Hassan Barari
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
November 17, 2009 - 1:00am

Now, in the absence of a peace process in the Middle East, one feels compelled to discuss two main obstacles to conciliation that have been debated time and again to no avail. First, Israel will not proceed towards peace if the Americans are not on board. This explains the explicit demand, mainly voiced by the Arabs, that a third party intervention be secured if we really aspire to a quick fix to the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

The Arabs ask for a third party, that is, American, intervention to rectify the imbalance of power between Israelis and the Palestinians. Extracting concessions from the Israelis, according to this argument, requires strong pressure exerted by the American administration. In the absence of this pressure, Israel is less likely to come to terms with the Arabs’ “price tag” for peace.

Despite this fact, American pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not in the offing, President Barack Obama’s rhetoric notwithstanding.

Aaron David Miller, who was a member of the American peace team during the Clinton years, once told this writer that American presidents cannot put pressure on Israel for many reasons. Perhaps for reasons having to do with public opinion an American president cannot afford to be seen as putting pressure on Israel.

What the Americans can do is create an environment conducive to peace negotiations and then mediate in a constructive way to help the two sides iron out their differences. But this requires willingness on the part of regional actors to jumpstart a genuine peace process. And herein comes the second approach.

The American administration could wait until the parties concerned are ready. Several days ago, Thomas Friedman wrote an article in The New York Times, arguing that the American administration should leave the business of peace making until the time comes when both sides to the conflict feel the pain of the lack of a solution and then they can call the White House. But was not that the approach adopted by president George Bush in the first years of his tenure as president? Did he not adopt the “hands-off’, or the “let them bleed each other”, approach before America intervened?

The argument for the need to have the local parties ready for peace has some key pitfalls. First, the divisions between Palestinians have hurt their standing and have pushed some observers to refer to Palestinian politics as the traditional Humpty Dumpty who sat on a wall. Now, given the latest developments within the Palestinian Authority and the failure to bring about national reconciliation between the main contending factions, it is difficult to imagine a Palestinian partner emerging who can claim with any credibility that he is both willing and able to make peace.

Second, Israeli politics pose another obstacle to peace making. Since the right’s rise to power and the silencing of the peace camp in Israel, it is just not possible to talk about an Israeli partner who is willing to proceed towards peace and confront all consequences. Many observers believe that Israeli politics should be fixed before thinking of a peace process.

In a nutshell, the conditions for making peace are simply not there. Perhaps the United States should rethink its idealistic approach and address the most burning issues rather than put the conflict on the back burner as Friedman advocates.

From our perspective, in this part of the world, both America’s attempts at intervention and its hands-off philosophy have contributed to the problem, and made resolution even less likely. Therefore, many in our part of the world argue that for once America owes it to us to check Israeli settlements in order to give all parties space to rethink their positions and move them towards peace making. Otherwise, Israel is not paying any price for failing to make peace with the Palestinians.


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