On the eve of the anticipated start of so-called proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a discernible lack of enthusiasm.
The fanfare that usually accompanies the relaunch of Middle East negotiations has been replaced by an atmosphere of apathy, as it seems clear to just about everyone – outside the White House, that is – that little will come of the impending round.
Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of IDF Intelligence's Research Division, said that even before the talks commence, the Palestinians are "already preparing the ground for the failure" of the process.
And dovish Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor was no less gloomy, telling The Jerusalem Post yesterday that the talks "won't yield results" because the Palestinians are not willing to take "tough decisions."
Indeed, it says a lot about the state of the peace process that the only tangible outcome certain to emerge is an inevitable boost in US envoy George Mitchell's frequent-flyer account. This, of course, is entirely the fault of the Palestinians, who have repeatedly rejected the various gestures made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the past 12 months.
Basking in the glow of unprecedented American pressure on the Jewish state, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in no rush to make progress in difficult bargaining with Israel. He has every reason to wait, knowing full well that when the negotiations stall, the weight of international pressure will come down hard on the decision-makers in Jerusalem and not Ramallah.
But Washington too shares a great deal of the blame. By choreographing this farce of indirect talks doomed from the start, the Obama administration is playing directly into Palestinian hands, thereby further diminishing the already dismal chances of making peace. Through its naiveté, Washington is unwittingly setting the stage for an explosion of frustration and violence when the talks come screeching to a halt, which is hardly in anyone's interest.
The conceptual error underlying the policy of the Obama administration is stark and simple: It still seems to think that the Oslo process has a chance in hell of succeeding.
In this respect, it is well worth recalling an important if largely dubious anniversary in Middle East diplomacy that slipped by this week.
IT WAS 16 years ago on Tuesday, on May 4, 1994, that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat ascended a stage in Cairo and signed the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, paving the way for the first transfer of Israeli territory to Palestinian control.
At the ceremony, then-foreign minister Shimon Peres assured those present that a new day was at hand. "Today," he said, beaming, "we declare that the conflict is over. Today we have agreed to promise mothers and children, Arab and Jewish, that no finger will pull a trigger to endanger the lives or to affect the dignity or happiness of their children."
Within a few weeks of the signing, Arafat returned triumphantly to Gaza, as the IDF retreated and the experiment begun in the September 1993 Oslo Accords was put into place on the ground.
We all know how well that turned out. Despite Peres' optimism, the conflict remains far from over. Instead, the Oslo process bequeathed us years of suicide bombings, hundreds of civilian deaths, diminished deterrence and the loss of territory, as well as the rise of Hamas.
Logic, then, would dictate that rather than trying to keep this failed process going, Washington would do better to reexamine its approach and acknowledge its mistakes. A good place to start would be to recognize once and for all that there is no serious partner on the Palestinian side with the courage, authority or conviction to negotiate terms with Israel. Like it or not, the chances of forging an agreement with the current cast of characters in Gaza City and Ramallah are close to nil.
Moreover, President Barack Obama's enthusiasm for the land-for-peace paradigm and the two-state solution has proven to be entirely misplaced. Israel's past abandonment of territory, whether unilaterally or through agreements, has only brought disaster in its wake. The fact is that "peace for peace" was and remains the only viable and acceptable basis for a just end to the conflict.Nonetheless, Washington stubbornly refuses to accept what is obvious to all, and insists on plunging ahead down a well-worn path clearly marked "Dead End."
The result will likely be catastrophic.
In diplomacy, Henry Kissinger once noted: "If you don't know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere."
And that, it seems, is precisely where Obama is about to take us.