In continuing our comments on President Obama's May 19th speech, this blog now turns to the second part of the speech - that part dealing with the Israeli/Palestinian question.
The first thing that struck me about this section was how it would drown out the first half of the speech. After all, how could discussion on the President's substantive proposals to support the Arab Spring survive such inflammatory comments dealing with such US taboos as "1967 borders" and an "independent Palestinian state"? I perceived the timing of these remarks a mistake; a failure on the President's part. Yet, in a season of failure for our diplomacy, his remarks began to make sense.
Failure: the Netanyahu administration greets calls for a halt to settlement expansion by humiliating Vice-President Biden.
Failure: the Mubarak tyranny that collaborated in suppressing Gaza is overthrown.
Failure: peace envoy extroadinaire George Mitchell skedaddles into the sunset.
Failure: the new regime in Egypt brokers a reconciliation of Palestinian factions.
What does all of this failure mean for "the peace process"? It confirms what I have believed for more than a decade: There is no peace process. There has been no meaningful prospect of a settlement with the Palestinians in many years. This was true at Annapolis under President Bush, and it is true today under President Obama. The chances that an agreement will be reached in the near term are zero.
Moreover, the constant reference to a "peace process" that does not exist and has no prospect for success must be accepted for what it has become - a public relations strategy designed to convince the public that this mirage in the desert is real. The real effect of this process is not in forging a lasting peace on the ground, but to insure the maintenance of the status quo. Just as we once understood that the "medium is the message", we must now comprehend that "the process is the peace".
Behind the illusion of a "peace process" there was the reality that the status quo was a satisfactory surrogate for actual accord. Many players on the world stage, particularly the United States and Israel, were not unhappy with this result. This situation was acceptable in the United States and Israel because there were no serious threats to Israel. While the Palestinians, transformed from antagonists to negotiators, retained the ability to harass and embarrass Israel, the situation (status quo) was one in which the threats to the Jewish state were historically minimal. Life goes on; the small losses inflicted by Palestinian dissidents are acceptable; even useful, in rallying pro-Israeli hardliners.
However, the litany of failure has changed all that. Although some will try to maintain the illusion, it should now be clear to most that the "peace process" is deader than Mrs. Murphy's cow.
Why then would our president make a speech that not only refers to a diplomatic carcass but also obfuscates his message to the new-born democratic uprisings?
There are (at least) two possibilities.
The first is that President Obama is a complete bore and an oaf. That he actually believes that there is a peace process and a real prospect for a settlement. That he didn't realize that his section on Israel would drown out his message to pan-Arabia. That he enjoys having Bebe Netanyahu relieve himself on his administration. That he welcomes being repudiated by the legislative branch of his own government.
Or, we can imagine, that for perhaps the first time, the special genius claimed by and for Obama is finally on display. That is, that highlighting all these obvious failures has a purpose. This is what I call the "Failure Gambit".
Let us begin with the speech. Why would the president attach to his message on the Arab Spring an inflammatory and superfluous section on Israel, one that drowns out his important and historic policy statements regarding the Arab Spring? The answer may be precisely that. He wanted that message drowned out, especially in the United States and Israel. He is happy to have our conversation focused on supposed faux pas regarding settlements and 1967 boundaries because it guarantees that the more important aspects of his policy sail through "under the guns".
Secondly, this recent sordidness in Washington demonstrates clearly to the world as a whole and in particular to the emerging democracies that, in regard to the Palestinian question, any US president's hands are tied. By precipitating this display Obama is saying "It's not my fault." Now, when addressing himself to the larger issues, and says "I am with you", he has a greater chance at achieving credibility.
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