A good piece by Yossi Beilin, the former Minister of Justice, over at the Israel Policy Forum. Bellin articulates, from an Israeli perspective, one of my strongest thoughts on the Israel-Palestine issue: if progress is going to be made, the United States must put pressure on the Israeli government.
Beilin gives an idea of how the new Israeli government looks at things:
The new government in Israel does not give priority to Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace agreements. From its standpoint, the economic crisis requires more intensive care, the Iranian threat is real and immediate and is linked to Israel-hatred rather than to the Middle East conflict, and the price of peace is too high. In PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s eyes, full descent from the Golan Heights will endanger Israel while giving up the West Bank is no less dangerous. Hence it is preferable to play for time until the world accepts that these territories remain in our hands.
Well too bad for them. The world doesn’t accept it. Only the United States accepts it and they might not for long. If Israel is going to end the occupation and stop obstructing the formation of a Palestinian state, it will only happen under the careful supervision of Washington. The Israelis know that with their superior weaponry and a silent patron they can keep fighting for as long as they want. Unfortunately, it looks like they are more than happy to stay on that track.
So far, President Obama looks as though he is willing to make Israel-Palestine something of a priority.
Obama believes and speaks like members of the peace camp in the US and the Middle East: the only question is, how determined is he to realize this vision; how high up is it in his order of priorities? Until now we have no answer–only rumors, assessments and hopes.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his followers expect Obama to be determined. Their strength derives from the prospect of a diplomatic settlement; to the extent that prospect recedes they are weakened and Hamas gains strength. Netanyahu and Lieberman viewed Obama’s election as a political blow; their primary hope is that alternative issues such as Iran and the Afghanistan-Pakistan complex will distract him from a diplomatic solution. Bashar Assad dearly needs improved relations with the US and understands that they can be generated by peace with Israel.
The coming weeks will be critical, for in their course Obama will meet with central leaders from the region and will then follow up with a visit. If he “buys” Netanyahu’s economic peace or other spurious ideas offered up as alternatives to an intensive diplomatic campaign, then his declarations will become meaningless. If, on the other hand, he demands concrete proposals from his counterparts in the Middle East, if he presents them with a well-formulated concept (such as a return to parallel talks between Israel and Syria, the Palestinians and Lebanon in the spirit of those held after the Madrid conference), then he may well accomplish in the Middle East what his predecessors failed to do.
With all due respect to domestic considerations in the countries of our region, the moment an American president speaks out regarding US interests here the Middle East leaders will have to choose between a crisis with the world’s only superpower and acknowledging American demands. Under these circumstances, the ultimate decision appears obvious from the start.
I realize that it is in some ways unfair to put that much faith into President Obama. It will be unsurprising if he puts Iraq, Afghanistan, and the economy ahead of Israel-Palestine, which usually brings little political profit. Let’s hope that Washington starts pushing the Israelis hard. The ball is in America’s court.