Ahead of Obama Visit, Significant Obstacles Keep Peace Process on Back Burner

March 14, 2013 12:51 am 0 comments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left), U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Peace Conference in Washington, DC, September 2, 2010. Photo: Moshe Milner/GPO/FLASH90.

WASHINGTON, DC - Leading up to President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel next week, speculation abounds about what the trip will mean for the currently dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The recent history of that process, however, indicates that the buzz might be unfounded.

Though the White House has denied that the peace process is at the center of Obama’s trip, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference that the peace process would be among his top three priorities when he meets with Obama (the other two, Netanyahu said, are Iran and Syria).

Yet there are significant obstacles for either leader if they want to move the peace process—which has taken a backseat on the Israeli agenda of late to issues such as the Iranian nuclear threat, Syria’s civil war and chemical weapons arsenal, and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt—from the back burner to the fore.

“It’s just on a slower track, because the gaps between Israelis and Palestinians are huge,” Aaron David Miller—the former Middle East peace negotiator under President Bill Clinton and an advisor to six Secretaries of State—said of the peace process in an interview with JNS.org at the AIPAC conference.

President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA) for the last two years has staged unilateral statehood bids at the United Nations, attaining nonmember observer state status last fall. The Palestinians’ unilateral moves have been widely viewed as a serious setback for the peace process.

Internal issues for both the Palestinians and the Israelis also contribute to the slow movement of the process, according to Miller.

“The Palestinian national movement is fundamentally divided,” he told JNS.org. “You see how much difficulty the [Israeli] prime minister is having trying to form a coalition.”

“[The peace process is] a back burner issue because we can’t resolve it now,” Miller said. “It doesn’t mean that people forgot about it, or that it’s off the burners. It’s just for now going to move forward at a much slower pace. Iran and Syria [are] much more kinetic and dynamic issues.”

Both American and Israeli leaders expressed similar sentiments at the AIPAC conference regarding the timetable for a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

“I know a fully fledged agreement is probably not feasible today,” outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at a March 3 plenary session.

“We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve,” U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said of peace at a March 4 plenary.

At an AIPAC breakout session, Miller, who currently works at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said a conflict-ending agreement is almost “unimaginable” right now. Despite the obstacles to peace, Bill Clinton had the attitude of “trying and failing is better than not having tried at all,” Miller recalled, proceeding to explain the pitfalls of that attitude for the U.S.

“But we’re not a high school football team,” Miller said. “This is not a strategy for the most consequential nation on earth.” He added that failure “has costs.”

Biden also quoted Clinton at the AIPAC conference, saying the U.S. needs to “get caught trying.”

“We make no apologies for continuing to pursue that goal [of Israeli-Palestinian peace], for pursuing a better future,” the vice president said.

David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Middle East Peace Process, spoke at the same AIPAC session as Miller and said the tough sledding of the peace process partially arises from the fact that the Middle East is “a rough part of the world that doesn’t lend itself to law books.” Yet the peace process is not a futile exercise because of its upside, Makovsky said. He noted the 3,000 soldiers Israel lost in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the “peace dividend” resulting from an accord with Egypt preventing such conflicts.

“It has saved lives—Jewish lives, Arab lives—and it has saved a lot of money that can be used to raise the standard of living of people in Israel,” Makovsky said of peace.

Miller agreed, telling the breakout session crowd that despite the difficulty associated with the peace process, it is “too critical to abandon as well.”

The role America plays in the peace process will be determined by the decision Obama makes, specifically whether or not he chooses to use that process as part of his attempt to carve a “transformational legacy,” Miller said.

“Governing is about choosing, and Barack Obama has to decide, right now, where he wants to put his eggs, into which basket,” he said.

Obama is being pulled in two different directions, according to Miller. While he cannot afford to, on his watch, see the two-state solution expire, Obama also “looks at the [Israeli-Palestinian] war the way it is, not just the way he wants it to be.”

Biden told the AIPAC crowd that the U.S. will continue to oppose unilateral Palestinian actions that circumvent the peace process.

“There is no shortcut to peace, there is no shortcut to face to face negotiations,” he said.

Netanyahu, who like Obama did not appear in person at the AIPAC conference because of their upcoming meeting in Israel, told the crowd in a live satellite message that the U.S. and Israel have a “common quest” for “a peace that will end [the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict once and for all.” But Netanyahu stressed that peace must be “based in reality.”

“As Israel’s prime minister, I will never compromise on our security,” he said.

Barak said, “A two-state solution is the only viable solution.” He said Israel has a “compelling imperative” to maintain a democratic Jewish identity as a state, meaning a two-state solution would not just be “a favor for the Palestinians.” Barak praised Netanyahu’s “courageous steps” such as an unprecedented construction freeze in the West Bank, and said the Palestinians “still bear most of the responsibility for past failures” of peace efforts.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told the AIPAC crowd that the biggest obstacle to peace is “the lack of a credible negotiating partner on the Palestinian side.” While Abbas “continues to posture as a moderate,” the PA president has published a doctoral dissertation denying the Holocaust, Cornyn noted.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Opinion Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s memoir follows the classic form, telling the story of his years at the Pentagon during the Bush and Obama administrations. He focuses on what he did and experienced personally as secretary, neither writing a broad policy treatise nor recounting the entire history of the administrations in which he served. In so doing, Gates provides penetrating insights about the inner workings of US national security decision-making. Had I been George W. Bush, I would [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z by Lee Bender and Jerome Verlin (Pavilion Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 2013) Sophocles said, “What people believe prevails over truth,” Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z is ideal for the arm chair reader who would like a basic grasp of the terms used in the mainstream media’s presentation of the Arab-Israeli situation as is reported today. This is a book whose time has come. This is a book where the reader gains a [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    JNS.org – On Thursday, audiences around the country can feel what it is like to be William Shatner, the Jewish actor best known for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek.” Shatner’s one-man show “Shatner’s World”—which was on Broadway and toured Canada, Australia, and the United States—will be presented in nearly 700 movie theaters nationwide for one night only on April 24. Sponsored by Fathom Events and Priceline.com (for whom Shatner has famously served as a pitchman), [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.