BOSTON — The Middle East-related policy world of former and hopeful officials, think tanks, analysts, scholars, and researchers in the United States that I have followed at close range in the past three months is more turbulent than ever, given the Donald Trump presidential victory and the considerable uncertainty it portends for the region. This universe is now running in overdrive, with the usual string of study group reports, policy recommendations, seminars, and lectures anticipating and suggesting what the United States might do in the Middle East, amidst irritating unpredictability of Trump’s priorities and policies.
Within this swirling arena of imprecision and speculation, one issue seems to have captured the attention of assorted credible experts and analysts: whether President Barack Obama should use his last seven weeks in office to lay down a more emphatic U.S. position on the status of the occupied Palestinian lands and the ultimate shape of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Former President Jimmy Carter and the respected International Crisis Group, among others, have called for moves such as Obama formally recognizing the State of Palestine, issuing a set of parameters the United States supports for a permanent peace agreement, or supporting a UN Security Council resolution that would affirm such parameters that all council members agree upon.
It is fascinating, first of all, that men and women of wise and serious ways would pick out the Palestine issue and the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict as a specific foreign policy move that Obama could make in his last weeks in office. This runs against the broad trend in policy circles in the United States that discounts the Palestine issue as a priority, because the Middle East is consumed with more urgent dangers and problems. My sense is that this partly reflects exasperation among officials and other experts whose attempts to broker Arab-Israeli peace have failed miserably and consistently, and partly the continuing ability of Israel’s Likud-led government to influence thinking about Israel-Palestine among many American officials in Washington.
Palestine is a low priority issue in the Arab world, according to many mainstream U.S. and Israeli policy circles that feel the new administration should not waste time entering into new diplomatic mediation. This is desirable in the eyes of the Israeli government that wants to continue its colonization of Palestinian lands without the irksome interference of foreign mediators seeking to reverse that process. It is also convenient for the U.S. policy elite that has run out of ideas, after trying many peace-making ideas that all failed, decade after decade.
So it is noteworthy that respectable and serious quarters in the United States and Europe would continue to grapple with the idea that Obama should make a forceful and substantive diplomatic gesture on the Israel-Palestine issue before he leaves office. The arguments made in their favor of such a move are logical and realistic, including that they generate a clear global consensus on the core elements of a fair and achievable resolution of this long-running conflict, and that Trump would be able to engage on this issue if he desired with the benefits of an American position that is widely supported, without having to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel.
Such suggested moves also assume that the U.S. position would forcefully affirm the security and legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-June 1967 borders, with agreed mutual adjustments, while demanding the end of Israel’s colonization, siege, annexation, collective punishment, extra-judicial assassinations, and other illegal policies. This position would be supported by virtually the entire world; in fact, it is now already supported by virtually the entire world, including the American government.
So here is the dilemma that policy experts and advocates still dance around without coming to a credible conclusion: Reaffirming existing positions on the inviolability of Israel’s security while condemning its colonial occupation policies, and giving this position a slightly more robust stamp of approval by the United States and other governments through the UN Security Council, achieves nothing in the realm of practical politics or in changing conditions on the ground. It is a feel-good, zero-impact approach.
If the United States or other countries, unilaterally or via the UN, wish to make a gesture that affirms equal rights among Israelis and Palestinians, they need to seriously explore a more effective approach. They need to find ways to link their welcomed rhetorical statements with practical political, diplomatic, and economic actions that would prod Israelis, Palestinians, and other interested Arabs to actually retreat from the current cycle of confrontation, violence, and mutual degradation and death. Israel in particular, being the stronger occupying and colonizing power, must pay the price for its harsh policies that the world objects to. Statements that oppose colonization need triggered penalties that deter and end colonization.
Statements, parameters, and international recognitions on paper are always welcomed, but they have had zero impact in the past century of this conflict. Any moves in this direction should ponder this reality and change it, rather than perpetuate it.
Rami G. Khouri is a senior fellow at the American University of Beirut and the Harvard Kennedy School, and can be followed on Twitter @ramikhouri.
Copyright ©2016 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global
Released: 01 December 2016
Word Count: 831
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