"I'll be honest with you, this is just really hard. This is as intractable a problem as you get ... We overestimated our ability to persuade them ... If we had anticipated some of these problems, we might not have raised expectations as high," U.S. President Barack Obama confided to Time magazine last week, regarding his efforts to advance the peace process in the Middle East. He is clearly disappointed, but insists he will continue to work on a two-state solution.
It is not just that, during this past year, Obama has learned what old Middle East hands have known all along - that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an intractable problem - but also that intractable problems do not easily get solved, if they are at all soluble, even when the president of the United States weighs in with full force.
It is hard to be optimistic regarding the continuing U.S. efforts in this matter, since the president seems to have his mind set on the two-state solution, "in which Israel is secure and the Palestinians have sovereignty." That aim has been pursued by many ever since the ill-fated Oslo Accords signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat in Washington, D.C. almost 17 years ago. Whereas there might have been some reason to expect at the time that Arafat, who seemed to enjoy the support of most of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as in much of the Arab world, would be able to implement any peace agreement he might eventually sign with Israel - it turned out that he had no intentions of reaching such an agreement, and those who knew the Palestinian leader realized even then that he had no such intentions. It was another case of wishful thinking being applied to attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There were many more to follow over the years. The continuing infatuation with the idea of a two-state solution is at the bottom of most of these naive dreams. The idea seems eminently appealing: In a Solomonic move, western Palestine is to be divided between Israel and the Palestinians, and Jews and Arabs will live peacefully ever after.
However, people who engage in wishful thinking prefer to neglect the difficulties imposed by the lack of symmetry between the State of Israel and the Palestinians in their present condition. Israel is a nation-state, with a democratically elected government empowered to negotiate an international agreement and enforce its provisions. The Palestinians are divided between the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas, who have no intention of reaching a peace agreement with Israel, and the inhabitants of Judea and Samaria, where Mahmoud Abbas, the elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, does not exercise full control. Abbas, who is vainly being asked by Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel, is in no position to implement any such agreement he might sign, and is probably not even in a position to reach an agreement that would be acceptable to Israel. So how can you reach a two-state solution?
And who will tell Obama that in seeking a two-state solution, he is chasing the rainbow? Where is the person who - like the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen's tale who saw the emperor was not wearing any clothes - will tell the U.S. president that the two-state solution, at least for now, is an impossible dream, and that if he continues to pursue this dream he is in for more disappointment? It is not going to be any of his advisers, who urged him to demand a total freeze on building in Judea and Samaria and Eastern Jerusalem - thus making it possible for Abbas to stall on any negotiations with Israel. It is not going to be Obama's friends at J Street. And Netanyahu has evidently decided to play along, rather than confront Obama with alternate ideas.
What might these ideas be? The grain of an idea appeared the other day when Abbas suggested that the United States negotiate with Israel in his place. That, of course, won't lead anywhere. But how about Jordan negotiating in Abbas' stead? That would return some symmetry to the intractable problem, and correct the present asymmetry that continues to haunt the situation.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now