Proximity Talks: Turning the Other Cheek

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington DC
By choice or coincidence, Barak Obama and Mahmoud Abbas find themselves this week in the same boat, thanks to the mischief of Benjamin Netanyahu.  The American and Palestinian leaders have turned the other cheek helplessly, and seemingly adopted the choice offered in the Christian doctrine which favored a non-violent response to an aggressor.
One explanation of this doctrine, among many, is that to turn the other cheek is neither humiliating nor retaliation but “rather a  response of strength that says: ‘I will not seek revenge because I am stronger than that.’”  True or not, we will find out in the next four months when and if these proximity talks, scheduled to start this month between the Palestinians and Israelis, are supposed to end with the launching of direct peace negotiations after a hiatus of 18 months.
The consensus among Palestinians, Israelis and others is that the outlook is not very encouraging; in fact, pessimistic.  The forecasters of failure have increased significantly as detailed last week by John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, who co-authored with Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” a shattering report.
Speaking to an overflowing audience at The Palestine Center in Washington marking the Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture, Mearsheimer sounded very pessimistic. He began:
“Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank.  Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy.  
“Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a ‘Greater Israel,’ which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa.  Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term.  In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinians citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.”
He also did not think that President Obama is “different from his predecessors,” as he found “little evidence to support that belief,” pointing out the popular president was silent during the “Gaza massacre” when Israel launched a bloody assault on the Palestinian enclave. 
However, he admitted that the two-state solution is the best of other alternatives at present thought it is not an ideal solution.  “It is by far the best outcome for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as the United States,” he said in his lengthy remarks, “That is why the Obama administration is intensely committed to pushing it.”
Mearsheimer’s thesis is that the key struggle that will determine the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be within the Jewish Diaspora or what he calls the “Righteous Jews,” who support universal human rights, and “the New Afrikaners,” the supremacist supporters of a “Greater Israel” despite their mistreatment of the Palestinians within a Jewish state that would stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, where Palestine existed under the British mandate until 1948.
Surprisingly, Professor Walt disagreed in a comment on Foreign Policy blog. “I am not as pessimistic as John is on this front, that is, I think there is still a slim window open for a viable two-state solution, though the door is closing.” He continued, “I hope his speech turns out to be a ‘self-denying prophecy.’ In other words, if enough people are convinced by it, maybe they will act to head off the gloomy future that he foresees.”
Whatever, the proximity talks are expected to reveal, once for all, the true position of Netanyahu’s hawkish government, which includes ultra-rights groups like the one led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, towards a final peace settlement. Otherwise, this may bring about either the resignation or the expansion of the Netanyahu government which may then include Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party as suggested by the Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Washington’s favorite Israeli cabinet minister.  But the presence of Livni in a new government is not a reassuring step since she had once suggested that in the event of a settlement all the Palestinians, who mostly live in the Galilee region of north Israel, should resettle in the projected Palestinian state.
No wonder Henry Siegman, director of the US Middle East Project in New York,  saw all this as “The Greater Middle East Peace Process Scam.”
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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