Hear ye, hear ye! Netanyahu says settlement construction won’t affect a final peace deal with the Palestinians! He said he doesn’t think it’s an obstacle to continued direct negotiations. I agree that it may no longer be an issue, but that’s because, according to the JPost, Netanyahu “lacks a majority to pass a new moratorium on housing starts in Judea and Samaria in any possible forum of ministers.”
Legally, aides to the prime minister acknowledge, Netanyahu would have to bring a further freeze to a vote in either the cabinet or the security cabinet. Such a vote would be necessary in order to require the commander of the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria to issue another injunction barring housing starts. The seven-member inner security cabinet has no statutory role.
There are five “definite” freeze supporters in the security cabinet, but Netanyahu would “need all three remaining votes in order to pass the freeze.” Two of those are Likud ministers who, while loyal to the prime minister, are against renewing the freeze. The regular cabinet, made up of 30 members, has 16 definite votes against a renewed freeze, but the article doesn’t say how many votes something needs in the cabinet for it to go through. But even if the inner security cabinet passed a renewed freeze, it wouldn’t matter because that cabinet has no statutory role. Sorry kids, no more freeze. But kudos to the JPost for actually conducting original “research”!
A second reason why settlement construction may not matter anymore is that the Palestinian Authority is allying with the UN to unilaterally declare a state in September 2011. It’s not like the UN has real authority or anything, but they always love a good human rights cause, even if it perpetuates the whole colonial-post-colonial dichotomous context that we should be moving away from in the twenty-first century. However, Abbas has apparently “hinted that the Palestinians would try to persuade the United States to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, if Israel kept up its refusal to freeze settlements,” even though Netanyahu won’t stop saying that direct negotiations are the only acceptable path for creating a Palestinian state. And lest we forget, the PA and Hamas would have to come to an agreement before any Palestinian state could be established.
What does the U.S. think that its role should be?
“There are no guarantees in this process. We do know this: That the process works best and has its maximum of working if the United States is actively engaged in the process of bringing these two parties and these two sides together,” Gibbs said, adding that the sides aren’t going “to make progress if the United States is not involved.”
This is true, but there are caveats. Clinton’s Camp David summit in 2000 failed, and that was the most active involvement on the part of the U.S. in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When it comes to foreign policy, I think we (and by we I mean everyone who voted for Obama) knew that our current president was a bit of an amateur. And I just don’t see Sec. Clinton or Speciaal Envoy Robert Gibbs as peacemakers. If something actually does happen, if this administration by some act of something makes peace, I won’t be surprised if Dennis Ross comes out of the woodwork. There’s also the issue of negotiating theory and that it doesn’t apply to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Research says that directive strategies–i.e. producing proposals and pushing parties toward a solution(s)–are more effective than facilitating interaction and acting as channels of communication. It’s very, very hard to be successfully directive in terms of this conflict because the issues are so deep-seated. No one is going to give up the Temple Mount. Israel needs to remain Jewish and democratic, but that negates any right of return for Palestinian refugees who would not want to live in a Palestinian state created from the West Bank and Gaza. Who lives where exactly? Also, domestic politics are a major obstacle. The Israeli government is always a coalition and it never truly agrees on anything. Netanyahu can make deals all he wants, but the Knesset has to pass all of them. The PA has always been messed up. There was only one Arafat, and Salaam Fayyad is great but he’s too focused on economic development and not enough about Islam, which must irk those Hamas folks in Gaza. So third-party mediation is great, but it must reflect the fact that the decision to make peace ultimately lies with the Israelis and the Palestinians. The U.S. can’t make the choice for them. Sorry about that. Blame it on the thesis.
Now on to “Crunch Time,” the title of Roger Cohen’s column in yesterday’s NYTimes. Basically, the international world knows that a Palestinian state must be created, but Israel isn’t “there” yet. Israel is worrying about that whole can-Netanyahu-do-what-he-never-dreamed-of-doing conundrum, but Netanyahu is a good Likudnik and still holds on to the idea of the Land of Israel as the State of Israel. Israel is worried that Obama might side with everyone else who wants a Palestinian state when the UN inevitably passes that resolution next year, and this could be leverage over the Israelis for an actual deal.
This is the right way to be a third-party mediator: not impartial, fearless, and assured. But can Netanyahu be persuaded? As Cohen says, “Netanyahu will stall. He will say the right of his center-right coalition would break at the point of explicitness about Israel’s borders. He will say he needs security guarantees before talk of borders.” This is exactly what happened with Ehud Barak in 2000, except that was different because he used his crumbling government as a means for convincing Clinton to convene a summit. But the thing is that this excuse has always swayed American administrations to the Israeli side. Perhaps they feel bad for parliamentary democracy in general. But unless Obama can harness Israel’s fear about next September, his role in the peace process is doomed to failure, and he’ll be another president who came and went without ending the most intractable conflict in human history. I guess it’s a good thing he thinks he did well with health care.
Here’s something you won’t hear about from the American media: the Yesha Council, which essentially runs the West Bank settlements, is in the middle of a huge PR initiative. Ynetnews reported yesterday that NYTimes publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. and executive editor Bill Keller visited Ariel this week, and that they “were given a tour of a number of settlements” and also met with Netanyahu and Fayyad. Yesha made sure to emphasize that it has both Israeli and Palestinian interests at heart by showing them the Barkan Industrial Park, which employs both groups, and the Ariel University Center of Samaria, where Arab students are apparently enrolled. Those settlers are such kind and gentle do-gooders.
And finally, is there a ray of hope for Israel-Turkey relations? There has always been tension between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but how about this analogy: Jerusalem is to Ankara as Tel Aviv is to Istanbul. Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn, who recently attended a conference on the crisis in Israeli-Turkish relations in Istanbul, wrote this week that:
Istanbul and Tel Aviv can fix what Ankara and Jerusalem broke. Mutual trade has increased by 30 percent since the beginning of the year. Israeli tourism has gone down, but it can return to its previous levels. And the prospect of bringing together the secular elites of both countries – who share the dream, and the challenges, of integrating into the West, as well as the anxiety over religious ascendance – is an opportunity. Secular Turks are similar to secular Tel Avivians; There is a new restaurant in the Pera quarter of Istanbul, “Bird”, that attracts a stylish crowd and it’s tough to get a table, just as in Rothschild Boulevard’s Cantina.
I think he has a point. Even if formal relations do not flourish, there are other avenues, because the interest is there. Turkey wants to Westernize and eventually be accepted into the European Union (which won’t happen), and Israel can help with economic and cultural development. There might actually be something to this. Nothing like a bit of optimism on a Friday. Whatever that means.