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The Obama administration is turning its alchemic powers toward Palestine. It is aiming to fashion a ‘success’ out of the shambles created by its lame failure to stand up to the Israeli government of Bibi Netanyahu. This is the sternest test to date of its talent at conjuring virtual realities. A tip-off as to what the latest Middle East machinations are about was provided by Martin Indyk, former Ambassador to Jerusalem, whose featured op ed in The New York Times last week made waves by optimistically forecasting that peace is at hand. Looked at together with recent White House statements it reveals what magical feats we have to look forward to.
Martin Indyk is an institution in the capital. The embodiment of the Washington consensus on Israel and all matters that touch on its self-defined interests – as reflected through the American prism. He is the authoritative figure whose views are eagerly sought by ‘serious’ journalists. Indyk habitually deviates by only a few degrees from the prevailing line in Jerusalem/Washington line. When something big is in the diplomatic works, something ginned up by the two governments, he normally is there to lend it his weight.
Now that Obama and Netanyahu have contrived another virtual peace process, he has come forward to offer his judgment that peace indeed is to be had. The initiative badly needs a supposedly authoritative seal of approval. For it is nonsensical to think that anything close to a meaningful agreement and stable settlement cam emerge from current conditions. Let’s remind ourselves of its cardinal features. An ultra right Israeli government headed by an avowed opponent to any serious concessions at whose side is Foreign Minister and governmental no. 2, Avigdor Lieberman, who has been described as a “Jewish fascist” by the most honest and prescient of Israeli commentators –Uri Avnery. That is one. An American president who has been humiliated repeatedly and personally by Netanyahu who holds over his head the drawn sword of the Israeli lobby. Obama was stared down on the settlements, cowed into submission to the point where he reflexively swallowed whole, and publicly parroted word by word the Jerusalem spin on the Gaza flotilla affair. That is two. Mushrooming Israeli settlements (all illegal) on the West Bank that, along with collateral infrastructure, have eaten up a large fraction of Palestinian land. Those ‘facts on the ground’ are three. Then there is the hapless Mr. Abbas – used as a dish rag by both the Israelis and Americans – whose sole value for them is as signatory of an accord composed and issued jointly by Netanyahu and Obama. The fact that Abbas’ authority has been shredded by his repeated forced obeisance to the will of the Palestinians’ keepers is conveniently overlooked. A nominal President whose writ, such as it is, runs for only half the people and territory of Palestine he officially represents, he still will suffice for the legal formalities to be met. That is four.
This revised plot is just a variation of what Obama had in mind from the outset. Curt Israeli rejection of the White House idea of a settlement freeze denied Washington the political cover it had sought for the operation. Unwilling to stand up to the Israelis, the Obama administration has decided to plunge ahead nonetheless. That is to say, press a contrived agreement with a pliable if discredited PLO leadership that ignores Hamas. The so-called Palestinian ‘entity’ on the West Bank would be string of Bantustans. The self-serving assumption remains that when the Gazans are presented with this fait accompli, they will abandon their elected Hamas leaders for the sake of survival. The solid phalanx of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will be called upon to play their assigned role of putting the squeeze on the Gazans as the other part of the vise. If they prove stiff necked and balk, they will be locked in their cage indefinitely – a policy that Washington has backed whole heartedly for three and a half years.
This is the latest Washington exercise in manufacturing fanciful ‘successes’ a la Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. The confected nature of the advertised goal explains how and why Hillary Clinton could pronounce that there definitely will be an agreement within the year. It explains how and why Obama had the nerve to call Netanyahu “someone ready to make sacrifices for peace” during the former’s latest visit to Washington. What these statements signal is that before the 2012 campaign season gets underway, the Obama people are prepared to say with a straight face that they have achieved an historic breakthrough – no matter what. Commentaries like Martin Indyk’s are there to brush on the first cosmetic layers that build a foundation for the artistic rendering of whatever ignoble outcome comes to pass.
Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.