Saturday, October 9, 2010

US Israel relationships, the Palestinian component

Third in a series of seven
parts: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

Why is the Israeli Palestinian peace process so difficult?
There are of course many reasons for that. One reason, which many veteran American diplomats and negotiators acknowledge with a sigh of desperation and exhaustion, is the tendency of both sides to bicker like children during the negotiations. This is not something that is easy to admit but it is apart of the problem.

Another reason, one that has no comical side to it, is the fact that in any such negotiations Israelis are asked to entrust their personal security in the hands of their enemies. This requires a huge leap of faith even under more promising conditions. Nowadays it means retaking security risks involving fears and anxieties no parent should relive. But these are Israel’s political realities, realities Israel must engage no matter how impossible they are. At the same time these realities don’t create trust out of thin air, and without trust the peace process cannot move forwards. This is where the negotiator, who is also a good friend and a close ally, comes in. As a participator in the negotiations, and co signatory with reputation on the line, the significant but not unlimited trust Israelis have in such a negotiator allay some of their concerns.

Camp-David 1979

This is why the famous picture from Camp David I, of the three heads of states had a reassuring effect. This is why President Bill Clinton's support for the Oslo accords helped maintain a large pro – peace vote in Israel in spite of three waves of Palestinian initiated violence. And that is why George W. Bush's support for the disengagement from Gaza helped get the support of a majority of already skeptic Israelis. Since the results of the disengagement from Gaza are what they are, if George Bush or Bill Clinton, as leaders of the United States, were to ask Israelis for something similar their chances of success would have been very small. For any other person in that high office less so, and for Barack Obama even less. This is evident from a June 2010 survey, quoted by CBS’ Katie Couric in her Benjamin Netanyahu interview. That survey found that 71% of Israelis dislike President Obama. This finding is an indicator of deep mistrust; since no US president had such low approval rating in Israel. This means that the most likely Israeli answer to the question whether they trust President Obama won't be just “No”; but rather “No!” A “No” with an exclamation mark, at least for the time of the survey.

There are three main phases building up to that “No!” The first is the public debate discussed in parts 1 and 2 of this series, which was more of an aggravating factor. The second is the Palestinian Authority discussed here below. The third is the Obama administration policies prior to Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in July 2010, discussed in the sixth article in this series.

Defenders of the Palestinian Authority have said that it is fulfilling its obligations under the Oslo Accords, fighting terrorism and governing the major cities in the West Bank where Israel allowed their police forces to redeploy. Even if this is true grave concerns remain:

1) The Palestinian Authority is doing NOW what it was supposed to do in the 1990s. If they are really fulfilling their commitments, they are doing it only after a wave of brutal violence they had initiated. What assurances does Israel have that if the Palestinians sign new agreements, let’s say about Jerusalem, they won’t implement them the same way, after another run of violence of their choice and making?

2) How do the Palestinians implement this alleged cooperation? With the help of a deep American involvement. There is a Palestinian American Prime Minister, with no constituency of his own other than the American and international support, and a security force commanded and established by an American general. If the Americans ease or cease their involvement will this continue or fade as if it never existed?

3) Why are they cooperating? At least a part of the answer, and not a small part, is because of fear of Hamas that is literally pointing a gun at their temple and kneecap. As solid as Hamas’ rule over Gaza currently appears, a successful missile strike into Israel or a successful terror attack against Israelis in the Sinai will lead to an Israeli military intervention that has a good chance of removing that regime, or contributing to its demise. Once that happens, and this motivation to cooperate is gone, what will encourage the Fatah/Palestinian Authority to continue their cooperation? Would the international fiscal support be enough or will they just take it and hide it, the way Yassar Arafat did?

4) There is always a cloud over the Palestinian Authority’s ability to govern. Can what happened in Gaza repeat itself in the West Bank in a similar way or a different one? Will Fatah hold itself together once Mahmoud Abbas is no longer in charge?

5) Incitement continues under the PA. As the history of the Oslo Process had shown, incitement is the engine of terrorism. Territorial concessions created opportunities for both peace and war. But the history of the Oslo process had demonstrated that incitement from both the PA sources and opposition sources contributed to the turning of territories handed over by Israel into launching pads of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.

6) The Palestinian Authority is Fatah; in recent history the Tanzim in Nablus, another part of Fatah, was on Hizbullah’s payroll and command. Along with the 'Karin A' affair this grounds in reality an Israeli concern that a corrupt Palestinian Authority will switch sides and starts working with the Iranians.

All of these suggest that the Palestinian leadership has a long way to go in order to prove itself an able and willing peace partner.

Salam Fayyad and Abu Mazen
Left to right, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian president Mahmoud  Abbas

These concerns are not something Israel should hide behind when expected to deliver its part in the peace process, and help and encourage further Palestinian self-rule. At the same time this is not something the quartet should ignore, especially not the United – States. The lack of easy answers as to how they should go about this is the reason why the peace process is difficult.

Dvar Dea

Previous  Next

US Israel relationships a seven parts series:
The public debate, correcting a favorable picture
The public debate, Israel and the war on terror
The Palestinian component
The right wing component
The Israeli exclamation mark, Obama's triple inheritance
The Israeli exclamation mark, unbalancing outreach w go-between
The peace process' beggars' choice


  1. Good stuff. One remark only: 71% of Israelis disliking President Obama doesn't mean 71% mistrust Obama. So if his administration comes up with an acceptable proposal, it still may gain enough support.

    Unless Bibi confuses himself totally with his political zigging and zagging. Anyway, its' early days yet...

  2. Thanks, but I’m not finished, there are 4 more coming.

  3. All right snoop, here is my response, late, but better late than never.
    And I feel more comfortable answering, after my last, and hopefully final, proofreading.

    You said, “like does not mean trust.”
    In politics it does. All the issues by which, we, as members of the general public, judge whether we like a politician or not, are issues of trust. Political views, the judgment they make, policies, and their statements, are all equally issues of trust. We don’t trust ideologies we disagree with, and we don’t trust policies we cannot understand. And when their policies and judgment fail to get results, this mistrust increases.
    Two close friends may like each other very much, but one may not trust the other behind the wheel of a car. Between people that have a direct contact with one another for a long period of time, not necessarily friends, their judgment of one another will be complex. But with politicians all we have is what in the public eye.
    There are politicians we may like but not trust, or the other way around. But these are politicians who have been around for a long time - with high profile. President Barack Obama clearly does not belong in that category.

    Regarding the Bibi’s zigzag, as you call it. Well, I don’t like to discuss internal matters in English. I have my Hebrew blog for that, which I have neglected. So I will offer some historical context. Due to the system of government Israel has, every premier is required to have two skills, leadership and bargaining with coalition partners, sometimes on petty issues, in order to maintain a coalition government. Ehud Olmert for example, was very good in maintaining a coalition. That is how he survived the war. His leaderships skills were, well, oy vey. Ben Gurion on the other hand was big on leadership, but not so good at maintaining coalitions. He resigned twice, quarreled with members of his own party, and that is two parties, Labor and Rafi, a political party he formed with Peres and Dayan, after his last resignation from the office of PM.
    All of Israel’s other Prime Ministers are at different places between those two, some higher on this scale and lower on the other, some relatively at the same height on both.
    The sad reality for Israel is that in the last 20 years maintaining a coalition became a more important skill than leadership. And that is why Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Bibi look the same. And it keeps getting more difficult to maintain a coalition. Bibi has to maintain a coalition with the Obama administration, whose ideology is that of the Meretz party, and the Israeli right in his government. I don’t envy him. Is he up to it? That will be in Hebrew.