Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Muddled thinking

On the website of today's Guardian newspaper (London), Keith Kahn-Harris and Joel Schalit argue that progressive Zionists, preparing for the failure of Obama's peace plan, should start thinking about a new model of statehood – "an Israel-Palestine like no other nation", they dub it.

In rethinking Israel-Palestine, they say, Jews can find inspiration from Zionism itself. "Zionism has never been a purely a political ideology. In the work of early Zionists such as Ahad Ha'am, we find a vision of Israel as a global Jewish cultural hub. Now is the time to consider what such visions might mean in a post-two-state context.

"Developing Plan B is a long-term goal. In the short term, Jews need to focus on reforming Israeli politics. Any Israel that remains an occupying power, that discriminates against its own Arab citizenry, not only compromises its own democracy, but will never let a Palestinian state function democratically either. If democracy is the ultimate solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, since Israel is the stronger party, it has to be fixed in Israel first."

It is extremely difficult to get to grips with what the authors are saying, either in terms of their analysis of present circumstances, or their proposals for future action. What does emerge is that a majority of Israelis favour the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine impasse (presumably Kahn-Harris and Schalit do not), and that this accords with the US government's declared intention. But the devil, as so often, is in the detail.

The desired objective is a sovereign Palestinian state sitting alongside an Israel with secure borders. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority has been prepared, with many an if and but, to enter into arms-length discussions with Israel aimed at reaching agreement on such an outcome. The problem is the conflict that is tearing the Palestinian body politic apart. Hamas, which though elected to the PA on a majority, later turned on its Fatah partners and seized control of the Gaza strip in a bloody coup. Hamas and Fatah are literally at daggers drawn.

Hamas is unequivocally in the rejectionist camp where an accommodation with Israel is concerned. It is an essential component of the Hamas-Hizbollah-Iran-Syria axis which is totally opposed to any accommodation with Israel.

The Obama administration has perceived that what is essentially required is not simply a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem, but what they term, "a comprehensive peace in the Middle East". They have been seeking somehow to "eliminate the negative", to come to some sort of accommodation with Iran and Syria - and through them, Hamas and HIzbollah, and through Syria, Lebanon.

The buzz word in the early days was "engagement". That is why Obama spoke directly to the Muslim world in his June 2009 Cairo speech, why he has directed personal video appeals to the Iranian people on two separate occasions. But so far his efforts have yielded few results. Iran is as obdurate as ever in its pursuit of nuclear power, and Obama's tone has hardened. He specifically excluded Iran, as a "rogue state", from his recent declaration forswearing the possibility of a first nuclear strike by the USA. And Washington is actively seeking a fourth set of UN sanctions against Iran for persisting in enriching uranium.

As for Syria, engagement has failed there too, so far. The recent news that Syria has been supplying sophisticated Scud missiles to Hizbollah, arming them for a possible further conflict with Israel, has aroused ire in the States. The President's idea of re-establishing a US ambassador in Damascus, on the point of being ratified, is now on hold.

The moral? Good intentions as regards a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine are not enough. Something more is needed to create the conditions in which a two-state solution could be brought about and stick. Something dramatic, has been suggested – something like a Sadat-type visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah by Barack Obama, and a declaration delivered in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and in the PA parliament building.

But then, we all remember what happened to Anwar Sadat.

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