Peace-making and Politics
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The Israel-Palestinian negotiations become more and more troubling when one observes that it is really internal politics not a quest for a settlement that are controlling negotiations. During the current talks presided over by the U.S., all three parties are being driven at least as much by domestic political considerations as they are by the substance of the discussions.
For the Palestinians, the leaders—unlike probably well over 50% of the people on the West Bank—do not want or are not ready to make peace with Israel. They do not want war, but they are too weak and too afraid to enter into serious, substantive negotiations which would require a public recognition of what the Palestinians bottom negotiating position really is. The Palestinian Authority continues to need U.S. financial assistance, but it does not want a military confrontation with Israel. Abbas and his leadership are afraid of the Hamas forces both in Gaza as well as on the West Bank. They recognize that the radical groups have the capacity to disrupt and undermine any serious negotiations whose results it would oppose. It has reached a point that even agreeing to continue discussions leads to an internal political battle. If they cross the line, some of them believe they will not survive.
For the U.S. finding a solution to the various aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been a fundamental plank of U.S. foreign policy for decades, to varying and differing degrees. Presidents and their emissaries have invested enormous amounts of efforts to try to resolve hostilities in the region. Many Administrations have achieved success, while others have become frustrated, annoyed, or angered at the implacable positions which they faced in attempting to bring hostile forces together.
Secretary Kerry with the clear blessing of the President believed he could (or can still) bring about an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. At the moment, however, the U.S. faces at a minimum a major confrontation with Russia; the looming withdrawal from Afghanistan; the growing violence in Pakistan; the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran; and the Syrian violence discussions. In the midst of this full plate, a non-explosive situation in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians ought not to be demanding as much involvement from U.S. foreign policy-makers as it continues to do, especially when the U.S. can rightly state as has been said so often before: “the U.S. cannot want to make peace more than the parties to the conflict.” In addition to which, Obama and the Democrats need international “wins” and not maybes as they face very serious challenges ahead in next November’s mid-year elections.
This brings the discussion to Israel, which in truth holds many if not all of the trump cards. It can play along more easily and take more risks with almost no security risks whatsoever. Israel is militarily in a strong position. It can or could make its major benefactor in the world very happy with virtually no security risk; yet Bibi does not appear to be willing to make the moves. He is afraid of disruption and dissent within his own Likud Party whose right wing could challenge his party leadership. Netanyahu faces genuine challenges from coalition members to his right especially from Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beitanu.
If Bibi really wants to lead his country—not just to remain in power– than he needs to be willing to take at least minimal risks for peace; including releasing prisoners and not continually poking the U.S. in the eye with ill-timed, unnecessary, settlement decisions which have only internal political value. Perhaps it is time to admit that like Abbas, Bibi also does not really want to reach a compromise.