Israel, the Palestinians and ‘final status’ silliness

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Let me see if I’ve got this right.

The Obama administration wants to move  Israeli-Palestinian talks directly into “final status” issues, which in case you missed the memo are issues so difficult to resolve that they were reserved for the last stage of negotiations.

It wants to do this after abjectly failing to get Israel to agree to a total settlement freeze or the Palestinians to agree to much of anything and without getting any buy-in from the other Arab and Muslim states.

Tuesday’s summit, which some predicted would lay out an aggressive schedule for new negotiations, was little more than a “photo opportunity,”  the Washington Post said in an editorial.

How, exactly, is that great leap into the void going to work?

Yesterday I wrote about the administration’s emerging policy of accelerated incrementalism.  I still think they’re thinking in more incremental terms, but because they’ve had no success on confidence building steps, they appear to want to start talking about the toughest issues, first.

Huh?

How do you do that when there’s not any indication either side wants to go along with you on the simple issues, much less the really tough ones?  When Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas says there’s “no common ground for negotiations,” when Israeli leaders say and believe that the Palestinians haven’t lived up to any of their obligations?

This week’s top Jewish Week story was on the growing consensus among major pro-Israel groups that the current status quo in the region is the best we can hope for, at least for now.

Interviews after the story was posted  confirmed the conclusion that much of that attitude, widespread in pro-Israel boardrooms in this country,  is coming from Israel, where months of relative quiet, some important improvements in the West Bank, especially in PA security cooperation,  and a general weariness with failed peace efforts have made the status quo king.

“What I hear from my Israeli friends is, we’ve got it good right now, there are no rockets or bombs, so why shake things up, why take chances?” a top pro-Israel activist told me.

So it’s not just a balky prime minister and his right wing cabinet; it’s ordinary Israelis who don’t feel any compulsion to upset the current status quo.
I don’t know what the Palestinians want, but clearly they have a leadership too timid, too weak, too incompetent,  too stupid  or all of the above to realize that the movement toward a Palestinian state they want will require something from them, not just from Washington and Jerusalem.

Pro-peace process groups make a valid point when they argue that the current status quo is unsustainable over time; the stalemate, they say, stokes anti-Israel passions and undercuts worldwide support for a two-state solution.

I agree.

The question they and the Obama administration need to answer: how do you move past that status quo and break the current impasse when neither side is particularly eager to see that happen, and when none of the  regional leaders involved  is willing to take  the political risks real progress require?

It’s hard to see how jumping to final status issues, without strong U.S. direction, is going to accomplish that.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.
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