August 6, 2009

Time Bomb

President Obama has promised to deliver a new peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the coming weeks, accompanied by a PR blitz to major Israeli and Arab media organizations. But is he too late? Seven months of bickering have aggravated the situation and a wave of negativity is threatening to blow him away.

Those who claim Obama is too hard on Israel are being disingenuous; he advocates a limited right of return for refugees, an “undivided” Jerusalem, and a demilitarized Palestine. Though publicly declaring a complete freeze, rumors persist that America and Israel are privately negotiating limited settlement growth. None of these arrangements are acceptable to Palestinians, moderate or extreme.

Obama awarded yet another prize this week after George Mitchell led a parade of American officials to Israel. Following his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, Mitchell stated to their delight, “We are working hard to achieve the objective of comprehensive peace in the Middle East including a Palestinian state, side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.”

The situation will escalate if President Obama’s official road map expands on his past behavior.

Preconditioning a “Jewish state” only steepens Obama’s climb. Egypt rejected the possibility the second after Netanyahu ended his policy speech on Palestine. Saudi Arabia and Jordan quickly followed suit, then dealt further blows to Obama last week by refusing his request to improve Arab-Israeli negotiations. Obama is facing Arab resistance to all his faux maneuvers.

Fatah, America and Israel’s lone hope in Palestine, is continuing the barrage during its disastrous summit, which has been extended due to division within the party. Nabil Amr, spokesman for the Fatah assembly, admitted that the sessions have been “particularly stormy.” Hamas obviously opposes a “Jewish state of Israel,” but Fatah affirmed its own opposition along with an ambiguous “right to resistance.”

This was not the conference Obama or Netanyahu had hope for. Instead of outclassing Hamas with an example of good government, Fatah’s factional infighting between the “old guards” and “young blood” has embarrassed America and its Arab allies.

In a revealing letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Saudi King Abdullah wrote, “The arrogant and criminal enemy was not able, during years of continued aggression, to hurt the Palestinian cause as much as the Palestinians hurt their cause themselves in the past few months. This letter from the holy land does not represent my sentiments alone but the sentiments of one thousand million Arabs and Muslims who see their greatest issue is the Palestinian issue.”

Irritation with Fatah and Hamas is one thing, but calling Israel “the arrogant and criminal enemy” is a dramatic regression for Saudi Arabia. The King seems genuinely insulted by Obama’s attempt to cripple the Arab Peace Initiative, his personal pet. Weakening Israeli concessions isn’t a strategy for peace, but for losing Arab support.

Obama didn’t have an original plan ready in January, having relied on his advisers throughout the campaign. War in Gaza had shaken the ground and a new Israeli government was struggling to form, but a fair two-state solution doesn’t depend on a battle or whether Netanyahu or Tipzi Livni is Prime Minister. A two-state solution is more mathematical than artistic, not as subject to interpretation. While Obama desperately searches for shortcuts, sluggishness to develop his own strategy is costing him.

Perhaps President Obama will steal the show with a dramatic rescue, but even if he’s planned this stunt, serious doubts exist over his ability to compose and impose a fair two-state solution.

A stalled peace process has many consequences, the most important in human terms being the suffering of Gazans. Israel’s blockade is lowering Hamas’s popularity, but increasing hatred against Israel. Isolating Gaza from the West Bank disrupts Palestinian unity and hampers a two-state solution, but the blockade will remain as long as the peace process stalls. President Obama must focus on lifting the blockade, which he's been silent on.

Iran stands above these concerns on a metaphysical scale. It’s nuclear program confounds Israel and America, deep in argument over pre-emptive strikes. Israel likes to separate Palestine from Iran, but the two are symbiotic. Repeated attempts to weaken a future Palestine are fueling Iran’s aggression. A strong Palestinian state is the best option to improve Israeli-Iranian relations, while delaying will trigger an arms race.

Iran and Hamas share reactions to Israeli foot dragging, making procrastination the primary threat to President Obama. The longer negotiations stall, the more likely Iran and Hamas will resort to military action.

Obama is currently playing into their hands. Still maintaining a tenuous ceasefire since the Gaza war in January, Hamas leaders have endorsed a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders only to be brushed off by America and Israeli officials. Diplomacy is a dead end for Hamas; watching Israel foil Obama at every turn is the final proof it needs. By failing to persuade Israel on settlements, moderate and militant Arabs don’t believe Obama's capable of solving the next final status issues.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian Authority negotiator, recently told reporters, “If the US can't force Israel to stop the construction of building in East Jerusalem, then it becomes futile to count on any American role.”

Futility will rekindle Hamas's military operations. Hamas is a ticking time bomb and President Obama is the counter. Talk without progress invites war - weapons are funneling into Gaza at this very moment.

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