The US and a diplomatic motion for peace

Although President Barack Obama is diligently pushing an Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, leaders are unlikely to make a compromise unless they are driven by a common interest on Syria and Iran.

Netanyahu, Abbas 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Netanyahu, Abbas 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Something is happening on the diplomatic front with the Palestinians – that much is obvious.
The signals are everywhere.
They range from Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) talking about legislating a referendum to approve any deal with the Palestinians, to an Arab League delegation in Washington saying that they could live with an agreement based on the pre-1967 lines with “mild” adjustments.
The signs appeared as well on Wednesday when the Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said the PA was temporarily freezing its moves at the UN unless Israel begins to build in E1, and when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office on two occasions issued comments he made about the need for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Something is stirring, although what that something is – and what the exact formula will be that will bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table – remains a mystery.
John Kerry, dubbed by some as US President Barack Obama’s energizer-bunny secretary of state, has been very busy since Obama’s recent trip here, prodding, moving and pushing various actors to take stands that will facilitate restarting the talks.
This includes Israel refraining from announcing grandiose settlement construction plans, the Palestinians announcing a freeze on unilateral efforts in the international community, and the Arab League re-upping its 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
On Tuesday, Kerry was delighted the Arab League softened its 2002 position and now would back an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines with slight modifications.
Kerry said that the 2002 proposal “only talked about ’67 lines, nothing else. Yesterday they stated that they are prepared to accept A’67 borders with adjustments to reflect mutually agreedupon land swaps, recognizing some of the changes that have taken place.”
He called this a “very big step forward.”
While details are scarce, the overall architecture of what the US is planning is apparent: active involvement by the Arab League in the diplomatic process, to give Israelis a sense that by withdrawing from the vast majority of the West Bank they will not only be getting promises from the Palestinians – promises that can be easily broken – but something of substance from the Arab world.
“When I have been in Israel in recent days, a lot of people have asked me: What are the Arabs going to do? What is the Arab attitude towards peace at this point in time? And so the Arab community – and I think they should be thanked for this – saw fit to come here to the United States as a delegation of the Arab League to make it clear that they are relaunching the Arab Peace Initiative,” he said.
He specified what that initiative does: It states that if Israel and the PA reach an agreement, “the Arab community, 22 Arab countries and 57 Muslim countries that have signed up as members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, all of them have agreed, number one, that they would consider the conflict ended; number two, that they would establish the normalization of relations with Israel; number three, that they would enter into peace agreements with Israel; and number four, that they would provide security for all states in the region. In other words, they are offering a security arrangement for that region.”
Skeptics, and they are legion, could be forgiven for saying “Been there, done that.”
When Obama first took over the White House in 2009, he tried a similar strategy. His idea was to get Israel to freeze settlement construction, and then go to the Arab world and get them to give symbolic concessions to Israel to build up Israeli confidence for further Israeli steps.
Netanyahu clamped a 10- month settlement freeze, but the Arabs did not respond.
Efforts by Obama to get the Saudis, or even the Moroccans, to do something as minor as letting Israeli civilian aircraft fly over their airspace on the way to the Far East or the Americas, respectively, fell on deaf ears.
And that was then – before the revolutions in the Arab world gave voice to the Arab street, an Arab street that is increasingly under the influence of political Islam, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which sees no place in the region for Israel.
If the Arab rulers were unable to make tangible gestures to Israel four years ago, when their seats and thrones were secure, then why should one think they will do so now, when they have to be responsive to the Arab street? It is an open secret that Israel has had contact and cooperated in the past with a number of Arab countries in the region, including in the Persian Gulf. The Arabs, however, have demanded that those contacts remain quiet, so as not to rile up the masses. And that was when the Arab leaders completely controlled their masses.
Today, when the rulers are more attuned to what their masses are thinking, it seems unlikely to see more courage from the Arab leaders.
Those supporting the new Obama/Kerry approach, however, argue that a commonality of interests between Israel and a number of Arab states – particularly regarding Syria and Iran – will move the Arab leaders to take steps and make gestures toward Israel they were unwilling to undertake in the past.
There is, however, another glaring difference between the current US approach and what was tried in 2009. Then, Obama thought he could move the process forward and entice Arab action by showing public “daylight” between the US and Israel.
He no longer believes that.
In fact, alongside trying to bring the Arab League on board, Obama and Kerry are also trying to win over Israel’s confidence.
Obama’s warm visit to Israel in March was one prong in those efforts. Another prong is trying to get the Arab world to make gestures to Israel.