Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Both Parties Now Are Waiting to Assign the Blame for Failure of the Middle East Peace Process

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Both Parties Now Are Waiting to Assign the Blame for Failure of the Middle East Peace Process

Article excerpt

Both Parties Now Are Waiting to Assign the Blame For Failure of the Middle East Peace Process

The escalating pace of "summit meetings" to set dates for the beginning of "final status" talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders is more and more dictated by U.S. election-year politics, and less and less by Middle Eastern realities on the ground. Whatever happens or does not happen between Israel and Syria, it is more and more certain that there will be no serious agreement in this millennium between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on their problem, which is at the heart of virtually all U.S. troubles in the Middle East, and to some extent throughout the world. And that prediction holds whether you believe the millennium ends next Dec. 31 or a year later on Dec. 31, 2000.

The problem, in the words of an old song about Kansas City, is that these two leaders "have gone about as far as they can go." Neither Yasser Arafat nor any future Palestinian leader can settle for what the Israelis, under Barak or any foreseeable leader, are willing to offer. And even though the long-term existence of Israel depends upon achieving a Middle East peace now, before the regional demographics become hopelessly stacked against the Jewish state, neither Barak nor any electable Israeli leader seem able to contemplate offering the minimum the Palestinians can accept.

These realities are there for anyone who has been paying attention to see. But they can't be acknowledged by Clinton administration officials desperately seeking to come up with any kind of photo opportunity that can be labeled a major advance toward Middle East peace before the November 2000 election. So here are the realities that administration officials won't acknowledge.

Barak's Likud party predecessor, Binyamin Netanyahu, was elected on a promise that there would be no more land for peace. But then much of the Israeli electorate turned against Netanyahu and voted him out. But, in retrospect, the discomfort wasn't over Netanyahu's obstructionism. It was over the fact that his unconcealed intransigence was attracting to Israel the blame for the breakdown of the U.S.-funded "peace process."

On the other hand, Netanyahu's predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin, before his assassination, had given away virtually nothing. All he really did was appoint Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to police the seven main West Bank population centers for Israel -- while Rabin garnered international support as a peacemaker.

With his lip service to land-for-peace, Rabin was buying time for Israel to continue expanding West Bank settlements and continue building the Jews-only roads that linked the settlements with Israel, and also separated the Palestinian population centers from each other.

Now Barak has revived Rabin-style Zionist expansionism while making peace signs with a smiling face. But so far Barak has not even carried out all of the withdrawals agreed to by Netanyahu. Through the Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and now Barak governments, there has always remained an unbridgeable chasm between what a majority of Israelis are willing to give, and what a huge majority of the Palestinians are willing to accept.

The Palestinians have made it clear that they can accept a shared Jerusalem or a Jerusalem divided as it was before 1967, so long as it can serve as the Palestinian as well as the Israeli capital. But the Palestinians can't give up Jerusalem completely, for any price, because as far as all of the world's Muslims and many of its Christians are concerned, Jerusalem isn't something the Palestinians can just trade away.

Meanwhile Barak, like his predecessors, is saying Jerusalem must be the eternal, undivided capital of Israel. There's no room for compromise here.

Nor on final borders. The Palestinians have said they must have back the 22 percent of the original Mandate of Palestine that lay on their side of the cease-fire line between the end of the 1948 war and Israel's 1967 military occupation of the rest of the Holy Land. …

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