Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with top Israeli officials yesterday, and made a powerful case against a renewed push for the peace process. She didn’t mean to, of course; she was actually exhorting the Israeli leadership to do whatever they must to get Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table. But she employed two arguments in support of her recommendation that in reality work against it. Haaretz reports:
According to an Israeli official who was briefed on the content of the meetings, Clinton told the different Israeli officials that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are the best partners the Israelis ever had, adding that “it is unclear who will come after them.”
If Abbas and Fayyad–who resolutely refuse to even meet with Israeli leaders face to face–are the best Palestinian “peace partners” Israel has ever had, it is clear the peace process has gone practically nowhere since it began. But the second comment is more important.
Clinton came to Israel directly from Egypt, where she met with new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi is there because the Egyptian people finally overthrew a widely hated autocrat who was viewed, in part, as too friendly to Israel and the West. Israel’s gas deal with Egypt seemed to go up in smoke–literally–and the vaunted peace agreement, in place for more than three decades now, was called into question. Egyptians first called for it to be torn up, then renegotiated, and now Morsi says he will uphold it, but he won’t return any of the Israeli government’s overtures to him.
It’s possible to see in the evolution of Cairo’s discussion of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty evidence that the deal is in no real trouble of being revoked (though it may be violated with far more regularity). But that misses a larger point. The Arab Spring, especially in the case of Egypt, taught us not to rely on seemingly stable dictators who don’t rule with popular consent. And it should be a dire warning against striking a deal with unpopular leaders who don’t represent public opinion and who are here today, but may very well be gone tomorrow.
Obviously, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are still far from a deal–possibly farther than they’ve ever been. But what if the Arab Spring rolls along into the West Bank? And even if it doesn’t, there is no reason to treat the current leadership crop as permanent. What happens if they fall? What guarantee is there that any deal would be worth the paper it was written on? The fact that Abbas and Fayyad are unpopular, ineffective, and could be replaced any day by Palestinians to whom the deal would mean nothing is an argument against making any sort of desperate push to get a deal signed. Clinton should be pressuring Abbas and Fayyad to reform their corrupt, autocratic ways if real peace and stability is the goal.