Thursday, April 14, 2011

Brent Scowcroft's Call for Renewed "Peace Process"

On many occasions over the last several years, Brent Scowcroft has been a voice of reason and moderation in US public diplomacy, no more so than when he tried to warn George W. Bush off from his precipitate invasion of Iraq.  Today, he offers an op-ed essay (linked here from the New Atlanticist site, but published first at Financial Times) calling for Mr. Obama to spearhead a renewed effort to sit Messrs. Netanyahu and Abbas, with their entourages, down together once again, to produce a lasting peace agreement.  This is, of course, something that most of us have been eager to see happen, and many of us have assumed that only the US has the ability to shepherd such a process to a happy ending.  Scowcroft says it again:

No other country can convince Israeli and Palestinian leaders to reach a binding compromise that results in two states living side by side in peace and security, ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and all claims related to it.

I only wish it were true, but if the last two years plus have taught us anything, it's that Mr. Netanyahu's government as now constituted - and quite probably, Mr. Netanyahu himself - is constitutionally, even viscerally, unable to propose the kind of "concessions" (there's that ridiculous word again; sorry) necessary for a viable, even minimally just resolution that would address the issue of Jerusalem and the effects of Israel's colonization of the West Bank.  And given that Congress is well and truly dug in to support Israel's intransigence on these and other issues, Obama and his team - who've not shown any real stomach for the peace process anyhow - are unwilling to exercise any of the leverage that ought to be at their disposal.  Add to that that Obama has two hot wars (Afghanistan and Libya) and a rapidly reheating war (Iraq) already on his plate, as well as the budget battles ongoing with Congress.  Given the extremely dim chances of success, this is no time for Team Obama to turn back to trying to fix Israel-Palestine.

What's becoming more apparent though is that Israel needs to start facing, squarely, some very serious music that may be building to a crescendo - in the UN General Assembly, in the steady swell of countries that have decided to recognize an independent Palestine, and in its steady loss of once reliable "friends" in the Arab and broader Middle East.  Arab publics across the region are rising up to demand self-determination and more open societies, including more public and political space for the expression of Muslim identity.  The Muslim Brotherhood is positioned to prosper in the new Egypt; is feeling its oats in Jordan; and will likely emerge as a potent force in Syria when Bashar al-Asad's Baath regime is eventually forced to open up the political process or even forced out.

Aluf Benn (in Haaretz) recently wrote that Israel might be able to play to its own advantage the destabilizing that will accompany these changes in the region:

Israel is directly involved in the struggle over the establishment of an independent Palestine and the shaping of its borders, and would be significantly affected by the disintegration of its neighboring states, chiefly Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. A smart Israeli policy, which correctly identifies the opportunities inherent in the emergence of new states and knows how to take advantage of these opportunities, will be able to leverage the inevitable process to reinforce Israel's power and influence in the region.

 But it seems just as likely - especially if Islamist groups across the region are able to gain their footing - that Israel will be faced by a welling-up of previously suppressed popular anger against it, especially in view of its harsh treatment of Palestinian fellow Muslims in Gaza and the West Bank.   To the extent that newly emerging governments embrace democratic principles of freedom of expression and responsiveness to their voting publics, they will bring that anger to bear on their policies toward Israel.
How Israel responds - the accommodations it will be forced to make - may likely determine whether or not a Jewish state can survive other than behind the "iron wall" that Zev Jabotinsky prescribed so many years ago.  And those accommodations will need to address - first and foremost - the injustice and dispossession that the Arabs of Palestine suffered at Israeli hands in 1948 and 1967.

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