In the run-up to President Obama’s trip to Israel next week — the least-anticipated Israel trip by an American president that Thomas Friedman can remember (!) — there’s been much hand-wringing (again) over whether we are witnessing the death throes of Israeli-Palestinian peace. This is a perennial exercise, its last iteration appearing as recently as December (see here and here).
For the latest round, the contestants are Ben Birnbaum, writing this week in The New Republic, who argues that the hour is nigh when the essential conditions for a two-state solution will be gone forever. In particular, once P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas exits the stage — his health is reportedly not so robust — there’s no Palestinian leader in the offing with whom Israel can cut a deal. Which is precisely the point, Seth Mandel responded in Commentary: you don’t make peace with a fading figurehead with no constituency.
In the Times today, there are not one, not two, but three entrants in the race. There’s of course Friedman, who writes that with the growth of domestic energy sources and the rise of larger-looming strategic considerations in the region (Iran, the Sunni-Shiite split), the imperative to find a solution to the conflict is less pressing than ever. The most he can muster is drafting a little lecture he’d like Obama to deliver in Jerusalem.
Please tell me how your relentless settlement drive in the West Bank does not end up with Israel embedded there — forever ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians with a colonial-like administration that can only undermine Israel as a Jewish democracy and delegitimize Israel in the world community? I understand why Palestinian dysfunction and the Arab awakening make you wary, but still. Shouldn’t you be constantly testing and testing whether there is a Palestinian partner for a secure peace?
Next up is Rashid Khalidi, the Columbia University Arab studies professor, who asserts that the peace process has made life worse for Palestinians, not better. Obama, he writes, has two choices:
He can reconcile the United States to continuing to uphold and bankroll an unjust status quo that it helped produce. Or he can begin to chart a new course based on recognition that the United States must forthrightly oppose the occupation and the settlements and support an inalienable Palestinian right to freedom, equality and statehood. There is no middle way.
Finally, Ari Shavit, the Haaretz columnist. He too joins the Oslo-is-dead camp, branding that the "Old Peace." But never fear, there’s a "New Peace" in the offing, which will look like this:
There will not be grandiose peace ceremonies in Camp David or at the White House, no Nobel Prizes to be handed out. The New Peace does not mean lofty declarations and presumptuous vows, but a pragmatic, gradual process whereby the New Arabs and the New Israelis will acknowledge their mutual needs and interests. It will be a quiet, almost invisible, process that will allow Turks, Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis to reach common understandings. The New Peace will be based on the humble, pragmatic assumption that all the participants must respect, and not provoke, one another, so that conflict does not disrupt the constructive social reforms that all seek to promote. New Peace might have all sorts of manifestations. A real Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank rather than a romantic Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement which is not feasible at the moment. An Israeli-Egyptian water-supply development project that would reinforce the fragile peace between the countries. An Israeli-Turkish gas deal that would bring together two of America’s most reliable allies and encourage them to work as regional stabilizers. A Saudi-Israeli-Palestinian program that would channel some of the riches of the Persian Gulf to keep the peace in Palestine. A secret Israeli-Hamas deal that would give Gaza more autonomy and prosperity while halting its rearmament.
And the view from Jerusalem? Michael Oren says there’s still time for peace. But, you know, the Palestinians aren’t being very cooperative.