by James M. Wall
After meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Mitchell found that nothing has changed.
One full year on the job, and George Mitchell has been unable to find anything remotely resembling progress toward peace. His latest trip to the region began, and will end, under a cloud of failure.
Barack Obama has admitted that his attempts to break the political deadlock in the Middle East by pressuring Israel to end the construction of Jewish settlements have failed.
He said he raised expectations of a breakthrough too high because he underestimated the political obstacles involved – an acknowledgement that he was unable to force the hand of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.
“The Middle East peace process has not moved forward and I think it’s fair to say, for all our efforts at early engagement, [it] is not where I want it to be,” he told Time magazine.
“This is just really hard … This is as intractable a problem as you get. If we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.”
Should the White House have assumed Bibi Netanyahu would respond in a positive manner when the President asked him to show restraint in dealing with the Occupation?
You be the judge:
Obama: Hey, Mr. Dependable Ally in the Middle East, we are only asking you for a token show of restraint. How about a few months with no new settlements?
Israel’s response: New building permits for settlers, even more Palestinian homes demolished; a continuation of the Gaza invasion through economic oppression.
My dictionary says an intractable problem is that which is not easily governed, managed, directed, manipulated, relieved or cured. It does not say the problem is impossible to solve.
What would make this particular problem impossible to solve is for the President to continue down the road he has followed in his first year in office.
It is time for some serious policy overhauling. It is time to face the ghosts of the past. When it is time for some serious ghost busting, who you gonna call?
Mitchell was an honored guest in April, 2009, at the US/Middle East Project international board meeting in New York, the organization for which Siegman currently serves as president.
Brent Scowcroft, Bush Senior’s National Security Advisor, is the group’s international board chairman.
Siegman, a German-born American citizen, is a respected Jewish journalist. He knows the region and he knows the players. His most recent Nation essay was developed from abackground document he wrote for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre in Oslo, Norway.
He served as executive director of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 through 1994.
Those of us who worked with him in those earlier years can attest to the importance of his presence in the Middle East dialogue.
His influence has grown considerably since those days. In addition to running the US/Middle East Project in New York, Siegman is currently a visiting research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
During Siegman’s time with the American Jewish Congress, that organization was often confused with the American Jewish Committee.
The two could not be further apart. The AJ Committee rigidly follows the policies of whatever political party governs Israel. Under Siegman, the AJ Congress represented American Jews; it refused to parrot Israel’s increasingly right wing policies.
As a recent example, in November, 2009, a delegation from AJ Congress met with Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss American Jewish involvement in peace making.
In October, 2009, Siegman wrote a column for Jerusalem’s Ha’aretz, “Hamas Is Not the Real Problem”, exposing Israel’s faux dedication to peace talks:
Israeli governments have avoided dealing with Hamas not because they fear that engaging the organization might not produce a peace agreement, but because they know they could not manipulate Hamas the way they have been able to manipulate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – namely, by using content-less peace talks as a fig leaf for the continued expansion of the settlement enterprise.
His latest Nation essay,“Imposing Middle East Peace”, includes this cogent analysis:
Sooner or later the White House, Congress and the American public–not to speak of a Jewish establishment that is largely out of touch with the younger Jewish generation’s changing perceptions of Israel’s behavior–will have to face the fact that America’s “special relationship” with Israel is sustaining a colonial enterprise.
Our “special relationship” with Israel is unique in American foreign policy. We have funded and endorsed decades of illegal and immoral conduct by a nation claiming to be a democracy, while, in fact, it has hidden behind America’s protective screen, to build a racist state with policies antithetical to democratic values.
A compliant and controlled American media, a bought and paid for Congress, and a succession of presidents intimidated by both the media and the Congress, have allowed Israel to create a false image of a democracy seeking peace.
Israel’s current leaders believe they can continue to bamboozle the West into believing the state of Israel is so special that its colonialism is merely following the pioneering spirit of western colonial powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Israel just got to the party a little late. After World War II, colonialism was passe.
Before the 20th century and modern communications, colonialism was known as “expansion”. Exploitation of indigenous populations by Western powers was viewed as a race to power. May the empire with the superior ordnance win!
The American western plains and the jungles of Africa were not exposed to a 20th century technology that sees all and tells all.
Modern Israel’s founding parents knew that modernity had created a different climate for empire building. Winning the hearts and minds of the western world, and selling the West on the Israeli narrative, has always been as important to Israel as having a powerful American sponsor for its military and economic development.
Israel established its own “don’t ask, don’t tell”, agreement with the US. Don’t ask us, and don’t tell others, about our expansion plan and our Dimona nuclear program, and we will provide you with your very own colonial outpost in the heart of the Middle East.
Those Israeli founding parents created an ethnic cleansing plan which had to remain hidden, because after World War II, ethnic cleansing was no longer kosher.
It was not until Israel’s own New Historians, led by scholars like Ilan Pappe, began to dig into Israel’s pre-1947 plans to colonize Palestine, that outsiders could see the meticulous planning that allowed Israel to peddle itself as a new nation led by brave frontier fighters. Moshe Dayan meet Andrew Jackson.
Henry Siegman opens his Nation essay with some of that history:
Israel’s relentless drive to establish “facts on the ground” in the occupied West Bank, a drive that continues in violation of even the limited settlement freeze to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed himself, seems finally to have succeeded in locking in the irreversibility of its colonial project.
As a result of that “achievement,” one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.
To describe Israel as an apartheid state, is to attack Israel at its most vulnerable spot: its image as a democracy. To identify Israel with South African apartheid was a dangerous crack in the wall of ignorance behind which Israel has conducted its oppression of the Palestinian people. Siegman again:
When a state’s denial of the individual and national rights of a large part of its population becomes permanent, it ceases to be a democracy. When the reason for that double disenfranchisement is that population’s ethnic and religious identity, the state is practicing a form of apartheid, or racism, not much different from the one that characterized South Africa from 1948 to 1994.
What Israel has become, is what its founding fathers planned from the outset. Siegman explains:
The democratic dispensation that Israel provides for its mostly Jewish citizens cannot hide its changed character. By definition, democracy reserved for privileged citizens–while all others are kept behind checkpoints, barbed-wire fences and separation walls commanded by the Israeli army–is not democracy but its opposite.
The Jewish settlements, with their supporting infrastructure spanning the West Bank from east to west and north to south, are not a wild growth, like weeds in a garden. They have been carefully planned, financed and protected by successive Israeli governments and Israel’s military.
Their purpose has been to deny the Palestinian people independence and statehood–or to put it more precisely, to retain Israeli control of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” an objective that precludes the existence of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state east of Israel’s pre-1967 border.
Colonial enterprises conquer indigenous populations and make the land their own. Justice is not in their playbook; control is.
Facing such a formidable and intractable problem, how should Obama proceed? Henry Siegman believes:
Middle East peacemaking efforts will continue to fail, and the possibility of a two-state solution will disappear, if US policy continues to ignore developments on the ground in the occupied territories and within Israel, which now can be reversed only through outside intervention.
President Obama is uniquely positioned to help Israel reclaim Jewish and democratic ideals on which the state was founded – if he does not continue “politics as usual.”
The picture of George Mitchell is a Ma’an Image. Henry Siegman’s picture is from the Council of Foreign Relations.