If all goes well we shall soon witness a historic handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the President of The Palestinian Authority, on the lawn of the White House with its current resident, Barack Obama, supplying the toothpaste smile.
We are told by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to expect a solution to the Israeli – Palestine conflict within a year.
Well, this won’t be the first “historic” handshake of its kind, nor is it the first time that we have been asked to expect a “final settlement” within a year.
Almost two decades ago, the first President Bush beat that drum at the now forgotten Madrid Peace Conference, filling our world-weary journalistic eyes with tears of expectation. Then, it was the turn of Bill Clinton to make the “peace in one year” promise. Even the second President Bush, his hands full with other dossiers, could not resist the temptation of repeating that absurd promise.
Is there any reason why Obama might do better?
Well, Obama himself might think so. After all he promised to make the oceans recede.
However the myth of “Obama the Saviour” has already been debunked. In fact, chances of a settlement being found under Obama are less than under any of his three predecessors.
There are two reasons for this.
First, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians trust Obama. The second is that both protagonists believe that Obama is putting up the peace show to give his party a boost in next November’s mid-term elections.
The real problem, however, is not Obama’s real or perceived weakness or duplicity.
One might argue that the American intervention, especially at the presidential level, could itself become a barrier to peace.
The reason is simple.
When the US acts as peacemaker, the Israelis, rightly or wrongly, feeling abandoned by their strongest ally, are even less inclined to make the concessions needed to achieve a settlement.
In Israel, this is known as the hedgehog strategy: withdrawing into oneself, ready to fight the outside world.
At the same time, the Palestinians, expecting the US to pressure Israel to give ground, would be less likely to compromise.
There is yet another, perhaps more important, problem. Neither Netanyahu nor Abu Mazen has a mandate to agree on a final settlement.
Netanyahu’s coalition depends on the support of parties that do not want a Palestinian state in any shape.
On the Palestinian side, Abu Mazen, even supposing he could bring his Fatah group on board, cannot speak for Hamas, which controls Gaza and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel rather than the creation of a Palestinian state.
In fact, Hamas gets its cash handouts from Iran because it talks of destroying Israel.
The real problem is that with a few honourable exceptions, to most Palestinian leaders, Palestine remains a cause rather than a political project for the creation of a state.
As long as Palestine is a cause rather than a project, no Palestinian leader could negotiate the creation of a state. Israeli pioneers learned that lesson early on. This is why David Ben Gurion and his colleagues accepted a United Nations’ partition plan that gave the Jews a tiny chunk of the Mandate for Palestine in the shape of Swiss cheese. They were anxious to become a state as fast as possible; all other matters, including the acquisition of defensible borders, would come later.
The Palestinians, however, bought into the Arab League scheme that wanted Palestine as a cause rather than a state.
The Palestine as Cause gambit succeeded beyond anyone’s dreams. Today, even some teenagers in European or American cities take their bite at the ‘Cause’ by wearing Palestinian chequered scarves.
Arab despots adopted ‘ Palestine the Cause’ in the same way as the scoundrel of the proverb adopts patriotism. The quantity of second rate Arab poetry produced in the name of ‘ The Cause’ would cover any putative Palestinian state twice over. In Iran today, whenever a mullah runs out of ideas he starts beating his chest about “Palestine the Cause.”
Playing with “The Cause” costs nothing and could make one appear politically correct and ideologically chic.
But what have the Palestinians got out of those scarves, tear-jerking drivels, and mullahs’ sermons?
The answer is that they have suffered more than half a century of “living and partly living” in an abyss of high expectations and low achievements. Palestinians have died so that the supporters of their cause could feel good about themselves in Parisian cafes and American university campuses.
Palestine would have been better off if heroes-from-a-distance had not adopted it as a cause.
Paradoxically, Israel has been comfortable with Palestine as a cause rather than a political project.
Israel has the reality of land, water, and military and political control, while Palestine has the illusion of being loved by all those across the globe who need an ideological nail on which to hang their worn-out coats.
It is a truism that the Israeli – Palestine conflict could be resolved in an afternoon if both sides really wanted it. There are plausible compromises to resolve all of the so-called ‘ complex issues’, including Jerusalem and the Right of Return.
Talk of the two-state solution is just that, talk.
If it were not just talk, one would ask which of the two states it is easier to create in a definitive shape?
The obvious answer is: Israel which is already a member of the United Nations. And yet, Israel, which still does not have a constitution, cannot be accurately put on any map because it continues to lack recognised borders.
On the Palestinian side, there could be no genuine quest for peace unless the creation of a state, rather than the destruction of Israel, becomes the goal.
Such changes in the existential realities of both sides are not easy to achieve even by the self-styled ‘ Saviour’ at the White House.
I hope I am wrong, but I fear that the photo-op scripted by Rahm Emannuel might generate more bitterness and thus weaken the position of those on both sides who crave peace.