Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: A River Runs Backward through It

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: A River Runs Backward through It

Article excerpt

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: A River Runs Backward Through It

From Wye River to Jerusalem and Gaza, to Iraq, on the road to impeachment and trial of William Jefferson Clinton, his administration must be given credit for trying to bring U.S. policy in the Israel-Arab dispute into conformity with some kind of reality. Yet, despite all the presidential hands-on activity, Wye River is running backward.

That the president did not succeed, except at the margins, can be blamed on Iraqi President Saddam Hussain, on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and on Clinton's own libido.

RESULT: SIX-MONTH DELAY

The immediate result of the trip to Jerusalem-Gaza was a six-month delay in the peace process as the Israeli prime minister set new elections for May 17, two weeks after the deadline for final status and the declaration of a Palestinian state. It will be a tense and even dangerous moment for the U.S. in the Middle East, to say nothing of the danger to the Palestinians and Israel.

"If Netanyahu is re-elected, I do not know if I want to live," Michal Shohat, an Israeli Knesset candidate on the ticket of the dovish Meretz party told audiences in New York and Washington, where she was speaking with a Christian and a Muslim Palestinian, in a program called "Three Women from Jerusalem." "The peace process will be dead," she added, "and my children serving in the Israeli army will have little to hope for."

A rhetorical exaggeration? Well, Geoffrey Aronson, editor of Settlement Watch, published by the Foundation for Middle East Peace, said in January that Netanyahu's reelection might not be that bad. His government had leaked three different "Final Status" maps showing it was serious about withdrawing, even though it might be giving up less than 50 percent of the West Bank.

NO DIFFERENCE? HARDLY

Does that miss the point that Likud has failed to carry out any of its major agreements with the Palestinians and essentially has made the "river run backward" ever since it came to office in 1996? Under Netanyahu the Israeli government intends to 1) delay the handing over of land as long as possible and 2) expand building on Arab land as quickly as possible.

The Clinton administration defends its renewed policy of non-involvement by repeating the mantra that peace is irreversible and that the Palestinian people can only gain from continuing negotiations.

NO $10 BILLION LEVERAGE

When President George Bush faced a similar situation in 1992, he had a real issue, the $10 billion loan guarantee, to use as leverage on the Israeli electorate. The Clinton administration has only the issue of Jonathan Pollard to bring a government to power in Israel that will at least pay lip service to a new Middle East and give land for peace.

The Israeli peace parties agree that the disappearance of Clinton from the scene, if it should occur, would be helpful to Netanyahu's re-election. And if Clinton stays, the halting steps he took at Gaza to recognize the Palestinian nation would aid the peace process.

HANDS-OFF AGREEMENT?

The sudden presidential hands-on involvement in the peace process led to an agreement that clearly will not be implemented and to a use of force, once again, against an impoverished but still standing Iraqi regime.

The American lurch from positive involvement on behalf of the Palestinians, taking the charter issue and the airport issue off the table, was almost immediately followed by a negative statement that was interpreted to mean that the U.S. would stand aside during final status talks on Jerusalem and final borders, and on refugees and water.

DENIAL OF NON-INVOLVEMENT

Then that American non-involvement was denied by the Department of State and a call was made for yet another peace team meeting in Washington, which the Israelis denied advance knowledge of but reluctantly agreed to attend.

Ambassador Dennis Ross and his American peace team have the task of keeping the lid on during the run-up to the Israeli elections. …

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