A Bizarre Blend of Diplomacy and Politics
Op-Ed, Agence Global
October 4, 2010
Author: Rami Khouri, Senior Fellow, Middle East Initiative
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Dubai Initiative
BOSTON -- The revelation here in the United States last Wednesday that Washington was offering Israel new security-related guarantees in return for a two-month extension of the partial moratorium on new Jewish colonies in the occupied Palestinian territories is neither surprising nor encouraging. It may reflect a continuation of the tradition in Washington that emphasizes a fawning and almost servile attitude to Israeli "security" concerns as the primary substantive issue in Arab-Israeli negotiations, which the Israelis astutely use as leverage in tactical negotiations to press their side of the negotiations.
By this kind of pandering and trying constantly to assuage Israeli "security" concerns, the United States repeatedly makes three major mistakes. First, it attempts to provide external guarantees for Israeli security concerns in a historical context in which Israel has repeatedly shown for many decades that it will only trust itself to ensure its own security. The US can give Israel money, technology, diplomatic support and other tangible assistance but the security of Israel will not be outsourced. The more the US gives in to Israeli demands anchored in "security" arguments -- like the current expectation that the US will support a lengthy Israeli military presence in the eastern Jordan Valley -- the more Israel comes up with new demands that it says are vital to its security.
Second, this approach gives Palestinian concerns and rights second-class status, which has been one of the main reasons for the failure of the American-mediated peace process since the 1970s. The Arab-Israeli peace-making process under American tutelage has largely been transformed into a dual process of domestic politics in the United States and Israel, which focuses primarily on Israeli demands rather than on the mutual rights of Israelis, Palestinians and other involved Arabs.
Third, this approach to diplomacy largely removes the assorted strands of international law and UN resolutions from the conflict-resolution process, transforming it mainly into a function of Israeli security concerns and Israeli domestic political dictates related to maintaining a parliamentary majority for the coalition government of the day.
Someone should stand up in Washington and ask why it is that the only major breakthroughs in Arab-Israeli peace-making have occurred when the United States was not the principal or initial mediator. For decades now Washington has worked on the principle first articulated by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that the US should do all it can to make Israel feel secure in order for Israel to make the hard concessions necessary for a peace agreement. But that approach has been a glaring failure, giving Israel the time, protection and diplomatic cover it needs to keep expanding its colonies and settlements while refusing consistently to even seriously address the single most important issue on the Palestinian side: the forced exile and refugeehood of the Palestinians and the need to overcome those conditions through a combination of statehood, repatriation, compensation and other means that would coexist with a Jewish-majority Israeli state that is accepted in peace in the region.
The leaks about the latest American move in the negotiations also suggest that Washington would work to create a regional security framework that has been interpreted to mean some sort of anti-Iranian front that includes Arabs and Israelis. In other words, the United States is now acceding to Israeli-dictated "security" arrangements that go far beyond Israel's immediate borders. But these have little chance of success given that such an approach has consistently failed to materialize since the Reagan administration first tried it in the early 1980s. Public opinion in much of the Arab world supports Iran, and some key Arab actors (Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas) have strategic links with Iran that seem to serve them well for the time being.
So American tactics and strategy in the current Arab-Israeli negotiations remain puzzling, to say the least, but perhaps not so puzzling when the hand of pro-Israeli American allies and proxies like Dennis Ross appears to be at work here. Offering Israel substantive gains in return for a brief extension of a partial pause in Zionist colonialism is a strange way to achieve a comprehensive and permanent peace agreement, but then strange things always happen when American politicians and Israeli proxies dictate the flow of diplomacy, as is the case now.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to use a short extension of the settlement freeze to extract more American concessions, including the release of the convicted Israeli spy now in an American jail, Jonathan Pollard. In other words, the settlements can be partially frozen for some more time, if the price is right for Israeli politicians. This seems to be a bizarre way to do diplomacy, but in the absence of a serious or credible strategy by the Palestinians and their Arab supporters we are likely to continue to witness this kind of approach for some time.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.
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