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Points East & West

Emanuele Ottolenghi in Brussels ‘A comprehensive peace deal in the Middle East? Not this year’

Of all the things that might happen in 2010, peace between Israel and the Palestinians won’t be one of them. Any seasonal pledge for peace in the region has to be taken with a large grain of salt. We’ve been here before.

Remember President Bill Clinton? These are some of the many things he did to try and bring peace to the Middle East: 13 September 1993: Clinton hosts the Oslo accords ceremony at the White House. 4 May 1994: His Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, contributes to the finalising of the Cairo Agreement in an all-night session that leads to the signing of the Gaza-Jericho deal. 26 October 1994: Attends the signing ceremony of the Jordan-Israel peace agreement. 13 March 1996: Attends the Sharm alSheikh “peacemakers” summit to rally support for beleaguered Israeli PM Shimon Peres after four horrific terror attacks have undermined his bid for re-election in Israel. 30 April 1996: Hosts Peres in Washington in a high-profile meeting designed to help Peres’s election bid. 2 October 1996: Summons Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Jordan’s King Hussein to the White House for a two-day emergency summit to quell violence between Israel and the PA. 15-22 October 1998: Hosts a week of talks at the Wye River Plantation. 8 December 1999: Opens Shepherdstown talks between Israeli and Syrian teams. 8 February 1999: Attends King Hussein’s funeral in Amman. 27 March 2000: Flies to Geneva to meet the Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in a bid to forge an agreement between Syria and Israel. 12-24 July 2000: Hosts Camp David summit (and delays his departure for the G-8 summit in Japan), giving his active input throughout the talks. 8 October 2000: Sends Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Paris to help curtail the second intifada. 22 October 2000: Attends the Sharm alSheikh summit designed to conclude a ceasefire between Israel and the PA. 23 December 2000: Issues the “Clinton Parameters” for peace in the Middle East.

Then came the second intifada, and

President George W. Bush, understandably, put the whole thing on the back-burner. Even so, bolstered by a belief that if only America would engage, peace was within reach, the contours of the agreement were known to all and it was the fault of “extremists on both sides”, President Bush invested a considerable amount of energy in peacemaking.

In 2001, Senator George Mitchell was despatched to the region. In May 2003, Bush met the then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the Aqaba summit in Jordan. He endorsed the Road Map for peace and for the first time committed America to the vision of a two-state solution. In 2007 he convened the Annapolis conference. By then, many a leader would boast that 2008 would be “the year of peace”. And so would 2009, even though all the evidence suggested the contrary.

Much of that hope came from the mere fact that Barack Obama had succeeded Bush. There was hardly a change on the ground, let alone a seachange among those factors that help or hinder peace.

And as always happens when hope is fed by delusion, Obama’s first 12 months in office have done more harm than good. As 2010 begins, it is hard to see an improvement. Obama has managed to raise Palestinians’ expectations only to fail toexact the undeliverable price he promised them from Israel. No Arab country gave him even a nudge—let alone a concession to sweeten Israel’s bitter pill. With America doing the Palestinians’ bidding, the mood in Ramallah has become less, not more, amenable to compromise. And then there’s the little issue of Hamas in Gaza—one which makes any talk of peace pointless until the Palestinian body politic gets its house in order and decides whether an Islamist pipedream is the future it wants.

Many upsets may happen this year which are hard to predict. Will there be a Republican takeover of Congress? Will Iran test a nuclear device? Or will Israel strike Iran’s nuclear facilities first? Will Brazil, England or Italy win the World Cup?

It’s hard to say, but a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement is most certainly not on the cards. Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

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January/February 2010

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