Op-Ed

Near-hopeless Mideast impasse

At issue | Various columns, articles on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Baffling. It is baffling to most Middle East analysts that the Obama administration made resolving the 62-year old Palestine-Israel conflict one of its foreign-policy objectives, especially if it actually thought of addressing the contentious issues involved. Analysts proffer several reasons to go forward, in spite of little chance of success.

First, an agreement to establish a mutually accepted framework for final status negotiations would have given the Democrats a badly needed foreign policy boost before the mid-tern elections.

Second, the realization that top military commanders, such as General David Petraeus, in Afghanistan and Iraq think the Palestine-Israel conflict contributes substantially to Muslim extremism and to recruiting for groups such as al-Qaida and to Muslim peoples' dislike and hatred of the U.S. This contributes to the enduring wars and military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen, among other Muslim countries, including allies such as Turkey and Pakistan.

Third, Washington's objective during the past 10 months, especially the past two months, has been simply to indicate it is still a viable diplomatic presence and a possible partner in agreed negotiations.

Washington is eager to show it does not simply rely on naked military force and clientist authoritarian regimes to achieve its hegemony throughout the Middle East.

But even to achieve this limited goal is difficult.

There are now an estimated 550,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and some 200,000 living in Palestinian East Jerusalem. There are now an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 settlers east of the 750-mile barrier, nearly 500 miles which have been completed, that Israel has built to encapsulate Palestinians. And, as we have witnessed the past year, settlements continue apace.

The enduring, unbreakable relationship between the U.S. and Israel and the $6 billion to $7 billion in foreign and other aid provided to Israel by the U.S. still leave Washington with no clout.

Despite Israel's continuing settlement of the West Bank, this aid will not be diminished. Given this, Israel will continue policies Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are implementing.

There are seemingly only three choices for Israel to pursue.

One is to opt for a one-state solution. Given the large and strategically located Jewish settlements in the West Bank, it is geographically clear that the settlers and Palestinians are inextricably entangled with no hope of disentanglement.

The other option is for Israel to continue the apartheid policies it has followed for the last 43 years since the 1967 war with great success but at some cost to its domestic welfare and future, isolated in and by Middle East polities and international condemnation.

The current right-wing and chauvinist nationalist government in Israel will not accept a one-state solution. This was emphatically emphasized by Israel's cabinet passing a measure Nov. 9 that requires new non-Jewish citizens to pledge loyalty to it as a Jewish and democratic state — apparently disregarding the contradiction. Palestinians, including the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, objected to this outrageous and dispossessing measure.

The unviability of a continued apartheid policy in the long term and of the one-state solution policy on the other, suggest a third alternative.

This would consist of a continued apartheid policy with continued Jewish settlement restricting a growing Palestinian population to less and less land and an inability to sustain any viable economic livelihood.

This would be a policy of attrition by means of economic strangulation compelling Palestinians to immigrate in order to sustain a reasonable life.

While this policy could be implemented, it would cause strife with the countries to which the Palestinians immigrated or were expelled by Israel. But given the strong relationship between the authoritarian Arab regimes and the U.S, it might be able to be carried out.

But the fly in the honey is that the current government of Israel and those nationalist right-wing and religious parties that support it now advocate not only the continuance of Jewish settlement in the West Bank and the imposition of the apartheid policy ensconced in its economic straitjacket, but the transfer of Palestinian population from Israel to what is left of the West Bank and to other places.

Leiberman, and his Russia-dominated nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, along with the Shas Party largely comprised of Jews originating from North Africa, favor this policy.

Given that Washington can do little to change, or even affect, the last-mentioned option or even the other two mentioned above, one should not get hopes up of any reasonable — let alone just — resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict, but rather hope the U.S. maintains a sufficiently viable diplomatic presence in the region that will contribute to mitigating future conflicts.

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