Do no harm is prominent among the lessons taught to medical students. Don''t make things worse is the equivalent for students of public policy.
In all the commotion surrounding the Israel-Palestine peace process, or its demise, there are signs that the President of the United States did not internalize those lessons. Perhaps law schools focus too much on short term success.
There was little prospect of a formal Israeli-Palestinian accord before Barack Obama came to office. Things were better than they had been in the early part of the decade. Intifada al-Aqsa had petered out. Israel has learned to guard restaurants and buses, and had brought three times the number of casualties to the Palestinians as Israel had suffered. The successors of Yassir Arafat honored his memory, but changed his tactics. Fatah had been pummeled in a short war with Hamas in Gaza. In the West Bank, Fatah moved to consolidate itself via a greater concern for economic progress than fanatic nationalism. Americans and Jordanians cooperated with Palestinian technocrats and improved the professionalism of security personnel.
It was conventional for American presidents to express their support for Palestinians as well as Israelis, but Barack Obama put considerably more effort than his predecessors into resolving the dispute via the creation of a Palestinian state. He went to Cairo less than six months into his presidency and expressed hopes and expectations for such a state as well as general Muslim enlightenment. He sees surges toward democracy and his own success in the uprisings that began two years later in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. He has supported Israel with financial and military resources, expressed reservations about Palestinian actions, but has not ceased his promotion of a Palestinian state. He has not spoken in clear specifics, but some read his words to endorse a larger entity, closer to the borders of 1967 than expressed by any previous administration.
Results to date?
Palestinians encouraged by the President of the United States put their statehood campaign into high gear. An increasing number of countries recognize a State of Palestine. Some mention the boundaries of 1967, a capital in Jerusalem, and/or the rights of refugees. There may be a large majority endorsing some or all of that at the UN General Assembly in September.
Meanwhile, the same old problems are in the way of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement: borders, refugees, Jerusalem. Plus two issues that have come on the table largely as a result of the campaign begun by the American president: a demand to halt all construction in Jewish settlements over the 1967 lines, including in neighborhoods of Jerusalem where Jews have lived for the better part of four decades; plus the Israeli demand that Palestinians officially recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
There are those who blame Palestinians for the impasse, and those who blame Israel. Sixty years of hammering at the rights of those called refugees and their descendants have gotten in the way of Palestinian compromise. A three thousand year tradition about God and the Land of Israel creates problems for any Israeli government.
The same old stuff, or actual harm produced by the insistence or obsession of Barack Obama?
That depends if the current commotion spills over from political maneuvers to another round of bloodshed.
God willing, I''ll be writing about that in September.
And perhaps later about other events in the region from Morocco to Pakistan. So far, things are arguably no better than before that Cairo speech. Uncertainty, or chaos and bloodshed are more useful terms than a surge toward democracy.