Friday, October 14, 2011

Israel’s moment of truth approaching

One can only watch with bewilderment and concern at how patchy and shortsighted so-called “super power politics” in the face of major issues have now become. Take the race for who-will-visit-Libya-first, for example. In order to childishly pre-empt steps by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have persuaded David Cameron to join him on a hasty journey to the war-torn country before Erdoğan. While it is arguable what sort of good this will do for both leaders, who are in deep trouble in their respective countries, their showing up in Libya is doomed to be perceived by the Arab world (particularly its younger generations) and elsewhere as a new phase to initiate a new wave of plundering oil and gas resources. Not even the “high philosophy” of Bernard Henri-Levy, who is expected to follow these two right-wing politicians on their journey, will help change this perception. Common sense would tell the French and British leaders to abandon the obviously childish games and focus on the mother of all problems instead. Had they paid even minimal attention to the Israeli peace coalition and the ongoing debate in that country -- let alone the discussions elsewhere -- they would have realized that September 2011 is a key time to concentrate all efforts. The date is key in the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, and it seems that even a shallow glance would reveal that it is much more important who will forego visiting a no-man’s country that is so vulnerable, needy, tormented and frightened. What will happen in New York next week? One assumption is that Israel will say no to a Palestinian state and mobilize all forces to resort to delaying it by offering another round of talks. But the question is whether almost 4 million Palestinians will continue to live without dignity and basic human rights. They have had more than their fair share of more than 40 years of suffering and bullying. Prospects for an opening at the UN do not look good, according to a well-crafted, detailed report by the International Crisis Group (ICG). The report, “Curb Your Enthusiasm: Israel and Palestine After the UN,” argues that there has been a lack of “clear thinking” and warns that “this could well produce a cure more lethal than the ailment.” As a strong reminder of where Sarkozy and Cameron should instead be looking, it says: “With little time remaining, the burden has shifted to the EU to craft [a] compromise. It has long sought that role. Now it must live up to it.” Yet, it is doubtful, at the moment, that it will. Why the gloom? The ICG report talks at length about “collective mismanagement.” It argues: “Palestinian leaders, in a mix of ignorance, internal divisions and brinkmanship, oversold what they could achieve at the world body and now are scrambling to avoid further loss of domestic credibility. Israel, overdramatizing the impact of a UN move and determined to stop the Palestinians in their tracks, has threatened all manner of reprisal, from halting the transfer of tax clearance revenues, to decreeing the death of the Oslo agreement, to worse. The U.S. administration, unable to steer events, fed up with both sides, and facing a Congress that will inflict a price for any Palestinian move at the UN, just wants the whole thing to go away.” On the lack of any ground for agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the report lines up a number of reasons: “Deep substantive gaps between the two parties; decreasing US authority and enhanced domestic constraints in the run-up to a presidential election; Palestinian divisions; and the weight of the Israeli Right. Restarting talks now to prevent a so-called train wreck in September could well provoke a more dangerous crash when negotiations collapse.” What could be achieved, then? The ICG report is cautious: “The least harmful outcome at this point is a UN resolution that is viewed as a victory by the Palestinians but addresses some core Israeli concerns and preserves the option of a two-state settlement.” The third party must be neither the US nor the Quartet -- US, Russia, the EU and UN -- but rather, the Europeans, and they should tell the Palestinians to focus on a status of a non-member observer state and not an independent one as the US Congress can cut off all paths to this road of full independence. The resolution must also take into consideration the core concerns of both Palestinians and Israelis and be based on a two-state solution. I agree with the “middle of the road” recommendation of the ICG but remain doubtful whether the EU will be able to deliver a roadmap and settlement at the UN, which must primarily satisfy the Palestinian side. The times that are rapidly changing make clear that the Israeli political leadership must use common sense and put a halt to its endless security concerns, for the sake of the justifiable aspiration of a two-state solution. It is their moment of truth. 2011-09-15

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