Why the Obama/Clinton Path to Mideast Peace Will Fail

There is little chance peace can be brought
to the Middle East unless it is imposed on both Israel and Palestine by
the international community. Calling for an international peace
conference and an immediate cease-fire ought to be the first foreign
policy priority for the Obama administration.

Instead, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton's
remarks to the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday committed the
Obama administration to a path that is certain to fail as it has
throughout the past several decades.

She stressed three elements of her position:

  • The United States remains committed in its support of Israel,
    which guarantees that it cannot play the role of "honest, neutral
    broker of peace."
  • The United States restates that it will not negotiate with Hamas
    until it recognizes Israel (which Hamas has already said it would not
    do, though it has been willing to negotiate a cease-fire agreement with
    Israel and announced that it is prepared to negotiate a new agreement
    that could last for 20 or 30 years).
  • The Obama administration will work to bring the two parties together for peace negotiations.

This position is at odds with the views that Obama articulated when
he was seeking the Democratic nomination. At that point, he made clear
that we should negotiate with Iran and Syria, which both pose more
serious threats to American interests than Hamas.

The difference, of course, is the Israel lobby to which Obama and
Clinton have repeatedly paid obeisance. That lobby, representing the
most hard-line elements in the Jewish world but also tens of millions
of Christian Zionists who support the militarist perspective in dealing
with Arabs and Palestinians, has insisted as a matter of faith that
American politicians promise not to deal with Hamas. In the 1980s and
1990s, the lobby insisted that the United States not negotiate with the
Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Obama administration's game plan, according to several Israeli
analysts, is this: Call for a cease-fire that will freeze in place
Israel's commanding military position in the West Bank and Gaza after
allowing Israel some more time to finish its task of wiping out Hamas
operatives in Gaza, then hope that the military success of the Israelis
will strengthen Ehud Barak (head of the Israeli Labor Party) and Tzipi
Livni (head of Olmert's Kadima party) in Israel's February elections;
anticipate that these two will form a government to negotiate a peace
agreement with the Palestinian Authority, whose power will be
strengthened as Palestinians witness the defeat of the military option
proposed by Hamas.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian state likely to be produced by these
negotiations will be neither economically nor politically viable. Barak
and Livni will not have the power to make serious concessions to the
Palestinians, so the government they likely will form (with Secretary
of State Clinton and the Obama administration's participation) will be
one that allows the Israeli army to crisscross the Palestinian state in
order to safeguard the 400,000 Israelis who will continue to live in
settlements. The state thus created will resemble a patchwork of little
city-state cantons that will not look or feel to the Palestinians like
a real state.

While the weak Palestinian Authority may accept an arrangement of
this sort, the vast majority of Palestinians will eventually wake up to
understanding that this U.S. -negotiated deal is little more than an
agreement by Palestinians to police themselves while Israel retains its
settlements and its military dominance of Gaza and the West Bank.

Eventually, the Islamic fundamentalist movement will reappear and
gain new strength, and resume the struggle, while Israelis and
Americans cry foul because they gave the Palestinians a state.

The only viable alternative is for Obama to call for an
international conference of the European Unon, Israel and the Arab
States, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and, yes,
Iran and India as well, and allow that international conference to
impose a solution that provides security and justice to both sides.
Only an imposed settlement has the slightest chance of being just to
Palestinians - the precondition for a lasting peace, and a secure
Israel.

Hard as it might be to push the Obama administration in this
direction, it will be less difficult than getting Secretary of State
Clinton to use American power to directly force Israel to be responsive
to the minimum needs for peace and justice for the Palestinian people.