A senior ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week expressed satisfaction that the Israeli government had finally convinced the Obama Administration that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be solved, only managed.
There had, in fact, been something a little bizarre in the Administration’s efforts to block the Palestinians seeking U.N. recognition by insisting that this would “undermine the peace process,” since there has been no substantive peace process to speak of for most of the past decade — notwithstanding a few efforts to revive the process that ended at Taba in January of 2001 with the parties unable to agree on “final status” terms.
The Obama Administration had certainly been naive to the extent that it believed Israelis and Palestinians are likely, given the vast imbalance of power between them and the fundamental conflict between their national narratives, to voluntarily agree to terms for dividing the Holy Land into two states.
After a decade of hoping against hope that Washington would somehow deliver an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories outside its 1967 borders, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appeared to be abandoning U.S. tutelage and instead seeking U.N. ratification of Palestinian statehood based on the 1967 borders. Washington managed to mobilize sufficient diplomatic obstacles to prevent that initiative going anywhere, but nobody — not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, nor the rest of the international community — is under any illusion that there’s still a “peace process” under way to resolve the conflict.
The Israelis are expanding settlements and its Army Radio station has referred to the occupied West Bank as “Judea and Samaria,” the Biblical term for the area used by the settler movement. Palestinian Authority President Abbas — with little incentive to follow Washington’s instructions, and in keeping with the regional reality that the democratic wave across the Arab world is largely going to bring Islamist parties to power — is engaged in a reconciliation process with Hamas, aimed at holding elections next year and drawing those rival Islamists into the Palestine Liberation Organization, which remains the Palestinian vehicle for negotiating with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he won’t talk to Abbas if Hamas is in the government; Abbas shrugs, because he knows only too well the limits of what Netanyahu is willing to offer.
With 2012 being an election year, President Obama might be more than happy to “park” the Israeli-Palestinian issue to deal with at a later point. But regardless of what their leaders may be thinking, Israelis and Palestinians on the ground may not be willing to wait for better days. Radical settlers are escalating their attacks on Palestinian communities, seeking to goad them into confrontation, and at the same time have even begun attacking the Israeli military, fearing it may be ordered to evacuate some of the outposts currently deemed illegal under Israeli law. (All settlements outside the 1967 lines are illegal under international law, according to the U.N.)
At the same time, Palestinian communities in the West Bank are increasingly inclined to adopt unarmed protest actions to confront the Israelis — a development hailed by both Abbas and Hamas — while more militant organizations in Gaza defy Hamas’ efforts to enforce a truce by continuing to try and launch rocket attacks on Israel, which raise the risk of an all-out war on that coastal Palestinian enclave. Whatever the preferences of the Obama Administration in an election year, the Israeli-Palestinian file may yet find ways of demanding attention at a moment when Washington has precious little that it’s willing or able to offer by way of resolving, or evening “managing” the conflict.