The Zombie Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

Today in the Washington Post’s “Right Turn” section, Jennifer Rubin writes about the latest attempts by the Obama Administration to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. She writes about why even if the Israelis and Palestinians return to the bargaining table, a peace deal is unlikely.

But let’s assume the talks about a basis for meeting for talks go well. What then? Any progress in the “peace process” is unlikely in light of some unpleasant realities.Mahmoud Abbas is currently locked at the hip and struggling to form a “unity government” with Hamas, which does not recognize the Jewish state and will not give up terrorism.

Abbas showed no ability or will to move forward on a peace deal during George W. Bush’s administration or the first Obama term. Abbas at most can speak on behalf of the West Bank. But what “peace” is attainable so long as Hamas rules Gaza?

The ascendency of Iran and its Hezbollah allies naturally make the Israelis far more nervous about its long term security. With no sign the United State intends to challenge the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Russia alliance, the Israeli government has little motivation to take on additional security risks.

With Egypt convulsed and Jordan teetering under the weight of refugees, Israel’s more stable allies are not so stable. In particular without a fully functioning Egyptian government the potential for new security threats from Sinai are significant.

The danger in talks, of course, is that Palestinian expectations rise and then are dashed, leading to violence (we’ve seen this pattern before). A former U.S. official tells me: “The risk now is of a quick breakdown that could even lead to violence in the West Bank.” He concedes that preliminary talks about talks could drag on before they peter out. He nevertheless cautions that “many people fear that the breakdown will poison Israeli-Palestinian relations further, which will help no one. And they will further weaken the West Bank leadership . . . against Hamas, reminding the populace that these guys achieve nothing (and have their hands in the till).”

While I would disagree with some of Rubin’s analysis (for example I’m not sure Iran and Hezbollah is as much on the minds of the Israeli security services as she thinks they are, especially since they’re now largely fully committed to the Syrian Civil War and she neglects to mention the hostility of some elements in the Israeli government to a peace deal); I think most of it is correct. Palestinian President Abbas is in no position to deliver a two-state solution.

Rubin suggests this approach instead:

If Kerry wanted to be productive he might work on pushing the Palestinians along the lines former Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad urged — improved security, civil institution building and economic security. The U.S. official observes, “The slow and steady work of building an economy and government institutions for the Palestinians is once again being pushed aside for the goal of a handshake on the White House lawn.”

In other words, creating a Palestinian state and society that won’t immediately join the long list of failed and failing states immediately upon independence.

It maybe time to give the two-state solution the dignified funeral it deserves, concentrate on building a functional, self-governing Palestinian state, economy, and society on the West Bank (while leaving Hamas ruled Gaza alone until they attack either Israel or Egypt again); while working towards gradual Palestinian independence. This de facto three-state solution ultimately seems this wiser choice for both Israel and Palestine.

Or perhaps Israelis and Palestinians may decide that some kind of a one-state solution is the best solution. Either way, the United States should not impose a solution based on the legacy needs of a lame-duck president, but instead should simply be an even-handed mediator who lets Israelis and Palestinians work together to solve their own problems.