President Obama: Take the road not taken

President Obama can choose the well-trodden path, and bring no benefit to the area.

Obama in Israel 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama in Israel 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Only days ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, its nature is still unclear.
Will it be reconciliatory or confrontational? Will it be a working visit or a ceremonial one? And most importantly, will it focus on Iran or on the Palestinian issue? Whatever the answers to these questions, there is no doubt that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be discussed during the presidential visits to Jerusalem and Ramallah.
And President Obama has to decide which approach to adopt, on which path to march.
As surprising as it might sound, an American effort to renew the stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is the easy way, the beaten path. It is the obvious policy, the path of least resistance.
It might even technically succeed.
Israel declared long ago that it welcomes direct negotiations without any preconditions, and the Palestinians – if pressed – might drop their demand of an a priori moratorium on construction in the Jewish communities. What has failed for the past 30 months may be ripe for success now.
The problem is that the negotiations are doomed to failure, to be yet another exercise in futility. No agreement can or will be reached because there is no point in the geopolitical space where Israel’s and the Palestinians’ minimal demands on most of the crucial issues converge.
The two-state formula is a mirage, a fata morgana – the closer you get to it, the more you realize that it is no more than hot air. The formulas proposed in Oslo, Camp David, Geneva, Annapolis and all the other locations across the globe, which dealt with Jerusalem, refugees, sovereignty, territorial swaps, settlements, national statehood, security, Israeli Arabs and a myriad of additional issues, created no more than an illusion of a potential solution to the conflict. It is neither coincidence nor bad luck that they were never adopted. There is always some pretext or explanation for why each round failed. The truth is that failure is inevitable.
Some see the process as the aim, that as long as negotiations are going on – danger is averted. That, however, is a very shortsighted strategy. Raising expectations that cannot be fulfilled ultimately ends in frustration. And frustration gives rise to violence. Ask President Clinton.
He went to Gaza with the promise of a Palestinian state and convened the Camp David summit to keep the process going. And although he had the best of intentions, the result was the deadly second intifada.
President Obama can choose the road less traveled, the one that can make all the difference. Significant improvements on the ground that will tangibly benefit the lives of millions of Palestinians and Israelis are what are most urgently needed.
Let’s launch an ambitious and comprehensive program to dramatically improve human rights in this beleaguered area together.
First and foremost is the right to live unthreatened. Bullets, Molotov cocktails and rocks belong to a language that should disappear. No Israeli or Palestinian child or adult should have to live in fear of them.
And while both the Israeli and Palestinian education systems bear responsibility in that regard, the heaviest burden to act lies on the shoulders of the Israeli security forces. They must not evade that responsibility.
But enabling life is not enough.
Human rights also mean a dignified life. If security prevails, an active effort to lift restrictions on freedom of movement and activity should begin immediately. The ultimate goal should and could be the dismantling of the security barriers Israel was forced to erect after the vicious terrorist attacks of the early 2000s.
The right to proper housing should be addressed too, despite the opposition of the Palestinian establishment itself. The refugee camps should be completely renovated, making living conditions acceptable.
Sixty-five years after their creation, the great-grandchildren of the original dwellers are entitled to proper housing. And no one, Israeli or Palestinian, should have to live under the constant threat of eviction.
Regarding political rights, while the existence of an autonomous national authority does not address all the expectations and aspirations of the Palestinians, it is the most that can be achieved right now. The PA should be strengthened.
President Obama can choose the well-trodden path, and bring no benefit to the area. Or take the less glamorous but far more effective one and succeed in changing reality.
This is the challenge facing him as Air Force One makes its way to Ben-Gurion Airport.
The author is former chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria.