Friday, October 28, 2016

Should the US President Get Re-engaged in Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations? Duh.

Should President Obama encourage Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking? Of course he should, as indeed he did when he authorized Secretary of State John Kerry to make a major push to persuade the parties to resume direct negotiations. Why were they not persuaded? Why has the peace-process stalled that started in the early 1990’s and went on until 2008, when then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert affirmed the parameters of a bilateral final status agreement made by his predecessor Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 and confirmed by President Clinton and subsequent administrations? Alan Dershowitz (“Obama, slow your roll on Mideast peace process,” in the Boston Globe of October 26, 2016) is right when he suggests that once again, a lame-duck president may be expected to give it a last push to help birth a peace agreement. At a recent Harvard Program on Negotiations panel on what the US can do to help revive the two-state-solution, Israeli negotiator Gilead Sher and Palestinian survey researcher Khalil Shikaki agreed that this is exactly what President Obama should do. Professor Dershowitz agrees that PM Netanyahu and President Abbas should sit down and engage in direct talks. But he wants the US president to refrain from making a statement that might boost UN involvement in the negotiations. Dershowitz fails to say what, short of international diplomatic pressure, might induce the two parties to resume negotiations. Gilead Sher and Khalil Shikaki agreed that the current lack of political will is eroding hope and mutual trust among the Israelis and the Palestinians. Sher was specifically worried that inaction has placed Israel on a slippery slope to a binational Apartheid state. According to Shikaki, a “no-partner-syndrome” is prevailing that is eroding Palestinian trust in its own secular nationalists. If the two parties in this interminable conflict cannot get to the table, someone else will need to step in. If Dershowitz doesn’t want it to be the American president, French and Russian presidents are waiting in the wings.

As a footnote: In a paragraph on the “multitude of complex and contentious issues (…) that must be thoroughly addressed in order to achieve a lasting peace,” Alan Dershowitz reflexively refers to the “so-called Palestinian refugees.” It may not be that important how Professor Dershowitz feels about the Palestinian refugees but that he felt the need to question the genuineness of their refugee status in a paragraph on issues to be resolved draws attention to where he stands and what he cares about the most. Like Bernard Avishai in a presentation at Boston University in 2011 (see, Alan Dershowitz seems to worry most about the refugee issue. To delegitimize Palestinian refugees may be in the long-term strategic interest of Israel as a Jewish state, but it needlessly muddies the waters if it is flagged as the single-most intractable issue among the “multitude of complex and contentious issues.” It is also a tactically problematic, needlessly partisan move. To dissuade the American president from taking a stand and encourage the parties to get back to the negotiating table, Dershowitz needs to provide Mr. Obama with arguments. Instead he suggests a policy position: a return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel is - in Dershowitz's view - non-negotiable. Fine. He has a right to his opinion. But he expresses it in a way that is insulting to the very Palestinians he hopes will be persuaded to return to direct negotiations, even though he doesn’t want the US or the UN do the persuading. In other words, Dershowitz strengthens the hands of those who want the decisions over the future of one of the parties to be made by the other party, while that other party is not supposed to put any preconditions on the table. This is precisely the reason why these negotiations have long since stalled. One must conclude that Alan Dershowitz is not sincere in his wish for direct negotiations, not unless the table is stacked against the Palestinians from the very start.

A shorter version of this blog entry appeared as Letter to the Editor, Boston Globe of October 28, 2016 (print edition p. A15)

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