One of the problems with the administration’s foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that it increasingly ignores reality in favor of political expediency. The so-called “peace process” has become a time-honored endeavor for many, many Presidents and while 15-20 years ago there actually was the possibility of creating two states along lines that would be largely acceptable to both parties and the international community, that simply is no longer the case. But don’t expect that to register on our foreign policy radar. There are policy wonks, think-tank fellows, professors, politicians and assorted “experts” who have made a career out of Mideast peace and often a lucrative, prestigious one at that. How many times have you heard the name Dennis Ross or Aaron David Miller over the last 5 years? A lot, you just may not realize it.
Writing over at Foreign Policy, one of the above-mentioned Think-Tankers actually has a very in-depth (and balanced) explanation of why the door has largely closed on the two state solution and it’s well worth a read. Here are some snippets:
Beyond the obvious explanation that the biblical connection for Jews to the lands of Judea and Samaria, as many Israelis refer to the West Bank, is stronger than those to Gaza and Sinai, the larger problem is that the settlements have become so enmeshed with Palestinian communities that disentangling them is practically impossible.
There are today more than 300,000 settlers in the West Bank. This doesn’t even include the 190,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War. This figure is nearly triple the West Bank settler population when Oslo was signed. Although it is true that most of these settlements are in and around the 1967 borders, the reality on the ground is extraordinarily more complicated. For example, approximately 30 percent of the settler population resides outside the separation barrier, many in some of the most radicalized settler communities like Itamar and Kiryat Arba.
In the unlikely event that Israel and the Palestinians did agree to a two-state solution and were to use the separation fence as a final border, there would still be more than 70,000 settlers and dozens of settlements on Palestinian land. These settlers would either have to accept living in a Palestinian state, which is unlikely, or have to be evacuated by the Israeli government. Not only would settlers almost certainly resist such a move, but already today settlers have set up dozens of illegal outposts in the West Bank and the Israeli government has made no effort to dislodge them. According to Hagit Ofran, director of Settlement Watch for Peace Now, while Israel has removed the stray trailer or small shacks of settler youth, it has never evicted a single “real outpost” or taken down “infrastructure and removed families” from the larger outposts that are in clear violation of Israeli law.
On the one hand, Israel has the most powerful military in the Middle East; it possesses scores of nuclear weapons and it has the backing of the world’s sole superpower, the United States. A few terrorist attacks, however deadly, won’t change those facts. So on one level, the existential dangers of returning land to the Palestinians is overstated. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean Israeli fears aren’t real or legitimate.
Many ordinary Israelis will tell you that the Palestinian response to Israeli concessions has been one of unremitting violence. After the signing of the Oslo Accords, Hamas (which opposed the accords) responded with suicide attacks that over the next several years killed more than 160 Israelis, wounded hundreds of others, and terrorized the population. After the so-called Camp David II negotiations among Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Yasir Arafat, and brokered by U.S. President Bill Clinton, in which Israel made historic concessions to the Palestinians, the response was even more violence. In 2002 alone, 220 Israelis were killed in suicide attacks.
Israeli leaders often say they lack a partner for peace. This is true, but for reasons that might not be immediately clear. In the 18 years since Arafat’s PLO returned from exile in Tunisia to run the Palestinian Authority (PA), its credibility — not just among Israelis, but also Palestinians — has declined. The reasons are many, from endemic corruption and cronyism to human rights abuses by the PA police, to a lack of faith in PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Yet it’s the PA’s cooperation with Israel that has perhaps had the greatest effect on the erosion in confidence among individual Palestinians.
Consider Al Jazeera’s publication in January of the so-called Palestine Papers, which revealed the specifics of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The most politically damaging impact of the leaks was not necessarily that the PA had conceded the annexation of key Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem while receiving nothing in return. Rather, the worst part was the revelation that the PA had basically been coordinating on security issues with Israel during the 2008-2009 Gaza war to undermine Hamas, its main political rival. In addition, under the precepts of Oslo one of the key responsibilities of the PA police in the West Bank is to protect Israelis from terrorist infiltration. So it’s not surprising that Palestinians ask: What have you done for us? All this has contributed to the view that the PA is a handmaiden of the Israeli occupation.
Cohen talks about other issues including the disingenuous, dangerous politics of Yasser Arafat and the increasing rightward bent of Israeli society and politics. He ends up concluding that if something isn’t done soon- like right now- it is a good possibility that perpetual occupation with full social and political apartheid is around the corner and that the U.S. should constantly be reminding both parties of that. However, when the U.S. repeatedly demonstrates that Israel’s interests are to be defended no matter what the cost, it’s hard to imagine Israeli leaders giving a damn about the ramifications of the perpetuation of the status quo, given that they are its primary beneficiary.