Stephen Walt had a thoughtful and hard-hitting post on his blog on January 22, in which he argued that Pres. Obama’s special peace envoy, George Mitchell, should resign from his post,
because it should be clear to him that he was hired under false pretenses. He undoubtedly believed Obama when the president said he was genuinely committed to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace in his first term. Obama probably promised to back him up, and his actions up to the Cairo speech made it look like he meant it. But his performance ever since has exposed him as another U.S. president who is unwilling to do what everyone knows it will take to achieve a just peace.
He adds that Mitchell has now been reduced to playing,
the same hapless role that Condoleezza Rice played in the latter stages of the Bush administration — engaged in endless “talks” and inconclusive haggling over trivialities– and he ought to be furious at having been hung out to dry in this fashion.
Of course, among presidentially appointed point-persons on Palestine-Israel who’ve been “hung out to dry” by their White House bosses in recent years, Gen. Anthony Zinni and Sec. of State Colin Powell also come immediately to mind.
Also, Mitchell’s own earlier foray into Palestinian-Israeli fact-finding, which he conducted in 2000-2001, didn’t exactly go down gangbusters with the incoming president (G.W. Bush) in 2001, did it?
In his blog post, Walt writes,
The point is not that Obama’s initial peace effort in the Middle East has failed; the real lesson is that he didn’t really try. The objective was admirably clear from the start — “two states for two peoples” — what was missing was a clear strategy for getting there and the political will to push it through. And notwithstanding the various difficulties on the Palestinian side, the main obstacle has been the Netanyahu government’s all-too obvious rejection of anything that might look like a viable Palestinian state, combined with its relentless effort to gobble up more land. Unless the U.S. president is willing and able to push Israel as hard as it is pushing the Palestinians (and probably harder), peace will simply not happen. Pressure on Israel is also the best way to defang Hamas…
It’s not as if Obama and Co. don’t realize that this is important. National Security Advisor James Jones has made it clear that he sees the Israel-Palestinian issue as absolutely central; it’s not our only problem in the Middle East, but it tends to affect most of the others and resolving it would be an enormous boon. And there’s every sign that the president is aware of the need to do more than just talk.
Yet U.S. diplomacy in this area remains all talk and no action. When a great power identifies a key interest and is strongly committed to achieving it, it uses all the tools at its disposal to try to bring that outcome about. Needless to say, the use of U.S. leverage has been conspicuously absent over the past year, which means that Mitchell has been operating with both hands tied firmly behind his back. Thus far, the only instrument of influence that Obama has used has been presidential rhetoric, and even that weapon has been used rather sparingly.
And please don’t blame this on Congress. Yes, Congress will pander to the lobby, oppose a tougher U.S. stance, and continue to supply Israel with generous economic and military handouts, but a determined president still has many ways of bringing pressure to bear on recalcitrant clients. The problem is that Obama refused to use any of them.
Strong stuff, indeed!
Walt’s piece then segues into an appraisal of the deeper trends in Palestinian-Israeli relations. He writes,
Looking ahead, one can see two radically different possibilities. The first option is that Israel retains control of the West Bank and Gaza and continues to deny the Palestinians full political rights or economic opportunities. (Netanyahu likes to talk about a long-term “economic peace,” but his vision of Palestinian bantustans under complete Israeli control is both a denial of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations and a severe obstacle to their ability to fully develop their own society.) … Perhaps the millions of remaining Palestinians will gradually leave — as hardline Israelis hope and as former House speaker Dick Armey once proposed. If so, then a country founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust — one of history’s greatest crimes-will have completed a dispossession begun in 1948 — a great crime of its own.
Alternatively, the Palestinians may remain where they are, and begin to demand equal rights in the state under whose authority they have been forced to dwell. If Israel denies them these rights, its claim to being the “only democracy in the Middle East” will be exposed as hollow. If it grants them, it will eventually cease to be a Jewish-majority state (though its culture would undoubtedly retain a heavily Jewish/Israeli character). As a long-time supporter of Israel’s existence, I would take no joy in that outcome. Moreover, transforming Israel into a post-Zionist and multinational society would be a wrenching and quite possibly violent experience for all concerned. For both reasons, I’ve continued to favor “two states for two peoples” instead.
But with the two-state solution looking less and less likely, these other possibilities begin to loom large. Through fear and fecklessness, the United States has been an active enabler of an emerging tragedy. Israelis have no one to blame but themselves for the occupation, but Americans… will be judged harshly for our own role in this endeavor.
This is thoughtfully written, but I think Walt errs in saying only that Americans “will be” judged harshly for our role in Israel’s colonial endeavor… We already are judged harshly on this account– by a strong majority of the people around the world.
I also think he over-states the “tragic” nature of a shift toward a true one-state outcome. As he writes it, the “tragedy” would lie both in the fact that the Jewish-majority state of which he has been a long-time supporter would no longer exist, and in the fact that “transforming Israel into a post-Zionist and multinational society would be a wrenching and quite possibly violent experience for all concerned.”
As opposed to the present situation of very longterm military occupation and mass dispossession?
It would surely have been appropriate for Walt to state at that point that the present situation, which is marked by Israel’s complete domination over the people and resources of the OPTs, the denial of Palestinian national political rights for more than 60 years, and the concomitant languishing of the majority of the Palestinian people in refugee status for over 60 years is itself one of deepseated and continuing tragedy.
Walt also seems to simply assume that as Palestinians become “forced to leave” their homeland, somehow they drop off the political map altogether. Far from it!
I hope I can discuss some of these issues more with Steve Walt– either when he comes back on our radio show sometime, or in person. But all in all, a really timely piece.