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The Rocky Road to Middle East Peace
By Terrell E. Arnold
Ever since the Palestinian elections of January 2006, the search for peace in the Middle East has been like the legendary Chimp's typewriter creation of Shakespeare--a random pecking at the political keyboard that never finishes a sentence.  In 2006 Israel thought it might improve the climate for peace on its own terms, so it invaded Lebanon to eliminate Hezbollah, one of the major sources of support for Hamas and the Palestinian people.  But the Israelis lost.  They then increased hectoring of the Palestinians.  Refusing, along with the US, to accept the Palestinian elections that gave Hamas the right to form a new Palestinian government, the Israelis, with US support, set out to keep Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party in power.  In short, the name of the game was to ignore the election and keep Abbas illegally in power.  The US/Israeli supported effort to elevate Fatah in Gaza flopped because Hamas had better support in Gaza where the Palestinian government then resided.  The Israeli/US answer was to move the unelected Abbas government lock, stock, and barrel to Ramallah in the West Bank.
Abbas established a government in Ramallah with a US/Israeli mandate. He did not have the nerve to ask the Palestinian people for one, because, had he done so, Hamas probably would have had enough support even in the West Bank to again win the lead (if Hamas were allowed to enter candidates).  The situation was hardly made to order for a "free" election, so they didn't hold one.  In the meantime, Abbas erected his government in Ramallah within the enfolding arms of Israeli perimeter protection, Mossad coverage of possible flies in the ointment, and US training of security forces for the Abbas government.  Gaza and the pesky Hamas crowd could simply be ignored.
That could be the order of the day, except that there were 1.5 million people (close to one of every three Palestinians) in Gaza under Hamas rule. Tightening the cordon around Gaza was the first Israeli order of effort to eliminate Hamas.  Abbas and Fatah fully approved.  Maybe if life became hard enough for the people in Gaza they would abandon Hamas.  Tight Israeli control of Gaza borders, patrols of the coastal waters, and rigorous Egyptian support via border controls appear  to have yielded better tunnels into Egypt from Gaza and probably more stubborn swimmers, because Gaza did not collapse.  The Gaza Palestinians proved very stubborn.
With its normally mistaken clarity of vision, Israeli leadership attempted to dispose of Hamas by an all out military attack on Gaza.  The Israel Defense Force (IDF) one of the best armed military forces in the world (thanks to the United States), lined up against Palestinian militias equipped with small arms and crude, handmade rockets. To tame Gaza, the Israelis launched operation Cast Lead in late December 2008.  Bombing and strafing without control or remorse, by the end of January 2009 the IDF had made a shambles of what was left of Gaza's infrastructure, had killed and wounded more than 1300 of its people-mostly women and children-but had left the people of Gaza battered but unbowed.  Over following weeks and months private and multinational efforts to provide assistance to Gaza increased, leading to the flotilla fiascoes that followed in early 2010.  Whatever their on the ground situation, which to all and sundry almost everywhere appeared increasingly desperate, the Palestinians in Gaza were simply not prepared to call it quits. Meanwhile, Abbas and his Fatah followers huddled in the comfortable arms of US/Israeli polite captivity.
It is in this nearly totally corrupt environment that the US decided it was time for the Israelis and the Palestinians to hold "direct" peace talks.  That is as distinct from the indirect mumblings about peace that had been going on forever.  The indirect talks had progressed, if that indeed is an appropriate word, for years in the total absence of any agenda.  To avoid making things too difficult for the Israelis, who approach the idea of peace with utmost misgivings, or for the Palestinians who lacked most of all a representative leadership, it was decided to proceed without the participation of a third of the Palestinian people, those poor beleaguered souls in Gaza.  But it must be emphasized that the only way either party could be brought to the table was without any advance commitments.
To be absolutely fair, the Palestinian people are not actually represented in these talks.  The Abbas government has no legal standing, so Palestinians in the West Bank are not represented by an elected leader of their own choosing. The last legally elected government of Palestine is in Gaza and it has not been invited to these talks.  With an honest broker on the scene, Mahmoud Abbas could possibly be the representative of the Palestinians. However, he has too avidly supported US/Israeli efforts to eliminate Hamas to have any real standing.  With the US White House unequivocally on the side of the Israelis, and with the US Congress blatantly under the control of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Palestinians have little to no chance of being heard.
Actual Israeli and Palestinian positions are thoroughly dug in. The Israelis have made their position crystal clear. Before arriving in Washington, Netanyahu said that Israel will not commit to any concessions on territory, and the increasingly clear official Israeli goal is all of Palestine without any Palestinians.  Therefore, virtually no one in Israeli leadership, it is clear, wants to talk about an actual peace agreement.  On the other side, if Abbas were to commit to any starting conditions, he would lose any remaining credibility he has with Palestinians if he did not echo the Hamas position that, at minimum, would be the Arab League formula floated in 2002. That would require Israel to back off to the 1967 truce line, agree to return or compensation to expelled Palestinians, agree to a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, help create a truly independent Palestinian state, and recognize the rights of the Palestinian people.  In short, the starting positions for these talks add up to something like a Mexican standoff.  As optimists might say, things could improve with discussion, but on the issues as stated, the chances are close to zero.
The truth is that most of the planet devoutly hopes that the United States actually will mediate this situation.  But the crude reality is the United States is not positioned to carry out this role.  President Obama has to know those facts of positions that have stalled Middle East peace talks for more than a generation.  Obama also knows that this is the only foreign policy issue that could cause him to lose the next election. He is well aware of the strenuous constraints on his freedom of action that would be imposed by an almost perfectly pro-Israeli Congress.   The question is whether he is determined enough to get some results as well as bold enough to take the kinds of political chances that any substantial outcome from these talks would require.
Such is Obama's Babylonian captivity. He is the President of the most powerful military power on the planet. However, unless he is prepared to take extreme political risks, he lacks the political power to control management of this issue in his own capital. Every President from Harry Truman onward has confronted some version of this political dilemma, but none has had it presented more forcefully.
Today US prestige in the Middle East is at low ebb, while the scope of legitimate American interests is at least a demanding long term constant.  For decades the United States has been tagged with the task of achieving a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. For decades the Israelis have worked openly and steadily to steal Palestine from its owners.  That the process has been progressive grand theft of homes, properties and lives has been virtually ignored by the outside world.  Israeli access to and control of media has enabled them to put the blame on Palestine, but that fog is slowly clearing as more people become aware of the facts of Israeli land theft and ethnic cleansing.
This is the part of the situation that is different for President Barak Obama.  The world has become more aware of Middle East reality.  It is increasingly mindful of the cruelty and injustice built into Israel's attempted creation of a Jewish state. Through Internet, small stream and independent media, more Americans are becoming aware of our country's role in an ongoing crime against humanity.  The design of a peace agreement between a criminal and its victims is not your run of the mill diplomatic venture. Especially after six decades of collective punishment for the victims, getting all the players placidly into the room is no simple matter.
Herein lies Obama's problem.  All of the players are not present. Not even the last fairly elected majority party is on the scene.  To attempt a binding agreement when one of the parties is not represented legally, and in this case, the elected government is forcefully excluded, is at least novel diplomatic terrain.  We can all hope that in these circumstances our chief negotiator knows whereof he speaks.  When accepting the Liberty Medal in 1998 for his work on Northern Ireland negotiations, then retired Senator George Mitchell said "I believe there's no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended... No matter how ancient the conflict, no matter how hateful, no matter how hurtful, peace can prevail. But only if those who stand for peace and justice are supported and encouraged, while those who do not are opposed and condemned. Seeking an end to conflict is not for the timid or the tentative" The Middle East situation offers perhaps the ultimate test of his reasoning.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at

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