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The summit of the absurd: Middle East process without peace

09/23/2009

Eugene Ionescu or Samuel Beckett could have written a play called "The Middle East Peace Process." Yesterday, in the Yet Another Middle East Summit that took place at the UN, we witnessed another scene in that play. Vladimir, Estragon and Godot himself appeared on the stage, said the same old things, provided the usual photo op, and departed to polite applause.

Over and over we hear the same pronouncements about the urgency of peace, about the final status agreement that is within reach, about the confidence building measures, about the need to compromise and make painful sacrifices, about the willingness to take risks for peace. We see the same photos of handshakes, tableaux that are repeated without end. The play has been running so long that all the actors have changed. Vladimir is played by Benjamin Netanyahu replaced Ehud Olmert, who replaced Ariel Sharon, who replaced Ehud Barak, who replaced Benjamin Netanyahu in his first appearance, who replaced Shimon Peres, who replaced the original Yitzhak Rabin, Estragon is ably portrayed by Mahmoud Abbas in place of Yasser Arafat, and Barack Obama replaced George Bush the Second, who replaced Bill Clinton, who replaced George Bush the First. Life, after all, must go on.

The essence of this postmodernist drama is that there is really no metanarrative. There is no plot. There is no progress, because there is nothing to progress towards. It is pointless diplomatic Dadaism. It cannot progress because of the "Human Condition" or in this case, the condition of the Middle East.

In addition to the three main protagonists, there are many choruses. These are "analysts," NGO activists, UN and EU officials who appear on the stage between the major scenes. They are all visible to the entire audience, but by a miracle of acoustics, only their partisans in separate parts of the hall understand their chants. They are saying, "It is the fault of the Israelis," "It is the fault of the Palestinians," "One State, One State" "End the Occupation," "Stop Terrorism," "Support the President," and other mindless slogans. The various audiences can see that since the first act all choruses of the opposing sides where transformed into donkeys and rhinoceroses, but to partisans of a particular group, their own chorus looks normal.

Some action is also provided in the form of suicide bombers and rocketeers, assassins and IDF commandos who appear periodically to relieve the boredom. However, it is not certain that this action is part of the play.

There is, as in all good drama, a play within a play. The excitement and suspense for this summit scene was not provided by the plot, which is intentionally repetitive and empty, or by the predictable and tired dialog, but by the making of the play, the achievement of actually having a summit. For a minute, the audience was amazed and said, "Holy sh*t! The man really can walk on water." But the moment passed. The motor boat that was used to create the illusion that Godot, the metaphorical savior, could "walk on water" was revealed to the audience. The next round of excitement will be provided by the attempts to get the sides to negotiate. Never mind that the summit was empty of content, as it had to be, and never mind that the negotiations will be empty of progress or content as well. The show, after all, must go on, "The play's the thing, wherein we'll catch the attention of the audience."

Aaron David Miller, a veteran negotiator, pointed out:

"The problem with the Obama administration policy is not the man, Obama or Mitchell; it's the mandate," Mr. Miller said. "It should be clear to all but the eternally obtuse that a conflict-ending agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu and a divided Palestinian national movement is probably out of reach. The question then becomes what is the connection between trying to get the Arabs to do partial steps for normalization and the Israelis to do a partial settlement freeze and the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement?"

It is more accurate to say that there is no mandate, or if there is, it is an impossible one. The mini-goals that are set up - confidence building measures, settlement freezes, another round of negotiations, are all meaningless and irrelevant to achieving peace. They are red herrings induced by the sides to serve as fodder for a meaningless process that cannot produce peace.

Suppose that Mr. Netanyahu were to give in to the demands of Mr. Abbas and freeze all settlement construction for a year, or two years or five years or ten years. Suppose that Mr. Abbas were to concede to Mr. Netanyahu's demands and give up the infamous "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, concede that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and concede it is just barely possible that Jews have some connection to Jerusalem and some rights there. Could Mr. Abbas remain in office for an hour after he made such a declaration? If he signed a peace agreement, could he (or the United States) prevent the Hamas from raining rockets on Israel from Gaza or overthrowing the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as they did in Gaza? If Mr. Netanyahu wanted to give up all of East Jerusalem and allow Israel to be flooded with millions of Palestinian refugees as Mr. Abbas demands, could he get such an agreement past a referendum in Israel?

So if no agreement is possible, what does Mr. Obama want? Where does he really think this process will lead? It is anyone's guess.

Those who criticize Benjamin Netanyahu for not freezing settlements are right, but they are right for the wrong reasons. A settlement freeze - complete and absolute, for two years, would be a brilliant Israeli diplomatic move. In that time, Israel would require that the Palestinians come up with realistic peace proposals that didn't include destroying Israel and removing the historic part of its capital city, and disarm the Hamas as they were required to do under Phase I of the roadmap. The Palestinians could never meet any of those conditions, and Israel could show conclusively that the process is hopeless and pointless. The Palestinians could likewise sow confusion in the Israeli camp by agreeing, for example to the Clinton Bridging Proposals. The United States can hardly abrogate its own proposals, and Israel already supposedly agreed to them. But if the Palestinians were going to agree to those proposals, they could have done so in 2000. Probably it was decided that agreeing to those proposals would be bad for the health of the Palestinian leadership. If Netanyahu agrees to them he would probably be out of a job or worse. For the American producers of the play, it makes no difference. Deceased or deposed protagonists can be replaced by others, as long as the show goes on. For the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, it does make a difference, but nobody in Washington considers that problem. Any action can only lead to a further stalemate and more empty "process," but it helps the DC bureaucrats get through another day.

However, outside the diplomatic theater, the play of real life and real geopolitics progresses. The peace process is going no place, but other processes are headed in various directions. The Hamas are entrenching themselves in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority with the cynical collusion of the European Union, is planning to announce a state unilaterally in about two years. The bonus for the EU is that if they succeed, they would have replaced the United States entirely as the diplomatic arbiter of the Middle East. There would be a new Godot, perhaps with a Spanish or French accent. The US would be needed only to pay for the Palestinian state and probably to send troops, while the EU rakes in the benefits. One way or the other, that scenario must lead to violence, but that is no concern of Mr. Moratinos and his friends, who are running their own play. The Palestinians will send suicide bombers and rockets, the Israelis will send the IDF, the UN will send Mr. Goldstone to scold Israel about war crimes, and the EU will preside over a new version of the peace process play.

In order to break out of the theater of the absurd before it is coopted by other forces, Mr Obama must fix what is wrong instead of working on what is convenient. Obama must somehow deliver Gaza without Hamas and a PA that is really ready to make peace before Israel will elect a government that will seriously talk about peace. He must also simultaneously deliver an Israeli government that will talk peace and mean it, in order to justify getting rid of Hamas and getting concessions from the Palestinians. If he could do any one of these things, he probably really could walk on water. Both together are just not going to happen, especially as there is no sign that anyone in the US administration understands the problem or cares.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000776.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 7 comments

Alas, I must agree with you except that I think that the Americans do understand the complexity of the conflict, but lack any handle on which they could make the first push. I recall that Bill Clinton talked of the Irish as "addicted to the conflict" or as two drunks that want to leave the saloon but cannot get past the door. We also understand that the "solution" to the Bosnia conflict consists of thousands of NATO troops. Paddy Ashdown says that without them, they would be at each others throats tomorrow. The hope is that in a generation or so, the conflict will subside. Does anyone imagine a similar commitment of resources to the MidEast? So what can we do? Should we pack up our grandchildren and send them to live in a peaceful place? Have you anything besides doom and gloom?

Posted by Aharon Eviatar @ 09/23/2009 03:49 PM CST

no

Posted by haitham nassar @ 09/24/2009 10:42 PM CST

We should consider burning down the opera house.

During the American Civil War in the latter 1800's, general William Tecumseh Sherman pursued the Savannah Campaign, better known as "Sherman's March to the Sea". During that campaign, he laid seige to every southern city in his path. He pillaged and burned almost everything. HE MADE SURE THAT CIVILIANS CAME TO KNOW FIRSTHAND THE HORROR OF WAR. Without the philosophy behind Sherman's march, it is possible that the American Civil War could have lasted 40 years.

In a sense, that's what is missing today in the Mid East conflict. Since the citizens are relatively comfortable, there is no willingness (particularly in the case of the more powerful adversary Israel) to make accomodations to end the conflict.

One could argue that Israel attempted to apply Sherman's philosophy in it's recent incursion into Gaza. What has not happened is a matching campaign through the Settlements of the West Bank to do the same.

Therefore, I wonder if a Palestinian state were to be declared unilaterally, perhaps the US or NATO should send troops into the West Bank to maintain order and prevent terrorism. Of course, in order to accomplish this mission, US troops would have to take and hold the high ground, which is strategically desirable.

Much of the high ground of the West Bank is held by settlers and their illegal settlements. This means settlers would be displaced. Without a doubt, the settlers would resist the US/NATO forces. Without a doubt, the Palestinians would sit back and watch.

The question is, what would the IDF do?

This possibility ought to provide more motivation for the sides to renew efforts to abide international law and pursue a peaceful end to the conflict.

Cheers.

Posted by Kiev500 @ 09/25/2009 12:11 AM CST

I read Mr Isseroffs article and am once again reassured by his cleverness. He understands post-modernism, Waiting for Godot and Dadaism, matters which lesser mortals have barely heard of. More importantly, he is the only one with the intelligence to see the problem of Israel and Palestine for what it is.( lets ignore the fact that the former does not allow the latter to exist and the settlement activity in question gives eloqent testament to this)
We never quite arrive at the solution to this intractable problem' which the entire article implies is quite simple, if only all parties would do Mr Isseroff's bidding. But no; even among the Americans , realistically the only party with the requisite muscle, there is no one intelligent enough or caring enough to perceive the wisdom of Mr Isseroffs solution. This is tantalisingly dangled before us, never quite to be reached.
One thing we can be sure of, is that that anti-semite Goldstone's pesky reporting of the excesses of Israeli military might is of no consequence and any references to international or humanitarian law just so much hot air. How all this squares with MidEastWeb's goal of "popularising Humanitarian Values" is left for us to consider and perhaps, this was the purpose of the article - merely to point out the absurdity of the human condition as seen in the microcosm of the Middle East - oh , and ofcourse to reassure us of the erudition and intelligence of the author

Posted by Bruce Clark @ 09/25/2009 07:58 AM CST

Exerpted portion of Netanyahu's UN speech relating to the Goldstone report on Israel's incursion into Gaza. Some paragraphs removed to shorten, but no sentences have been changed.

***
I stand here today as the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish state, and I speak to you on behalf of my country and my people.

The jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging. Rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons, some here have condemned their victims. That is exactly what a recent UN report on Gaza did, falsely equating the terrorists with those they targeted.

Delegates of the United Nations, Will you accept this farce?

If this body does not reject this report, it would send a message to terrorists everywhere: Terror pays; if you launch your attacks from densely populated areas, you will win immunity. And in condemning Israel, this body would also deal a mortal blow to peace. Here's why.

When Israel left Gaza, many hoped that the missile attacks would stop. Others believed that at the very least, Israel would have international legitimacy to exercise its right of self-defense.

Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists?

We must know the answer to that question now. Now and not later. Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have the confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace.
***

(My commentary)
Netanyahu warns if the Goldstone report is not condemned, Israel will abandon the peace process. Reading between the lines, his message is that Israel will hold the peace process hostage until it gets what it wants.

What I'm wondering is how Netanyahu can stand there and demand that the UN should enforce international law against Iran (relating to it's nuclear program), and yet demand that the UN *should not* enforce international law against Israel relating to it's illegal settlements in the West Bank, violations of the geneva convention, and the Goldstone report on Gaza.

Sounds like a clear double standard.

Cheers.

Posted by Kiev500 @ 09/25/2009 12:07 PM CST

Update on my crazy liberal dream for mideast peace:

Today's news is that FATAH and Hamas are close to reaching a deal on forming a unity government. Both sides have accepted the Egyptian proposal in it's current form and will return by the end of October to agree the final draft ahead of a signing ceremony.

But will it make a difference? My guess is Israel will take action that will make this irrelevant. Their likely course of action seems to involve some kind of attack on Iran. If that is their plan, it will happen before the end of October.

Article:
Palestinians 'close to agreement'
Link:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8279762.stm

Cheers.

Posted by Kiev500 @ 09/29/2009 07:55 AM CST

What most people do not get is how biased many documants are against Israel. Arabs living in Israel live longer than thier counterparts elsewhere. Before 1967 there was not a Palastinian attempt for indepandance. There was no "Palistinian" people- they were immigrents like Jews- going wherever they had the most chance to succeed. While Israel targets military outposts and colletarly (by accident) kills civilians; PLO, Hamas and other terrorist organisations aim AT civilians. WHile Israel in 2001 was willing to give 98 and 99% of the Westbank and Gaza strip, PLO rejected the idea that would cost thousands of lives. Israel, even with its wrongs, did try to achieve peace- very hard with all this Jew-bashing around many of the World.

Posted by Alexander @ 02/18/2010 11:42 PM CST


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