15 November 09
Writing in today’s Jerusalem Post, Liat Collins offers a pertinent observation on Thomas Friedman’s proposal that America stop pushing Israeli-Palestinian peace. Friedman argued that American intervention functions as “Novocain” for the parties: “We relieve all the political pain from the Arab and Israeli decision-makers by creating the impression in the minds of their publics that something serious is happening.”
But as Collins noted, “the pain, however, has tended to come with the peace process itself. … No Israeli — Left, Right or Center — can forget the exploding buses and cafes causing the sort of pain that Novocaine can never cure. … And the consequences of pulling out from Gaza and the security zone in Lebanon can, of course, still be felt today: No other country has had to resort to creating a rocket-proof indoor playground a la Sderot or a missile-proof emergency room such as was recently inaugurated at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital.”
And that is the real problem with U.S. involvement in the “peace process”: not only, as Friedman correctly noted, has it wasted time, energy, and diplomatic capital that could have been better employed elsewhere; it has actually made peace less likely.
Clearly, the terror produced by every territorial concession since 1993 has decreased the Israelis’ appetite for such concessions. But even more important, U.S. involvement has reduced Palestinian willingness to make necessary concessions.
Over the past 16 years, “U.S. involvement” has largely become synonymous with pressing Israel for more concessions — both because Israel is seen as “the stronger party,” with more to give, and because it is far more vulnerable than are the Palestinians to U.S. pressure, given America’s status as Israel’s only ally. Palestinians have thus become convinced that they don’t need to make concessions; they can wait for Washington to deliver Israel on a platter.
For instance, Palestinians would be more likely to fight terror if they thought future withdrawals depended on it. But they don’t, and for good reason: the world has never demanded an end to terror as the price of further withdrawals; instead, it has consistently pressed Israel to keep withdrawing despite the terror. Under those circumstances, why bother fighting terror?
Similarly, Israel is routinely pressed to make upfront negotiating concessions: just last week, for instance, Hillary Clinton reportedly demanded that guidelines for renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks promise “a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and in Jerusalem,” meaning that Israel would have to fully concede two of the three core issues before talks can even begin (Jerusalem declined). But Washington has never demanded that Palestinians cede even an obvious deal breaker like the “right of return” upfront; this is always left to future negotiations.
As long as the Palestinians think they can rely on Washington to “deliver” Israel, they will never feel a need to make concessions themselves. And until they do, no deal will be possible.
Barack Obama isn’t likely to heed Friedman’s advice, but perhaps his successor will be wiser. The “peace process” will undoubtedly still be around.