Israel: Will President Obama Force a Peace Plan?

April 6, 2010     
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President Obama appears to be planning an audacious move in the Middle East. He is aiming to force a peace plan on Israel and the Palestinian Territories, even if neither one of them currently want it. Following his health care victory and a nuclear weapons agreement with Russia, the current American Administration has momentum.

But more importantly, numerous other conditions appear to suggest that such a bold move may be possible, an idea unthinkable even one year ago. At the same time, a number of other circumstances suggest that some sort of settlement is required soon before events escalate and cause a devastating regional conflict (or worse).

Weapons and technology are partially driving the change while politics is opening up opportunities that did not exist before. For instance, how much longer will it be before HAMAS obtains a missile that can hit Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport and close the only major civilian airport to foreign traffic? Would Hezbollah attempt to hit the airport in another round of fighting with Israel? Will Iran be able to place a nuclear weapon on an IRBM? Will anyone of several parties in the region opt for the use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction (chemical or biological)?

Changing Realities

A number of indicators point towards a major shakeup in the status quo of the Holy Land:
1. There is no leader on either the Israeli or Palestinian side who enjoys the full trust of their respective populations. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel maintains power through a tenuous and unruly coalition. There is no David Ben Gurion or Golda Meir waiting in the wings. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, maintains only a weak hold over the West Bank and has little influence in Gaza. HAMAS is attempting to maintain power in Gaza, while facing an increasing threat from jihadist organizations such as Jund Ansar Allah. Even under the most optimistic of current scenarios, there is little that HAMAS can deliver to the people of Gaza. Its only real legitimacy is derived from the fact that it is not Fatah.
2. The main Israeli lobby group in the USA (AIPAC) no longer has the unquestioned clout that it enjoyed a few years ago. It can still get letters of support signed in Congress, such as it is doing now, but where is the campaign of outrage that should have followed the embarrassments suffered by PM Netanyahu on his most recent trip to Washington? J Street and other voices are now being heard which was unthinkable two years ago.
3. Genuine fears exist that another Middle Eastern flare up might not be “just” a regional conflict next time. A wider conflict could ensue from which no one would benefit.
4. The Quartet (UN, EU, USA and Russia) all seem to be singing off the same sheet of music.
5. The ”Durban Agenda” is having an effect as a series of so-called “independent” NGOs having been waging a campaign of disinformation against Israel. The campaign’s efforts, underway since 2001, may be undermining some areas of traditional support for Israel.
6. The high profile American general, David Petraeus recently made comments that suggested Israel’s activities in the Middle East are putting American soldier’s lives at risk. These comments appear to be unprecedented.
7. America appears to be consulting with European allies on Israeli policy before it is contacting Israel on the same issues. This too is unprecedented.
8. A growing realization exists that the Middle East conflict is costing everyone literally hundreds of billions of dollars in damages, lost business, increased costs and mounting tensions.
9. American largess is not bottomless or endless. The cost of maintaining Israel as an ally are not be found in just the financial transfers and loans, but it is increasingly being measured in other costs which are political in nature. This does not bode well for Israel over the long term.
10. President Obama has been attacked in the Israeli press. While it has probably been assumed by many that the US Congress would keep an American President “in line” if he strayed too far from traditional policies, it is not clear that this assumption is completely valid at this time. Biting the hand that feeds may not be a good policy.
11. The Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008 was a military victory, but it is not clear how the “victor” is any further ahead in security terms that in was before the attack. The political costs were high and what was gained remains unclear. HAMAS is not looking for another fight with Israel this year, but there can be no doubt that HAMAS will continue to focus on armed conflict unless it sees real opportunities in other directions.
12. The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 resulted in a moral victory for Hassan Nasrallah. His forces survived in the face of a determined attack and lived to fight another day. The implications of this in the long run are still not clear.
13. Many countries are increasingly beginning to question the role of Iran in the region. Its proxies, such as Hezbollah, appear to be gaining strength and will continue to do so as long as there is a larger instability in the region. Any effort to reduce Iran’s influence in the region, however, must include a broader agenda of stability in Lebanon, Syria and Israel. This means a local peace accord for these countries.
14. Demographics are another concern. Jews may become a minority at some point in the future in the land that Israel controls.
15. The agenda of the government of Israel is increasingly being set by some 300,000 “settlers” who have moved into the occupied territories. Their cost to the Israeli government is significant in military and economic terms. How much longer can 300,000 people set a radical agenda for a country with a population of five million? Seen another way, how can 300,000 people have such an influence over the policies of so many other countries? The overall cost of the “settlers” may soon be an unbearable political price for Israel and some of its key allies.
16. Israel has traditionally had a short list of local allies and a rather long list of enemies. The current Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr Lieberman, seems to be agitating the few friends that Israel does have while isolating Israel from traditional allies. Turkey is a case in point.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.

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