Halpern: The country that keeps on giving


I'm thinking

by Micah D. Halpern

Issue of October 15, 2010, 7 Cheshvan 5771

The Arab League has agreed to back the Palestinians in their rejection of direct negotiations with Israel while settlement activity continues. The Arab League has also given the United States a reprieve, an extension during which they must try to cajole the Israelis into temporarily suspending all building within the settlements.

Direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis are not, to use the vernacular, brain surgery; they are very straightforward and surprisingly simple. The sides disagree. The question is how well each can stand their ground.  How will each side stand up against U.S. pressure and now, against Arab League pressure.

My bet is that Israel will collapse under the pressure. Historical precedent is on my side. The way it works is that Palestinians make a symbolic gesture and the Israelis capitulate and deliver a significant concession.

The Arab League decision was expected.  It offered a huge boost to Palestinian leadership.  It bolstered the Palestinian position and gave them support to stand up against the US demand for compromise. The Arab League decision is an obvious diplomatic gesture — throwing the United States a bone by encouraging U.S. policy makers to keep the door to dialogue open, a priority for the United States and critical to the American conception of diplomatic progress.

Thus far the Palestinians have refused any compromise. And compromise is precisely what the United States has been pushing for.

The Israelis are offering to compromise. They are also asking why should they be the only ones to give in. Israel said that they would offer a reduced level of building. In actual terms that would involve completing 2,000 approved units, and completing infrastructure developments like kindergartens and health clinics.

The United States is very satisfied with Israel’s compromise. They felt the intermediate building position was a reasonable compromise. It is the Palestinians and the Arab League that do not want any building — none at all, nothing whatsoever.

The United States actually agrees with Israel on almost every single issue. The U.S. understands that the freeze is over and that Israeli party politics require a compromise position. The United States understands that, by definition, a freeze cannot be simply extended and ipso facto converted into a new status quo. They understand the concept of national consensus and appreciate that an internal political bridge has to be erected before a new settlement policy can be established.

U.S. understanding, however, plays little role in Palestinian politics and Arab League decision making. The United States is going to have to move the parties towards some kind of dialogue and maybe even an agreement. The only way to move ahead is to apply pressure. Undeniably, Israel is the party to be pressured.

The view from the White House is clear:

Israel can afford to make more compromises.

It doesn’t matter that Israel has already made compromises.

The United States has no sway over the Palestinian leadership.

The United States has no influence over the Arab League.

And in the end, neither the Palestinians nor the Arab League have anything to offer in terms of compromise.

The party with the most to give, the party that has given the most, must give even more.

To complicate an already convoluted situation, the Palestinians are threatening to unilaterally proclaim statehood. That would be a significant problem both for Israel and for the United States. The new Palestinian state would not be the result of mutual agreements; security issues would not be hammered out.

It is in Israel’s interest and the interest of the United States for the Palestinians not to have an army or to possess heavy weapons. If the state is simply, unilaterally, declared there will be no international monitoring mechanism and there will be no agreement about weapons and the military.  That leaves Israel and the region open to a Palestinian state amassing massive caches of arms and launching attacks at will

This is a tricky set of negotiations. The country with the least to lose is the country pushing the hardest.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. Read his latest book THUGS. He maintains The Micah Report at www.micahhalpern.com.