NEWS, ANALYSIS & OPINION: A deadbeat’s peace process

Gaza City plunged into darkness

The only power plant in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip has shut down because of a lack of fuel, Palestinian officials say, blaming Israeli restrictions.

Gaza City was plunged into darkness after the plant’s turbines stopped.

Israel’s closure of border crossings amid continued rocket fire from Gaza has brought the delivery of almost all supplies, including fuel, to a halt. [complete article]

Senior Saudi prince offers Israel peace vision

A senior Saudi royal has offered Israel a vision of broad cooperation with the Arab world and people-to-people contacts if it signs a peace treaty and withdraws from all occupied Arab territories.

In an interview with Reuters, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former ambassador to the United States and Britain and adviser to King Abdullah, said Israel and the Arabs could cooperate in many areas including water, agriculture, science and education.

Asked what message he wanted to send to the Israeli public, he said:

“The Arab world, by the Arab peace initiative, has crossed the Rubicon from hostility towards Israel to peace with Israel and has extended the hand of peace to Israel, and we await the Israelis picking up our hand and joining us in what inevitably will be beneficial for Israel and for the Arab world.” [complete article]

The march of cynics

The prize for the most sharply cynical remark goes to President George W. Bush, who said in Ramallah of the Israel Defense Forces crossing points: “You’ll be happy to hear that my motorcade of a mere 45 cars was able to make it through without being stopped.” No doubt, he was speaking ironically, but even if he added that he wasn’t “so exactly sure that’s what happens to the average person,” he should be reminded of the saying that one doesn’t mention rope in a hanged man’s home. Okay, so there’s a lack of political and human understanding here, but isn’t there even a drop of sensitivity and empathy?

This cynical remark made only the slightest impression on those who heard it. After all, the people who met with Bush are not the ones who are exposed to the humiliations that thousands go through at the barriers every day, and they even receive VIP treatment. Why should they express dissatisfaction with a spontaneous bit of nonsense when they feel no need to react to a stupid thing that someone in Bush’s retinue formulated for the president? “Swiss cheese isn’t going to work when it comes to the outline of a state. And I mean that,” declared Bush. Right after that he said the drawing up of the future border will reflect the current reality. But it is the reality of the settlement blocs that has created the “Swiss cheese.” [complete article]

Middle East triangle

Nervous about being left out, all three parties are laboring mightily to avert an understanding between the other two. Hamas threatens the nascent Israeli-Palestinian political process, challenging its legitimacy and intimating that it could resort to more violence. Israel warns that renewed Palestinian unity will bring that process to an abrupt halt. Abbas actively discourages any third-party contact with Hamas. The end result is collective checkmate, a political standstill that hurts all and serves none.

The truth is, none of these two-way deals is likely to succeed. In tandem, no two parties are capable enough to deliver; any one party is potent enough to be a spoiler. There can be neither Israeli-Palestinian stability nor a peace accord without Hamas’s acquiescence. Intra-Palestinian reconciliation will not last without Israel’s unspoken assent and willingness to lift its siege. Any agreement between Hamas and Israel over Abbas’s strong objection is hard to imagine.

For any of these dances to go forward, all will have to go forward. Synchronicity is key. Fatah and Hamas will need to reach a new political arrangement, this time not one vigorously opposed by Israel. Hamas and Israel will need to achieve a cease-fire and prisoner exchange, albeit mediated by Abbas. And Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will need to negotiate a political deal with Abbas, who will have to receive a mandate to do so from Hamas. The current mind-set, in which each side considers dealmaking by the other two to be a mortal threat, could be replaced by one in which all three couplings are viewed as mutually reinforcing. For that, the parties’ allies ought to cast aside their dysfunctional, destructive, ideologically driven policies. Instead, they should encourage a choreography that minimizes violence and promotes a serious diplomatic process. Otherwise, no matter how many times President Bush travels to the region, there is no reason to believe that 2008 will offer anything other than the macabre pattern of years past. [complete article]

Not on the itinerary

Take a president who rarely travels overseas and certainly not for extended periods of time. Add the region of the world most associated with this administration and most in turmoil. Throw in the president’s first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories after seven years in office. What do you get? Remarkably little, as it turns out.

President Bush’s eight-day tour of the Middle East registered barely an above-the-fold headline in the major American and international newspapers. Perhaps the subject of greatest speculation was how a president, famous for maintaining a schoolboy’s bedtime curfew, would cope with the late Arabian nights. But Bush’s Middle East trip was of some importance – as much for what didn’t happen, as for what did. Paradoxically, an administration guided by a transformational vision of the application of American power was now displaying the limitations of its role – limitations partially created by its own failures. [complete article]

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