Sunday, August 03, 2008

Obama’s Peace Dreams

P. David Hornik

Barack Obama has yet to be elected president, but already the presumptuous Democratic nominee has decided that he will “solve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We’re going to make sure that the Palestinians have a state that allows them to prosper as long as we also have certainty that Israel’s security is not being compromised,” Obama told NBC’s Meet the Press earlier this week. “I think it’s in the interest of both parties, but we are the critical ingredient in terms of making sure that a deal actually gets done.” He added that if the U.S. can “solve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf States to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Continued Obama: “It also will weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region. If we’ve gotten an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon.”

And he said that while he “give[s] the Bush administration credit that the Annapolis process has gotten Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert…and President [Mahmoud] Abbas…to have very serious…discussions…they may not be able to finish the job. They certainly can’t finish it without serious participation by the next administration, and we’ve got to start early.”

In asserting that the key to unlocking all sorts of Middle Eastern problems is to create an Arab state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean—which, given the current Palestinian leadership, could not be done without squeezing Israel back into something very similar to its pre-1967 deathtrap borders, in which its heavily populated coastal strip was all of nine miles wide a little north of Tel Aviv—Obama wasn’t saying anything very different than the current U.S. administration. “The Middle East is not going to get better without the creation of a Palestinian state to live side by side with Israel in peace, security and democracy,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said just this week.

It was Bush who, in 2002, became the first U.S. president to call for a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, breaking a long tradition in which the U.S. refrained from defining the nature of a prospective Palestinian entity. Since then, Bush and Rice’s zeal for Palestinian democracy has led to the Palestinians’ election of a Hamas government in 2006. Undeterred, the Bush administration has kept on building up Abbas’s Fatah faction as a supposed “moderate” foil to Hamas while turning a blind eye to Fatah/Palestinian Authority’s ongoing inculcation of anti-Semitic and anti-American hatred in schools, mosques, and media, glorification of terrorism, negation of Israel, grave human rights violations, and so on.

Now along comes Obama—whose foreign policy experience wouldn’t cover the head of a pin—saying an Obama administration will “start early” to get this conflict wrapped up.

It also emerged this week, though, that Arab states may not share Obama’s sense of urgency when it comes to helping Palestinians. Reuters reports that “Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has appealed to the World Bank to help him secure emergency financing to bridge a shortfall in donor funds and pay public workers.” The PA is in a “budget crisis despite billions of dollars in aid pledged last year to support a U.S.-backed peace drive.”

It’s not that the U.S. itself has been remiss in its payments; “the State Department said the [U.S.] had already surpassed its $555 million in pledged support for 2008 to the [PA] and urged other donors to help out.”

But “many Arab states have not met their financial commitments despite pressure from Washington.” Meanwhile “workers in Gaza say Hamas, which receives support from Iran and other Islamist allies, has been paying salaries on time despite the Western boycott….”

Why would that be? If boosting Fatah, beating Hamas, and solving the Palestinian problem is so crucial to the “moderate” Arab states, why would they be laggard in their PA payments even as Iran and company keep giving Hamas all it needs? Part of the answer, aside from stinginess, requires looking at the real Middle East and not the version of it painted by Western guilt.

Take Jordan, for instance. Last month it was reported that “Jordan has quietly let the Bush White House know it is concerned over the prospect of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank…. [Jordanian] officials said Jordan’s King Abdullah has warned the administration that [such a] state…would fuel the Islamic opposition and could lead to an attempt to overthrow the kingdom.”

Indeed, in the real Middle East—despite de rigueur public statements by Abdullah and his father-predecessor King Hussein about the desirability of a Palestinian state—Jordan has long feared such an outcome. Jordan has both a large Palestinian population and a simmering Islamist movement, and knows a Palestinian state across the river is just the thing that would light the spark of insurrection.

As for Syria, to assume that creating a Palestinian state would soften it is to ignore the fact that for decades Syria has hosted in Damascus precisely those Palestinian terrorist organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP-GC, and others that are most openly contemptuous of any “solution” other than Israel’s eradication. For believing the regime can be wooed away from this posture there’s a Middle Eastern word—chutzpah.

Then there are the Saudis, still believed by many to be the linchpin of a more Western-aligned, America-accepting Middle East. Yet their much-touted 2002 peace plan calls for a “return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel—code for its demographic demise.

Some of the reasons, then, for the lack of Arab eagerness to aid the PA are: fear of a Palestinian state; ideological rejection of a Palestinian state on only part of the land; and ideological rejection of Israel.

If such nuances tend to escape the Bush administration, they’re even less likely to register with Obama. It’s very possible, though, that by the time he would be president, there will be a different Israeli government that’s more security-conscious and less pliant than Olmert’s government was. If so, expect to see Obama square off against what he would perceive as the real obstacle to peace and harmony: Israel. It’s a grim prospect.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

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