Why the Obama/Hillary Clinton Approach to Middle East Peace is Doomed to Failure

There is little chance that peace can be brought to the Middle East unless it is imposed on both Israel and Palestine by the international community. Calling for an International Peace Conference and an immediate cease-fire ought to be the first foreign policy priority for the Obama Administration.

Instead, Secretary of State nominee-designate Hillary Clinton’s remarks to the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday committed the Obama Administration to a path that is certain to fail as it has throughout the past several decades. There were three elements to her position:

1.) A strong recommitment of the United States as the primary support for the State of Israel, a position that guarantees that it cannot play the role of “honest, neutral broker of peace” since we are already on one side of the struggle;

2.) A strong restatement of the position that the U.S. will not negotiate with Hamas until it recognizes the State of Israel (a position which Hamas has already said it would not do de jure—which is what is being sought—though de facto it has been willing to negotiate a cease-fire agreement with Israel and announced that it is prepared to negotiate a new agreement that could last for twenty or thirty years);

3.) A commitment that the Obama Administration would try to bring the two parties together for negotiations.

How to make sense of a position whose logic defies the views that Obama articulated when he was seeking the Democratic nomination? At that point, he made clear that we should negotiate with Iran and Syria, though they constitute far more serious threats to American interests than Hamas. The difference, of course, is the Israel Lobby to which Obama and Clinton have repeatedly paid obeisance. That lobby, representing the most hard-line elements in the Jewish world (but also tens of millions of Christian Zionists who consistently support the militarist perspective in dealing with Arabs and Palestinians), has insisted as a matter of faith that American politicians promise not to deal with Hamas, just as in the 1980s and 1990s these same forces insisted that the U.S. not negotiate with the PLO.

According to several Israeli analysts, the Obama Administration’s game plan is this: To call for a cease-fire that will freeze in place Israel’s commanding military position in the West Bank and Gaza—after allowing Israel some more time to finish wiping out Hamas operatives in Gaza—then hope that the military success will strengthen Ehud Barak (head of the Israeli Labor Party) and Tzipi Livni (head of Olmert’s Kadima party) in the February elections, and that these two will form a government to negotiate a peace agreement with a Palestinian Authority whose power will be strengthened by the defeat of the military option proposed by Hamas.

The New York Times Ad:

On Wed. Jan.14, Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun magazine and the Network of Spiritual Progressives ran a full page ad in the New York Times.

The ad, signed by Dr. Cornel West, Sister Joan Chittister, and 2800 others, urges President-Elect Obama to:

1.) Call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza when he is sworn in as president, and 2.) Convene an International Peace Conference to resolve the Israel/Palestine struggle.

He now seeks to have that ad republished in the Washington Post and other media. You can read, sign and/or donate to the ad here.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian state likely to be produced by these negotiations will be neither economically nor politically viable. Barak and Livni will not have the power to make serious concessions to the Palestinians, so the state they are likely to agree to (with Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration’s participation) will be one that allows the Israeli army to crisscross the Palestinian state in order to safeguard Israeli settlements and the 400,000 Israelis who will continue to live in them. The state thus created will resemble a patchwork of little city-state cantons that will not look or feel to Palestinians to be a real state.

And while the weak Palestinian Authority may grasp at any straw it is offered, and hence accept an arrangement of this sort, the vast majority of Palestinians will eventually wake up to the understanding that this US-negotiated deal is little more than an agreement by Palestinians to police themselves while Israel retains its settlements and its military dominance of Gaza and the West Bank.

Eventually, an invigorated Islamic fundamentalist movement will reappear to resume the struggle, while Israelis and Americans cry “foul” since they “gave” the Palestinians a state.

The only viable alternative is for Obama to call for an international conference of the European Union, Israel, and the Arab States, the permanent members of the UN Security Council—and yes, Iran and India as well—and allow that international conference to impose a solution that provides security and justice to both sides. Only an imposed settlement has the slightest chance of being just to Palestinians—the precondition for a lasting peace, and hence the strategy that those who yearn for a secure Israel must pursue.

Just as the international community decided to support the creation of the State of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust, so must that community act in concert to create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state. Hard as it may be to push the Obama Administration in this direction, it will be less difficult than getting Secretary of State Clinton to use American power to directly force Israel to be responsive to the minimum needs for peace and justice for the Palestinian people.