Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Comment to President Obama

President Obama tells Time Magazine he and his team didn't anticipate how hard peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians would be.
I'll be honest with you. A) This is just really hard. Even for a guy like George Mitchell, who helped bring about the peace in Northern Ireland. This is as intractable a problem as you get. B) Both sides — the Israelis and the Palestinians — have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that. From [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas' perspective, he's got Hamas looking over his shoulder and, I think, an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.
You're the president of the United States of America. The single most powerful individual in the world, with the best decision-making infrastructure ever. All you needed to do was read some Hebrew and Arabic language newspapers - nothing deep and profound - to know that the sides are too far apart for easy peace-making.

Of course, you don't read either Hebrew or Arabic, but that's what staff is for. Nor is anything they'd have told you hard to grasp. The Israelis thought they were making peace in the 1990s, and ended up with suicide bombers in their city centers; they tried unilaterally moving out of Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, and got two wars in response. So they're wary. They'd be suicidal if they weren't. Nor are they feeling particularly generous, full of brotherly love for the folks who've been doing their best to kill their children.

The Palestinians I can't speak for, but from listening closely to lots of people who've been listening closely to them, it seems to me they've yet to reconcile themselves to the finality of a Jewish State on land they feel is theirs by right, and theirs alone. Certainly ever more of their English-speaking allies feel the Jewish position can't be justified, so even if lots of Palestinians might once have begun to resign themselves, why should they? Lots of people tell them they're right not to give up.

None of this is hard to understand. The American president, however, influences the scene merely by looking at it, not to mention when he intervenes. That's also not hard to understand.
if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.
Mr President, it's people's lives you're fiddling with. This isn't the autonomy of banks, not numbers of unemployed, nor even the eventual cost of insuring people from illness. When you intervene first and then set out to understand only second (and I'm not clear you do yet, even now), people will die.


Anonymous said...

"found it very hard to move with any bold gestures"

I can't help it I read that again as some kind of Israel-bashing - he doesn't demand "BOLD gestures" from the Palestinians and by claiming the Israelis find it hard to make bold gestures i.e. risking lives here and there and altogether he implies your sissies (just like all the other "old" Europeans is what he basically hints at)

That's so typical for social workers. Whenever they do mediation they figure out which partner can more easily be appealed to/pressured/blackmailed/reasoned with and then they go after that one, relentlessly and put him in the wrong - after all what they want more than anything else is their own success to parade before their own boss, in Obama's case the electorate.

I recently heard an argument that just the fact that negotiations are going on, no matter how successless, they'll put pressure on all the other involved/interested parties, Iran via their proxies, Saudi-Arabia via Iran, Egypt because of its Muslim-brothers and so on and so on. All have to start watching their turf/greater area of influence once the chips are passed back and forth on the conference table between Israelis and Palestinians.

By demanding that super-purity-settlement-stop Obama has skewed the balance for negotiations so badly that finding new ground on which to start them again will be quite something.

Gavin said...

I guess it's justified in criticising them for not knowing the situation beforehand Yaacov, but Obamas words there are rather positive for Israel from what I read of it. He's acknowledged the key component of Israel's case for any kind of deal - security. Obama has also not made any attempt to take a side or blame Israel for anything, which is another positive IMO. I really can't see any anti-Israel bias in there, which was always the real concern when the Obama administration took over.

His comment about the environment within the Arab world is interesting, wonder what he actually means by that.

Regards, Gavin

NormanF said...

This is the freedom of millions of people of stake. That is not going to be secured by the signing of piece of paper. If that's what the President Of The United States believes, he's sadly mistaken.

Empress Trudy said...

If Israel simply surrendered to every demand and ceased to exist Obama would suggest a national moment of silence followed by a rousing speech applauding the Palestinians their great victory. For all American leftists 'peace' means the peace of the grave.

Yaacov said...

Gavin -

You're right. He isn't taking anti-Israeli positions, and I'm not criticizing him on that. It is however a fact that so long as Bush was president and Olmert was prime minister, negotiations were happening at the highest level. Ever since Olmert made a very serious proposal and Obama won the election, there have been no direct negotiations. According to everything I can see, Obama's interventions so far have made things worse. If you're the president of the US and you make things worse, that's not good.

Anonymous said...

I agree Obama is not anti-Israel, he just demands ever so subtly that they deliver the impossible, are "bold" in his words, spinning straw to gold in mine.

He wants the conflict settled and his best bet is or seems to be to him to claim that if only Israel would dare to be BOLD things could work out. Hinting ever so round-about that Israelis of all people might not be bold enough boggles my mind.

oh and btw I admit to being paranoid but that's the consequence of having had to decipher and obey management speak for decades. But I am not alone in having this impression: A recent gabfest at Slate about Obama's handling of Afghanistan was also struck by the McKinsey-ish streak of it all.


Anonymous said...

It seems that every left-of-center President of our's feels that he will have the magic touch vis'a'vis Israel and Palestine-That all it takes is good will to get the two sides to make peace....SIGH...

Anonymous said...

hmm, i would hold off on the "who made peace in Northern Ireland" for a bit given this weeks news...


Deena said...

I'm sorry... Because it's so crazy what he said, I actually think this, for some reason, was his plan all along. "Try" really hard and then act shocked when it just wasn't enough. The question is, why would he choose those tactics. What does he gain from it?