Samuel M. Edelman
Professor Emeritus and Lecturer

Blocking the Winds of Peace

In just a few minutes of action at the UN Security Council the Obama administration dealt a blocking strike at the very thing they have dreamed about for the 8 years: a real chance for peace between Israel and its neighbors. Now, chances for peace will be retarded even more by the French “Peace” conference.

The recent 60 Minutes interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was telling. Netanyahu made it clear that he was ready to negotiate for a two state solution for two peoples. He said that he was willing to negotiate with the Palestinians and with the Arab world if necessary. The interview pointed out the greater accommodation being made by Israel, Egypt and the Saudis in part because of the threat of both Iran and ISIS.

The ill-conceived French attempt to broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians will fail. We expect it to fail primarily because it is based on a faulty premise that a peace resolution could be forced on the parties without their being face to face negotiations and that settlements is the only block to peaceful negotiations. It will fail because the Palestinian National Authority lacks the willingness to negotiate face to face because it is weak, because it is divided between itself and Hamas, and because they ultimately do not wish to see a Palestinian state be created if its creation is beholden to Jews. It will fail because of the false idea that the settlements are the block to peace when the real block to peace is the Palestinian’s mythology that all of the area from the “river to the sea” is occupied. No matter what pressure the French, The European Union, the UN and the US Government may put on the Israelis alone nothing will change the problems confronting the Palestinians enabling them to come to the negotiating table for face to face negotiating. The Palestinians support the French initiative because it attempts to impose a settlement on Israel without negotiations. Abbas (Abu Mazen) has indeed selected this path after a long period of Palestinian rejection of every reasonable resolution presented to them under a variety of American initiated peace negotiations. Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the Palestinian Authority continue to reject any peaceful resolution in part because they do not want to be seen in the Arab world creating another Arab Islamic state beholden to Jews for its birth. Abbas wants to live long enough to enjoy his retirement in his Amman retirement home. This is the reality. We should not be naïve about this.

Yet, over the last few months whispers of change have breezed through the Middle East. Al– Monitor reported on a trip on May 21 of former Jordanian Prime Minister, Abdel Salam Majali to the West Bank where he announced to the group of 100 dignitaries in Nablus his support for a confederation between the Palestinian Authority and Jordan with a common legislative council and a common government. Confederation has also been an idea supported in two different polls taken of Palestinians. One by An-Najah National University shows 42% of Palestinians supporting confederation with Jordan up from 25% in 2007; and the second poll by the online newspaper Al–Hadath shows 76% of Palestinians in favor of such a Confederation.

Pinhas Inbari’s blog discusses the following: “Traditional tribal figures in the Hebron area of the West Bank appear to be organizing a pro-Jordanian political force in opposition to the Palestinian Authority (PA). A video on the Facebook page of the “Tribal Council of Mt. Hebron” shows a recent meeting of the group that opened with the Jordanian anthem and under the Jordanian flag, with no PA flag visible.”

The Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation idea has been around since the time of the first King Abdullah. Between 1948 and 1967 Jordan controlled the territory without full democratic representation of the Palestinians. Confederation is based on correcting that imbalance.

Even more important was the recent attendance and speech of Sheikh Abdullah Tamimi, an Islamic scholar of significance, at a West Bank conference of Israelis and Palestinians called the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum under the leadership of Khaled Abu Awwad. Tamimi spoke of reconciliation and the need to being Israelis and Palestinians together. He spoke at great cost to himself personally as other leaders of the Tamimi clan denounced his efforts.

Not only is this trend positive for both Israelis and Palestinians, it also fits nicely in with a number of other recent events. The first happened a few months ago when General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, president of Egypt, declared his support for finding a real solution to the impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians in a dramatic positive statement about Israel, in part based on the Saudi peace initiative offered in 2002 with some adjustments to meet Israeli concerns. Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he was now ready to negotiate with Israel’s Arab neighbors on a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on the Saudi peace initiative. Netanyahu in a dramatic speech at the UN he invited Abbas to come to the Knesset to speak and to invite Netanyahu to Ramallah to speak to the Palestinian National Assembly. This invitation was followed by lengthy editorial in a leading Saudi newspaper calling on Abbas to accept Netanyahu’s invitation.

Pinchas Inbari reported recently that, “according to Palestinian sources, King Abdullah told the Palestinian Authority head that Saudi Arabia wants to make changes in the Arab Initiative so that Israel could accept it, and that it is better for the Palestinians to agree and not oppose the action. According to these sources, Abu Mazen sought to learn the nature of these changes, but King Abdullah told him that things have not yet been agreed upon. Later, Abu Mazen met with Saudi King Salman in Jeddah; from the silence after the meeting, it can be assumed that a similar dialogue took place. “

Talk of Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, the efforts of President el-Sisi, and the very positive response by Prime Minister Netanyahu for peace talks within the broadest parameters of the Saudi peace proposal, the actions of local Palestinian leaders such as Tamimi, Awwad and the Hebron Council and the encouragement of the Saudi press and certain elements in the Saudi royal family can be seen as a pattern of movement, a stirring of the wind if you will.

All of these positive breezes are now at risk because of the Obama administration’s abstention at the UN Security Council’s Resolution on Israeli Settlements. This act of treachery by the Obama administration at the last moment of his administration when coupled with the forthcoming speech by Secretary of State Kerry at the upcoming French conference on Israel and the Palestinians where he has said he will bring forth a series of “principles” to guide future negotiations is a potential horror playing right into the hands of the Palestinians who continue to be unwilling to negotiate directly with the Israelis no matter what. These actions by the Obama administration in the last moments of his administration will undo almost completely what has been hitherto for a very positive and supportive relationship although fraught with tension and conflict. Under Obama the Israel US military interconnection has grown in leaps and bounds and until the UN vote the Obama administration has protected Israel with the US veto in the UN time and time again. Yet, these acts undo all the good done previously and will have the opposite effect of blocking the winds of peace rather than strengthening them. Will President elect Trump do better? We can only hope.

Dr. Samuel Edelman is an adjunct professor of Israel Studies, Zionism and the Holocaust at the University of Miami; an Academic Fellow of the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies University of Miami and Executive Director of the Academic Council for Israel

About the Author
Samuel Edelman, PhD, is an emeritus professor, former co-director of the State of California Center of Excellence for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, former dean at the American Jewish University, former executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and currently a lecturer on world affairs, Israel, and the Holocaust.