Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a stunning admission last week that has garnered far too little attention. After a de rigueur assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian “status quo is unsustainable,” she added, “That doesn’t mean it can’t be sustained for a year, or a decade, or two or three.”
But if so, why the rush to solve the conflict now, when all signs indicate that a deal is unachievable and another round of failed talks could greatly worsen the situation?
One could simply say she’s wrong; the status quo is intolerable for suffering Palestinians. But the facts are on her side.
First, the territories are experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The World Bank reported last week that the West Bank economy grew 9 percent in the first half of this year, while Gaza (you remember — that giant Israeli prison locked in hopeless poverty and misery?) grew an incredible 16 percent. For the West Bank, this represents a second year of strong growth; last year’s was 8.5 percent.
The World Bank hastened to declare that we should never mind the facts; growth under occupation is unsustainable. And growth in Gaza (which isn’t occupied) might well be: it was artificially boosted by reconstruction after last year’s war and the abrupt easing of Israel’s blockade in May. But the West Bank’s two-year surge shows that economic reforms like those instituted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, coupled with a sharp drop in terror that has let Israel greatly ease its restrictions on Palestinian movement, make long-term growth quite feasible.
Second, West Bankers have evidently learned a lesson from the second intifada: support for terror there is very low, making a resurgence that would upset the current calm unlikely. Indeed, during a visit this month to the Balata refugee camp, once “a hotbed of extremism,” a Haaretz reporter “was hard-pressed to find any passersby who were willing to express support for it.” As resident Imad Hassan explained, “What good did this [terror] do us?”
By contrast, the current calm is doing West Bankers a lot of good, and they’re clearly savoring it. As Haaretz reported following a Ramadan visit to Ramallah last month:
The one phrase not on the lips of local shoppers in their conversations with this Israeli reporter on Wednesday was “the occupation” — unlike during prior visits, when the occupation and the conflict with the Jews were regularly raised. These days, the hot topic is business. Peace negotiations, and even the Gaza Strip, are irrelevant.
In short, West Bankers, too, consider the status quo tolerable; they’re more concerned with business than “the occupation.”
One thing, however, could yet disrupt this status quo: as several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted, negotiations that collapse amid mutual recriminations have triggered violent explosions in the past, and could well do so again.
So to try to achieve an agreement that overwhelming majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians believe is currently unachievable, the Obama administration is risking the violent implosion of a status quo that it admits is sustainable for decades. That isn’t “smart diplomacy”; it’s the irresponsibility of a pyromaniac near a barrel of gunpowder.