Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A pessimistic take on the prospect for Israeli-Palestinian peace

This is pretty depressing. It's an Aaron David Miller article outlining the difficulties facing any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement:
What's changed is that a conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians may no longer be possible. I choose my words carefully here. Varying kinds of accommodations cease fires, informal cooperation and temporary arrangements may still be possible. But an agreement now or perhaps for the foreseeable future that revolves conclusively the four core issues (borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security) isn't.
He gives three reasons: First, the parties are too far apart on core identity issues (Jerusalem, return of Palestinians). Second, the Palestinians don't have control of all their armed factions, so even if there was a comprehensive agreement, it could be broken by Hamas or another group interested in sabotaging the process. Third, the current generation of Israeli leadership lacks the "founder cred" and moral stature to make the concessions that most believe would be necessary to get a comprehensive agreement. For example, I imagine any comprehensive agreement would require forcibly evicting lots of Israeli settlers from land conceded to a Palestinian state. And though many people seem to think this is necessary, my sense is that it is very difficult to do politically.

Secretary of State Clinton will have her work cut our for her. She may have to broker Palestinian peace before she can broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, just so there can be a coherent entity to make peace with. Or maybe Israel will have to make separate peaces with various Palestinian factions. I don't know a lot about these issues, and I don't know what the U.S. can do policy-wise to help this process along. I'll be interested to hear what Clinton proposes in these areas.

A lot of folks seem to think that solving this problem is the key to resolving other issues in the Middle East. But I'm not so sure. Won't the various Iraqi factions still have all their differences even if Israel and future Palestine can get along? Won't Iran's theocracy still pursue its interests? Yes, this conflict is a flashpoint and a rallying cry. But I'm skeptical that solving it will be the "key" to issues like the Turkey's issues with Kurds in northern Iraq, or the re-rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the pirates operating out of Somalia.

To look on the brighter side, historically many problems seem totally intractable until one day they aren't. I'm thinking about Northern Ireland, the Cold War, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Renaissance Europe, and racism in the United States. Many of these problems still exist, of course. But they no longer seem as hopeless or intractable as they once did. I don't expect Israeli-Palestinian issues to magically go away. But we should be ready to sieze on any opportunity for these problems to become manageable.

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