Israel’s President Shimon Peres met with US negotiator George Mitchell today, and if we can take Mitchell at his word, there is good news and bad news. First the good news that Mitchell understands that concessions on one side only are not enough:
“Israel has taken meaningful steps in the West Bank,” said Mitchell, alluding to the dismantling of 25 checkpoints, thereby allowing the Palestinians greater freedom of movement and easier accessibility to various destinations.
Referring to his visits with other leaders in the region, Mitchell said that he had conveyed the message that steps must now be taken by Arab States to fulfill the promise of the Arab peace initiative.
It’s also good news if the US understands the Arab (or Saudi) Initiative as a starting point for negotiations and not simply a ‘take it or leave it’ offer, because as it is it’s no more than a demand for Israel to accept all responsibility for the conflict and pay all of the price for a doubtful ‘peace’.
The bad news, though, is that the US is either remarkably naive about the Palestinians or doesn’t care about the ultimate outcome as long as Israel withdraws from the West Bank:
Anticipating the day when there would be “a state of Palestine” Mitchell envisaged that it would prove to be “a responsible neighbor to Israel…”
In discussions with US Security Coordinator for the Palestinian Authority and Israel General Keith Dayton, Peres said, Dayton had estimated that the Palestinians should be capable of self government by 2011.
The only kind of self-government the Palestinians are capable of today is the kind they have in Gaza, where Hamas has established totalitarian rule and maintains a state of war with Israel. Today,
- The Fatah faction whose ‘security’ forces Gen. Dayton is arming and training has no popular support among Palestinians, who prefer Hamas if anyone.
- Even this ‘moderate’ faction refuses to accept that Israel belongs to the Jewish people, demands a ‘right of return’ for Arab ‘refugees’ and in fact is now saying that they don’t really recognize Israel and that ‘armed struggle’ will continue. Some responsible neighbor they will be!
Dayton may think that by 2011 his pet Palestinians will have enough men under arms (the Palestinian authority already has a huge percentage of its population in police and ‘security’ forces) and enough weapons to challenge Hamas, but politically nothing has changed — except the rise of Hamas — since Arafat.
In fact, given the hostility to Israel displayed by Fatah officials when speaking in Arabic, and their political weakness vis-a-vis Hamas, one wonders whether arming them is a good idea.
Peres understood that US President Barack Obama has his own agenda calling for new facts on the ground at a somewhat quicker pace. But speaking with the hindsight of experience, Peres told Mitchell: “You need patience.”
President Kennedy made an audacious promise when he said that the US would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and of course we just celebrated the 40th anniversary of this event. Kennedy took the risk of appearing foolish because his competent scientific advisors told him that it was possible.
President Obama also promised that he would do something of monumental significance by ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is risking more than Kennedy did, because the consequences of bad policy in the Mideast may be a lot worse than just looking foolish. As we have so recently seen, mistakes lead directly to dead Israelis and Palestinians.
But unlike Kennedy, either Obama does not have competent advisors in this area or what they are after is something other than peace with security for Israel.