Why tomorrow’s Middle East talks will fail
Posted by sanityinjection on September 21, 2009
In the field of international relations, I don’t think there is any topic on which more nonsense is written that the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Most of the columnists and journalists who write about it have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, and as a result, most of the public is very badly informed about the reality of the conflict.
In this context, Politico’s Laura Rozen stands out for her weekend column on this week’s three-way talks between President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Rozen displays unusual insight in breaking down the diplomatic moves leading up to the talks and the motivations of each of the players. To sum it up: This is talking for the sake of talking, and not for the sake of accomplishing anything. For Obama, it’s the emptiest sort of grandstanding – trying to show that he is being effective on foreign policy with a show of sound and fury that signifies nothing. He wants Americans to believe that simply getting the parties talking is a great achievement.
Ultimately, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not fundamentally different from any other. It continues as long as one or both sides feel that they have as much to gain from intransigence as they do from compromise. Only when both Israel and the Palestinians feel there is more to be gained from reaching an agreement can progress be made. That’s not a condition that can be created by Obama, the United States, or anyone other than the two sides themselves. The US definitely has a role to play in helping to broker a deal if and when the parties are really ready for one. (The broad outlines of a permanent settlement of the conflict have already been sketched in great detail by non-governmental Israelis and Palestinians working together, but there is no official buy-in.) President Obama can use his clout to drive Netanyahu and Abbas to the negotiating table. But no amount of US pressure can force them to get serious about making peace if they can’t arrive there with motivation of their own.