As still another Israeli-Palestinian final-status negotiation approaches next week, one is struck by the similarities to the last one. It is Groundhog Day again.
Three years ago, President Bush convened a conference to initiate a one-year final-status negotiation. More than 40 countries attended to hear the president’s opening address. The Palestinian negotiator, Mahmoud Abbas, was the elected president of the Palestinian Authority (even though he ran essentially unopposed, as Hamas boycotted the election). The process was quarterbacked by the secretary of state, with monthly trips to the region. At the end of the year, there was still another offer of a Palestinian state, which the secretary of state personally urged Abbas to accept, and still another Palestinian rejection.
Next week, President Obama will convene a conference to initiate a one-year final-status negotiation, although only Egypt and Jordan will attend to hear the presidential dinner speech. Abbas will be back in the role of “president,” although his term expired 20 months ago. The parties will meet and hopefully agree on when and where to meet again. The process will be quarterbacked by the secretary of state’s representative, with monthly trips to the region. After a year, if the process lasts that long, there will be still another offer of a Palestinian state — as long as it is willing to recognize a Jewish one within defensible borders and end all claims — and still another Palestinian rejection.
Why are we doing this all over again? In a perceptive analysis entitled “Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks, Again,” Stratfor’s George Friedman notes that enthusiasm among Arab allies for a Palestinian state is nil, although publicly they have to support it:
If the United States were actually to do what these countries publicly demand, the private response would be deep concern both about the reliability of the United States and about the consequences of a Palestinian state. A wave of euphoric radicalism could threaten all of these regimes. They quite like the status quo, including the part where they get to condemn the United States for maintaining it.
The U.S. solution is always another “peace process,” since it is always a public-relations opportunity, even if the underlying reality is different from the show:
The comings and goings of American diplomats, treating Palestinians as equals in negotiations and as being equally important to the United States, and the occasional photo op if some agreement is actually reached, all give the United States and pro-American Muslim governments a tool … for managing Muslim public opinion. Peace talks also give the United States the ability, on occasion, to criticize Israel publicly …. Most important, they cost the United States nothing. The United States has many diplomats available for multiple-track discussions and working groups for drawing up position papers.
There will thus be a new peace process, because the U.S. wants one — “preferably a long one designed to put off the day when it fails.” Abbas will function like Bernie in Weekend at Bernie’s — dragged in with arms draped around the shoulders of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to play the part of the Palestinian “peace partner,” as if this were a live process and not a movie we have now seen many, many times before.