Categorized | Middle East, Sharkansky_Ira

The U.S. Mideast peace effort faces pitfalls

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSAELM — The road to hell: We know it’s paved with good intentions.

The record of the US in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and what the enthusiasts called Arab Spring was collectively the equivalent of a Holocaust, albeit well-meant. American and allied deaths were in the tens of thousands, and others in the millions.

Now we may be on the edge of another crusade, meant to solve the problems of Israel and the Palestinians.

The record of those who have failed may begin with the British in the 1930s. An impressive number of prominent figures have invested a bit or a lot in the issues since then, and now it’s the turn of Donald Trump.

Can he do better than American predecessors who produced more harm than benefit in the string of disasters from Vietnam to Arab Spring?

And more important, can he do better than the Israelis and Palestinians, operating on their own to produce a working, but imperfect set of accommodations?

What we hear so far is encouraging to certain Israelis. Americans are talking about economic progress, rather than a major political breakthrough.

The problem is one of appearance rather than substance. Can a team of Orthodox Jews (Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner, and David Friedman), comfortable with the language of the Israeli right, communicate with Palestinians better than left-leaning emissaries of Barack Obama and his predecessors?

There are already unpleasant signs of Palestinian mutterings, and American threats, as well as Israeli threats, refusing to negotiate with any Palestinian regime that includes Hamas.

A worse case scenario is an escalation of anti-Semitism in the US and across Europe and the Middle East asserting that Jews control the US, a major outburst of Palestinian violence and Israeli retaliation.

Ours is not the only location where the strange man in the White House is threatening to make things worse.

The chair of South Korea’s ruling party is trying to penetrate the thinking in Washington with the idea that not “all options should be on the table.” America’s capable client in the Far East is saying that a military attack should not be considered. And that its officials should be consulted, and included in any decision about their cousins to the north.

Like Israel, South Korea has the economic and military capacity to take care of itself, along with a functioning democracy to decide on its future. And like Israel, it may have to remind the clumsy power-holders of Washington, with all the appropriate courtesy and candor, to avoid causing them more harm than good.

Several conditions make the timing of a new American overture to Israel and Palestine unfortunate and sensitive. Neither Mahmoud Abbas nor Benjamin Netanyahu, both moderates in action if not in rhetoric, may last at the head of their polities. Abbas has somehow retained his presidency for close to a decade after the end of his term, without benefit of an election. Currently he benefits from a doubtful image of legitimacy in both the West Bank and Gaza . And he’s 82, coming up against natural as well as political problems. As likely as a smooth transition to someone else is a bloody free-for-all among Palestinian contenders, with escalating anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish, and anti-American rhetoric.

Netanyahu’s demise may produce months of intra-party and inter-party squabbling, that could erupt with a decision to prosecute him without reference to the convenience of Americans.

The issues of Israel and Palestine, and to extremists the very existence of one or the other, is mired in myth, ideology, and limited information.

Prominent among the myths are the several and conflicting promises to Hebrews, Israelites, Judeans, and/or Jews in the Hebrew Bible, and Palestinian claims that they were always here, while the Jews never had a Temple or a meaningful role in history.

Ideology spreads from those myths, kept alive by right wing Jewish and Israeli religious nationalists on one side, against Palestinians and their supporters igniting the embers of anti-Semitism on campuses and elsewhere among leftists with their fashionable campaign for Boycotts, Disinvestment, and Sanctions.

Along with ideologues focused primarily on Israel or Palestine is the instability associated with warfare among numerous militias across the Middle East, many of whom use Israel or Palestine as symbols of whatever their are fighting for or against.

It may be hard for many affected by ideology, and/or altogether uninformed, to grasp the realities of substantial accommodation. It’s most prominent between Israeli Jews and Arabs, but also exists to some extent between Israelis and Palestinians. More than 100,000 enter Israel to work on a daily basis, and others come for specialized medical treatment, family visits, and religious observances.

Israeli Jews and Arabs routinely study, work, and receive treatment together in universities, hospitals and clinics, shop and eat in restaurants alongside one another in urban malls, neighborhoods that are primarily Jewish, villages and cities that are primarily Arab.

Inter-communal politics are less accommodating. The amalgam of largely Arab parties that appeared in the Knesset election of 2015 act as super and chronic opponents of the status quo, almost always stands outside of the squabbling between largely (but not entirely) Jewish parties. The most extreme of Arab MKs have gone beyond the conventional norms of opposition to challenge the legitimacy of Israel, and to supply an enemy information in a time of combat.

It’s not a simple task to judge the stability of Jewish-Arab accommodation within Israel or between Israel and Palestinians. Casualties are currently infrequent, but there are near daily individual attempts at violence, and arrests triggered by intelligence about violence afoot.

It’s fair to say that Israeli intelligence and security organizations keep a lid on the possibilities of violence from both Arab and Jewish extremists. And that most of the Jews and Arabs of Israel and Palestine are willing to accommodate one another for the sake of mutual benefits.

All of which may unravel under the combined influence of a poorly handled American peace effort, instability at the top of both Israeli and Palestinian governments, and whatever temptations are felt by the variety of Muslim militias to advance their own causes by provoking violence in Israel and Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza.

So far, so good, is the best we can do.

Compared to how people live elsewhere, it ain’t all that bad.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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