The next several weeks will see a frenzied exchange of activity between America, Israel, the Palestinians, and Arab states.
The Arab League has already approved a second attempt at “indirect negotiations” between the three other parties. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Egypt on Monday, and later in the week US envoy George Mitchell lands in Jerusalem for what is being billed as the first round of proxy talks.
Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will then travel to Washington to officially rekindle the peace process while shaking a smiling President Obama’s hand.
These movements will be accompanied by a high decimal level of diplomatic and media chatter. We’ll be told that every party is firmly and finally committed to achieving a lasting peace in the region, and that those who spoil the quest will be held accountable. The problem is, we’ve been here many times before.
A bigger problem: the next few weeks could obscure the distant object hurtling towards the region. Ironic that would be though, because all the politics and media coverage should magnify it.
Theoretically another Biden fiasco is unlikely before Netanyahu and Abbas visit Washington, and the following weeks should be similarly calm. No way America and Israel blow their scene a second time, right? Of course they went against logic the first time so maybe the proxy talks do fail to launch twice.
But what if they don’t? What if Israel and the Palestinians begin on unstable terms and negotiations deadlock instead, breaking down sometime in the summer? Or if Israel continues approving and constructing settlements in East Jerusalem?
The Obama administration reportedly has that option covered too: an international peace conference convened by the Quartet (US, UN, EU, and Russia).
Call him smart, or hopeless, but The Haartez reports, “Obama is determined to exert his influence to establish a Palestinian state, the officials said, and several European leaders have vowed that the EU would support any peace plan proposed by Washington. Therefore, though so-called proximity talks are set to start in the coming weeks, Obama is already readying for the possibility that the indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks might reach a dead end.”
Now Abbas claims the White House promised him it would prevent any provocative Israeli moves this time around, but we’ve heard that before. We’ve been told for two years that a new US peace plan is coming, while other reports deny the White House is moving in this direction. An international summit is always around the corner.
It is a good idea though, so could Obama survive the fire if he does transfer control to the Quartet? So far he’s disappointed - now he faces his greatest challenge yet. The situation calls for defusing a nuclear bomb of self-interests and converting it into a mass celebration.
The next four to eight months potentially countdown to a new status quo in the Middle East. Predicting exactly what will occur - and if the whole affair is a dud - is impossible, but the rest of the year is likely to significantly alter the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for better or worse. Sort of like the Big Bang.
We can see all the way until the last second.
One of the Arab League’s primary conditions for its support, aside from freezing Israel’s settlement activity in East Jerusalem, is that “progress” be demonstrated by September. This is no arbitrary date, ambiguous as the condition may be. Netanyahu’s 10 months settlement freeze outside the West Bank expires, the UN General Assembly convenes, and thus the Palestinians are expected to decide on direct negotiations.
If Israel continues building settlements and shooting protesters in East Jerusalem, and refuses key Palestinians conditions, then the Palestinian Authority is threatening to demand unilateral UN recognition.
"We want our state to be declared under an international agreement," Abbas said recently while visiting the Jordanian capital of Amman, in line with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s vision. "If this could not happen, the Arabs will go to the UN Security Council to get recognition of Palestinian statehood."
That’s when Obama will likely step in, not just for the Middle East’s sake but his own political campaign.
Israeli officials are predicting a US proposal at the end of the year, saying Obama might postpone an international conference and his own peace plan until after the midterm Congressional elections in November. This doesn’t make sense though. The Haaretz observes, “his Democratic Party is widely expected to suffer heavy losses.”
Maybe the White House wants more GOP backing? Democrats are no less pro-Israel.
A formal rollout before November makes more sense; Obama doesn’t have time to wait if negotiations break down before September. He’s also likely to repeat his demand for a two year time-frame, which he’s been trying to fit in before November 4th 2012 since assuming office. The perfect October surprise - if the plan works.
Unfortunately for the White House resistance from Netanyahu, emboldened by his recent election “victory,” appears unavoidable. The Israeli government might have to change its configuration, a hot theory, but is there any formation that will split Jerusalem? Will Israel take negotiating orders from the Quartet or ever allow Palestinians to declare unilateral statehood?
The road to peace is a minefield and Obama will be judged by his ability to influence Israel towards a fair two-state solution. Achieve one and Hamas’s support could dry up, a strategy more feasible than occupation and war. Two defined states should also be more palatable to Israel than unilateral Palestinian statehood, while one state could descend into asymmetric civil war.
These pressures are too demanding for America alone, increasing the chances of navigating a two-state solution under Quartet oversight.
Such a shift, among other advantages, will help neutralize Obama's lack of experience, US bias, and the Israeli lobby. He and most of Washington still consider America the ideal broker, but that’s part of the problem - it’s not. Removing that insularity boosts the odds of a successful peace process.
Israel’s future is better off in America’s hands, but Israel and Palestine’s future is better off in the international community’s.