Bernard Avishai’s article in Sunday’s NY Times Magazine reviews the status of the negotiations between Abbas and Olmert in 2008. At the time Olmert was a lame duck under threat of indictment for corruption and running a government revving up to go to war with Gaza! (This is the same Olmert so seriously unserious about reaching an agreement that a year earlier he refused to discuss final-status issues in preparation for Annapolis or at Annapolis; Abbas should never have gone.)
As for Avishai’s article, which is getting a lot of press, its first premise is wrong—that the state of the negotiations in 2008 was just about ready to roll. It wasn’t. Ariel and Maale Adumim settlements are not “minor” sticking points; Israel has no business in those places, but Olmert whined that he couldn’t get rid of the settlers, so, please, let him keep those big settlements in the heart of Palestine. And, again, Olmert was on his way out and couldn’t make any such deal, which he surely well knew; he was just playing, I’d say, perhaps to burnish his legacy with some positive content for the memoir he would inevitably write (and, yes, he’s written it; it was just published in Israel).
Olmert comes from a long line of Israeli fakers. Indeed, doesn’t this one recall the Holy Barak Offer of 2000 at Camp David (you know, when Barak offered Arafat “everything” and Arafat repaid him by starting the intifada, as in “there is no Palestinian partner for peace”), a talking point that has since been thoroughly discredited?
Second false premise, which Avishai pretty much leaves out of his article: that, by implication, an agreement is possible with the obstructionist Netanyahu and his government, though I think the word “Netanyahu” comes up only twice in the article. (There’s really nowhere to go with talk of “peace process” once you acknowledge the Netanyahu/Lieberman problem, so best to avoid it.)
Noam Sheizaf parses this out quite smartly at +972 and demurs with Avishai that there is any point in the US initiating another round of “peace process” at this time. Remember, too, that Israel will happily latch on to meaningless negotiations because they make it look as if Israel is engaged—at no cost. Why give them that and why do it to the Palestinians (again)?
So where ought we to go next?
Sheizaf asks and answers the question:
So, what should the US do? In my opinion, the answer is not much, at least for the time being. As recent events taught us, there are limits to the ability to shape the Middle East’s politics from the Oval Office. The US should take a step back, and most importantly, let Jerusalem face the consequences of the occupation by gradually lifting the diplomatic shield it provides Israel with. It should be done in a smart enough way not to hurt the administration politically, but the message needs to be clear: If Israel continues to hold on to the West Bank, it will become more and more isolated. With time, this message would resonate with policy makers and with the Jewish public.
Precisely. That would mean, for example, voting yes (okay, abstention would be good, too) on a Security Council resolution condemning the settlements as illegal—technically speaking, the resolution simply echoes official US policy. It does not “delegitimize” Israel, even if it does delegitimize the Greater Israel colonial project. And why would Israel then continue to become even more isolated than it is already—because the US is pulling it support (still a whopping hypothetical), because the story of Israeli colonialism is getting out, because the discourse is expanding in the media, because of BDS.
Lest anyone think that this is what Thomas Friedman has in mind when he says that the US should “walk away” because “both sides” are neither ready nor interested (the equivalence lie that pro-Israel people like to use), think again. Friedman has never given any indication that his notion of “walking away” has any consequences for Israel. Until Friedman talks explicitly about “lifting the diplomatic shield” or cutting aid, assume that he means, let the powerful party (Israel) continue to play at business as usual without any other US interference.
Those, like Avishai, Hendrik Hertzberg (in the New Yorker) and Jeffrey Goldberg, who are pushing for renewed “peace process,” are covering for Israel. If the game of “peace process” is being played, one can pretend that the Israelis are interested, even when they’re not. The answer should be, No dice; game over.
In the aftermath of Egypt, it will be something of a day of reckoning when the resolution on settlements comes before the Security Council. What better way to give the lie to the newfound US embrace of democracy and freedom than to veto it?
And, by contrast, what better way to turn the page at last on this sorry history of support for occupation and colonialism than to vote yes (or, at the least for starters, to abstain)?
Permit me a bit of license with friend Shakespeare (the Shylock speech about Jews):
Hath not a [Palestinian] eyes? hath not a [Palestinian] hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a [Jew] is?
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that.
Honestly, if not now already, then when?