Will fear of failure rescue Mideast negotiations?

East Meredith:

Is the Obama Administration able today to mediate conflict resolution between Arabs and Israelis?

The White House is hosting this week the launch of a new round of direct Mideast peace talks. Without hesitation, the Administration conveys new signs of hope and assumes the presence of regional readiness for peace making.

The honored guests in Washington are Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Invited officials include the two heads of Arab states which have signed separate peace agreements with Israel, President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Not unusual, the process starts with mutual threats: Israel won’t promise to extend the settlement freeze when the ten-month construction- ban expires at the end of September. Reciprocally, if the Israeli illegal building continues in October the Palestinian Authority is determined to withdraw from the talks.

Is the region currently in the mood for peace?

The anticipated peace talks demand of Israel to divert its attention from Iran.

In Israel, people are extremely worried about Iran. Currently, Israelis talk more about feasibility of war than about prospects of peace. The announced change in the leadership of the military - as of next February- indicates that Israel may be mulling a “pre-emptive” strike on Iran sometime next year. According to a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, 65 % of Americans would support such wild military action.

For Israel, the immediate source of national insecurity is no longer in Palestinian territories. The West Bank had been relatively quiet and busy in economic activity for two years, and Gaza’s Hamas had been isolated.

But for how long would Hamas stay in the cold outside the peace process? Hamas has already targeted the peace talks by ruthlessly murdering four Israeli West Bank settlers on Tuesday. Hamas will pay dearly for this act of terror, but it is used to play martyrdom. However, isolating Hamas is counterproductive.

The Israeli prime minister has emerged as the most important decision maker. But Netanyahu‘s deep distrust of Palestinians and other Arabs diminishes his commitment to peace, dilutes his leadership and narrows his negotiation skills. And his ultra conservative partners in the cabinet mistakenly consider peace-making the road to the unraveling of the Jewish state.

The mood among Arabs and Palestinians is also very skeptical, but the desire for a peace deal with Israel remains strong. Palestinians have a clear inferior position in their bargaining position with the occupier. They are asked to ignore settlement building and plunge into negotiation with blind faith. While Palestinian violence against innocent people is easy to condemn, Israeli violence in the form of illegal land appropriation is not. The late Edward Said reminds us that the victor writes history.

Palestinians lack representation by excluding Hamas and Syria from the negotiations. Palestinians are a split community, ideologically, politically and geographically. Arab diplomatic cover for the Palestinian negotiators is weak, with Damascus being shunned.

The economy, not world peace is what Americans are thinking of today. American public opinion is not encouraging for the Arabs; Islamophobia is at an historic high. Moreover, Americans do not appear highly supportive of the Obama Administration in its new grand policy initiatives at home or abroad. Obama’s charisma is gradually waning; in his battle with Netanyahu over the settlement issue, the US president has yielded.

The mainline Jewish community in America is lukewarm about peace. For many American Jews, the focus of concern is over Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, not peace with the Palestinians of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Is this round of peace negotiations doomed to failure? Not necessarily. Miracles do happen when failure would bring war, a risky adventure in which America will have to reluctantly take sides with Israel. Moreover, Obama needs a policy victory for November mid-term elections. Enabling a peace deal in the Middle East would give the Democrats a strong electoral boost. With Afghanistan and Iraq remaining a US burden, and with Iran likely to become a new war front if peace fails, the Obama administration will try their utmost to mediate some imperfect, programmed peace agreement. Will it succeed?

Those looking for signs of hope might consider the wide latitude of the Palestinian Authority for compromise a great asset in the search for common ground. And Netanyahu’s known hard line stance in dealing with Arabs may position him in the role of “Nixon in China”, a prospective norm-breaker.

To succeed the peace plan must tackle end-game issues with speed, widen the agenda to include Syria and Iran and involve the US as a strong central broker - not merely a diplomatic convener.

The striking advantage of the current peace talks maybe the fear of failure. The alternative to peace is a new regional war. No party can afford a new round.

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About Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz is a Lebanese-American Middle East analyst with special interest in political sociology, social justice and democracy. He is a former professor of social work and psychology. He was Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches for the Middle East during the eighties and early nineties. He also served Eastern Europe for six years from the Geneva office of Christian Children’s Fund. Between 2000 and 2005, he was the Washington Liaison Director of CCF. He is now focused on public speaking and writing on the Middle East. Over the last five years, he has contributed a series of articles to the Christian Science Monitor online edition, the Lebanese Daily Star and the Arab American News. Currently, Rubeiz is writing regularly from his home office in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. His special interest is in politics and religion and in promotion of Arab American understanding. His maintains his personal blog at www.aldikkani.blogspot.com.

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