Mideast turmoil: a peace process window or another reason not to negotiate?

Former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), now the head of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, thinks the turbulence washing across the Middle East offers a window of opportunity for the Obama administration to take a more assertive role in forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Writing in today’s Politico, he argues that the turmoil in the region “has dramatically altered each side’s calculus. But this uncertainty also provides a narrow window of opportunity,” Wexler writes. “It is clear from the region’s paralyzed leadership that resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, unfortunately, dependent on U.S. initiative.”

Events in Egypt and elsewhere show that “the Palestinian quest for dignity and statehood cannot remain the exclusive domain of diplomats for long,” Wexler goes on. “Better to get out ahead of events, while the United States, Israel and moderate Palestinians still enjoy considerable leverage.”

He then goes over the well-known outline of a possible deal that would protect “Israel’s security and Jewish character” and recognize “the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for statehood and dignity. He has a fleeting opportunity to spark the confidence to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on these principles.”

Well, yeah, but I don’t see it happening.

It’s hard to imagine that this administration, chastened by its early failures in the region, has any reason to think either side is more interested in serious negotiations than they were a few weeks ago, when Mubarak ruled in blissful ignorance in Cairo, confident his 30 year hold on power was secure..

If the Palestinian Papers are a guide, Fatah leaders are probably scared senseless that any democratic impulse among the Palestinian people will demand less willingness to compromise with Israel, not more. Lest we forget, PA officials were deeply embarrassed by leaked reports they were more willing to work with Israel on key issues than was publicly revealed.

Isn’t it logical to assume that with democratic stirrings across the region, that’s not a mistake they’re going to repeat?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a science out of finding reasons not to negotiate and blaming the other side, and he has run rings around a neophyte president in Washington.

How, exactly, is the unrest in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere going to make him change a stategy that’s worked very well for him so far, thank you very much?

Israelis are nervous about the possible rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the potential threat to the Camp David accords. When Israelis get nervous, they get less willing to upset a status quo in which they are dominant, not more.

Wexler argues that “the democratic process on both sides is likely to create a clear choice. Polls consistently show a healthy majority of Israelis and Palestinians would both support a plan offered by their governments based on the principles outlined above.”

If that’s true, why the huge backlash against the Palestinian Authority for the proposed concessions outlined in the Palestinian Papers? Why is Israel, a genuine democracy, moving steadily to the right, with the peace camp in tatters?

The logic is persuasive that in the long run, Israel’s security and maybe even survival depends on moving quickly to end a conflict that leaves the Jewish state more isolated by the day.

But this is the Middle East, where logic runs a distant second to rage and fear. It seems even likelier to me that the region’s turmoil will make both sides even less willing to take chances by entering into serious negotiations – and make this administration, badly bruised by its earlier Middle East efforts, warier of plunging into another lose-lose situation.


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.