I have long thought that Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the PLO’s Executive Committee and the Palestine Legislative Council, is the most articulate spokesperson in Israeli occupied territory for her cause. Her latest comment is a bleak assessment of the prospects for getting a real peace process going. She was responding to a statement by an Obama administration official that both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas will be able to “express reservations about individual provisions” in the framework document Secretary of State Kerry is preparing. Here’s what Ashrawi said:
A framework that allowed each side to voice reservations would be self-negating… Any document not based firmly on international law will become a box of chocolates. You can pick and choose what you want… Why have it? Is it just to maintain a semblance of progress? Is it meant to buy more time? Or is it not to admit we have failed?
My answer to her lead question is that the purpose of the framework document when it comes will be a combination of all three – to maintain a semblance of progress, to buy more time and to give the impression that Kerry’s mission has not ended in predictable and widely predicted failure.
On 26 February the headline over a story in the New York Times by Mark Landler was Shrugging Off Past Setbacks, Obama Plans Personal Role In Middle East Peace Bid. Its main point was that when he receives Netanyahu in the White House on Monday 3 March (Netanyahu will be in Washington to deliver more fire and brimstone to AIPAC’s annual conference), Obama will “press” him to accept the framework document as a road map (yes, another one!) for final status negotiations to be concluded by the end of this year.
On the basis of what has been reported to date about the likely content of Kerry’s framework document, I can’t see why Netanyahu needs to be pressed into accepting it. The content appears to give him what he most wants – the scope to blame Abbas and the Palestinians for the failure of negotiations while Israel continues its colonization of the occupied West Bank and, with Egypt’s assistance, its siege of the Gaza Strip prison camp.
So why, really, is Obama about to become personally engaged again?
The answer, it seems to me, is contained in the following paragraph from Landler’s NYT story.
The challenge for the White House has been to redeploy the president only when it is believed he can make a critical difference. With Mr. Kerry’s self-imposed deadline nearing, and with little indication that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas have resolved key differences, that moment is now, the official said. ‘The president wouldn’t want to run any risk that it was the lack of his involvement that would make the difference between success and failure”.
So Obama’s personal re-engagement is not for the purpose of getting a real peace process going by reading the riot act to Netanyahu. With his legacy probably occupying more and more of his quiet thinking time, Obama is preparing to play his own part in the blame game – covering his backside. My guess is that when the game ends, Obama, rather than using the leverage he has to require Israel to be serious about peace on terms the Palestinians could accept, will walk away from the conflict and tell his fellow Americans and the world that he can’t want peace more than the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves.
I would like to be proved wrong.
• My headline quote is poetic license.