Beyond the rumble of explosions continuing to rattle Iraq and what’s left of Syria in the ongoing battle between terrorists, rebel factions, and their government-allied rivals another crusade is playing out in the holy land. At the heart of this renewed war of words is a long-simmering, personal feud between the US president and Israel’s prime minister; it flared up in July when Republican leaders invited Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress about a “very bad” UN-brokered deal with Iran intended to limit its nuclear program. The intervening 18 months have brought a few mismatched highlights with them: the Jewish state was confronted by weeks of near-daily attacks by knife-wielding Palestinian assailants, a pledge from the White House to deliver $38 billion in military aid over 10 years — with strings attached — and a surprise development in the last weeks of President Obama’s term.
The instigator behind UN Resolution 2334 is relatively unimportant, though allegedly Egypt and Senegal were involved, but the fireworks are: dozens of settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem have been branded an illegal roadblock to future negotiations. Netanyahu responded by branding the measure a “shameless ambush” secretly backed by the US and said later that Israel does not need to be lectured about peace. It should not be surprising that the former Likud party chairman’s response was sharp and fast, but when word came out of Jerusalem that 600 housing units were about to be approved and 5,000 would follow it was like turning the other cheek and asking to be slapped. Even in friendly capitals construction on contested land, like East Jerusalem, can be seen as creeping colonization that would make reconciliation nearly impossible. This would discredit any expressed desire for peace if “Eretz Yisrael” were the sole disruptor. It is not.
There were once settlers in the Gaza strip — in 2005 they were evicted from 21 communities in that territory and four smaller settlements in the West Bank as part of a “Disengagement Plan” authorized by Ariel Sharon. The prime minister at that time, Sharon pointed out that “we can’t hang on to Gaza forever” and believed the move would lead to better relations between the two peoples. He was wrong. Eventually Israeli troops followed settlers out of the strip; greenhouse facilities were left behind that were scrapped and later used to build Qassam rockets. By 2008 Hamas won a majority in parliament, took full control of Gaza, and militants were firing rockets over the border. They’ve made it clear coexistence is not a priority, and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah is part of the problem. His party governs the West Bank and has been in a slow dance with Hamas while attempting to form a unity government. The goal in both territories is a state, so negotiating for a future Palestine would demand unity between competing factions.
In Tel Aviv the view is a bit different: their best chance for success is to separate the militants from whatever peaceful elements exist in Fatah. Anything less means trusting Abbas’ influence over Hamas and risking potential rocket fire from the West Bank. The possibility is another stumbling block, yet the quest for peace will continue when another round of talks begins in Paris January 15. Francois Hollande’s government has been here before. In early 2016 there was a similar attempt to resuscitate the two-state solution and force an agreement by stating that failure would leave Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius with no choice but to “take responsibility and recognize a Palestinian state.” Epic fail. If the newest round of talks is to be anything more than a showy pageant full of high-profile virtue signaling its brokers will need to earn the trust of both parties. At this point there doesn’t seem to be anyone capable at he UN or in White House; the odds an agreement can be reached aren’t likely to improve until that changes.
photo courtesy of cbsnews.com