25 September 2011

Palestinian Move and What It Means for the Region

A couple of nights ago, at a dinner party, someone told me that I was wrong about my analysis of the Middle East. As Mahmoud Abbas'  application for Palestinian statehood was met with a Netanyahu rebuke and an American veto, my interlocutor took this as a confirmation that "plus ça change, plus c'est la mème chose."

They said that they always knew that this would be the case, because "Jews would never let Palestinians have a state and they would never let the US to accept Palestinian statehood."

If you digest news on a day by day basis, I realize that you could presume that I was wrong in predicting that a Palestinian state was going to be a reality in the next little while. And if you took the threatened American veto at face value, you could conclude that, despite the Arab Spring and regime change in several countries, there was no change in the American and Israeli perspectives.

As you know, I see things differently. Just look at the subheading of this blog. And, nothing I observed in the last few days seem to disprove my hypothesis. I still believe that there is a grand plan to change the face of the Middle East and that the US is behind because it has no choice but control the global distribution of oil and natural gas (as the Middle East is the hub for 70-plus percent of both of these). I also think that, for the same reason, they had a hand in those recent regime changes and in encouraging Turkey to act like a regional super power willing to confront Israel.

Given my assumptions, I think the Abbas move fits nicely in that gambit as it provided several advantages:

a) It brought the issue back on the agenda. That sounds trite but it was not self evident until a few weeks ago. With a global economic crisis going, Europe in disarray and American political institutions completely paralyzed there was no way to start a new process. Now they have to.

It presented the Israelis with a new deadline to start talking in earnest. Their Cold Peace partner Egypt is no longer able to support their every move, their only ally in the region is acting with open hostility and one of their neighbors, Syria, is about to implode bringing with it most of Lebanon. They simply cannot rely on the US veto and act like the world has not changed.

The Americans were hoping to push Netanyahu government to the negotiation table and now they know that even if they veto the UN statehood bid, Israel has no choice but talk to the Palestinians. And this time not for appearances but to achieve a lasting peace, as everything around them is about to go up in flames.

Instead of using Egypt to send this message to the Israeli government (which might have led to undesirable responses given the imminent security issues) the US used Turkey and its willing PM Erdogan to let them know that it is time to adapt to the new regional realities.

b) It made Abbas look presidential. Unlike Hamas leaders, Abbas is internationally well-known and well-regarded. The UN bid made him look good, like he was capable to stare down the mighty US.

Actually, if the US pressure was genuine, I believe he would have folded quickly, as he has no money, no power and no real friends and the move has only symbolic value. Interestingly, this time around when Lieberman suggested that Israeli government withhold customs duty payments to the Palestinian Authority, Arab countries stated that they would make up any shortfall. As we know from the chronic fiscal problems of the PA, those oil-rich Arab states were never that generous in the past. And the EU said that it would continue its financial assistance to the PA.

Abbas emerged from this fake confrontation as a leader and as the undisputed leader of the Palestinian people. This will prove to be invaluable for the subsequent steps. No one from Hamas will be able to make a claim to that position and no one will challenge his authority to represent all Palestinians. He is the preferred interlocutor both for the Israelis and the Quartet and he now looks like he was chosen by his people for the historic journey.

c) It gave the US cover. They looked like they opposed it and were prepared to veto it. As Jeremy Bowen put it:
President Barack Obama says that now the US will veto the application if ever it comes to the vote in the Security Council. He made a speech that was so pro-Israeli it shocked even the Israelis.
This is important for domestic consumption where AIPAC has extraordinary access to media and can influence the debate and the Republican candidates can fake sincerity when it comes to Israel.

It also enables them to go to Likud folks and say, "look we tried everything but you know the regional realities, there is no way we can put down Turkey and Egypt and even if we could that would leave Iran as the regional power. Do you really want that?"

In other words, from where I sit, all of this makes sense. As I suggested before, there will soon be major steps towards a Palestinian state.

Having defended my contrarian logic, let me just make a side note about the "because Jews will never let..." argument, as it is more common than most people realize. This is the danger of conflating Israel with Jewish people that I have been talking about. It enables people to project their pre-existing prejudices onto a community using the actions of a specific government with a specific ideology.

Let me explain it this way: When people talk about WWII, they always refer to Nazis, as in, Nazis did this and Nazis did that, and they are always very careful not to substitute Nazis with Germans or a whole host of Central and Eastern European people, even though, from the perspective of shared ideology (antisemitism) they could easily do so. In this case, they are doing the opposite: they are conflating Israel with Likud and Ysrael Beiteinu and then conflating that specific Israel with Jews everywhere.

Thank you neocons! Mission accomplished.

As I said before, I am not Jewish. But I am quite capable of seeing that Jews don't have much to do with Likud government's self destructive refusal to negotiate in good faith with Palestinians for a two state solution. As far as I know, a majority of the Jewish people in diaspora and in Israel are in favor of that solution. Josh Marshall, a self-defined Zionist, is very representative of that preference and this is what he says:
I'm a Zionist. I deeply believe in a two-state solution, with the '67 borders as the starting point for the discussions. I believe that for many reasons. But the most important of those is that I believe it is the best and only viable path forward for Zionism and the State of Israel.
So, it is not the American Jews who are in cahoots with Likud but AIPAC, the neocons and of course the evangelical Christians who believe the end of times is tied to the eventual destruction of Israel (which, paradoxically, makes it a desirable event for them).

In fact, when you look at the electoral results, American Jews have always voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. Clearly, if they were the masters of the universe everyone seems to believe, they would have supported the Republicans and especially their evangelical wing. I will grant  that the neocons and AIPAC are very loud with excellent access to media and their views are presented as the views of American Jews but they really are a tiny minority among Jewish people.

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