clashes between Israeli colonists on the West Bank and the Palestinian villagers on whom they are encroaching, as a pretext for pushing tens of thousands of Palestinians into Jordan.

Certainly, Israeli-Jordanian relations are at their lowest point since the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries — a treaty that King Abdullah II says he is beginning to regret. He worries that Jerusalem is a keg of dynamite, that Gaza and Lebanon could explode into hot war at any time, and even that Israel and Iran may go to war against one another.

Yep, that's what  you worry about if you know the region well.

By Juan Cole

Juan Cole is collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He runs a news and commentary webzine on U.S. foreign policy and progressive politics, Informed Comment. His new book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires (Nation Books), has just been published.


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