There is a worrisome paragraph in a New York Times article, which is otherwise encouraging in indicating that the Obama administration is learning its limits in the Middle East.
"But other goals appear to have been dictated as much as by personnel as by policy. After vigorous debate, the group decided to make the Middle East peace process a top priority — even after failing to broker an agreement during the administration’s first term — in part because Mr. Kerry had already thrown himself into the role of peacemaker
In short, the world's most powerful country, which many view as a model of how things should be done, has identified as a major policy goal something which many see as likely to fail, in order to give one of its players something to do.
As Grandma would have said, "God help us."
Yet another NYT article reports in some detail what has been widely apparent--among thoughtful Palestinians and Israelis--that forcing talks when the sides are far apart on issues sensitive to both of them is a bad recipe, likely make things worse.
For some years now, the West Bank economy of the Palestinians has been developing incrementally, with investment from the Palestinian diaspora, fewer incidents of violence, a reduction in Israeli security controls, a continuing increase in the number of Palestinians given permits to work in Israel, and industrial investments by Israelis in or near Jewish settlements that provide work for additional Palestinians.
The article reports that the participants are sticking to US policy to keep meeting, and keep quiet about what is being said in those meetings. However, participants appear to be playing an American game, for a fixed number of months, and not getting far into the substance of important issues
A recent uptick in Palestinian violence suggests what may come with the ending of John Kerry's game plan for a region where neither he nor his boss has to satisfy the voters. The NYT article reports three Israelis and seven Palestinians killed. Multiply those numbers by about a few hundred in order to approach what happened in Intifada #2, and you might be close to what may come with Intifada #3.
What also will gone are all those jobs in Israel for Palestinians. And if Palestinian violence and Israel's response is anything like Intifada #2, then the Palestinians can say goodbye to a lot of what they have built for housing, commerce, and industry.
It is not only American meddling that is likely to make things worse. The European Union's threat of sanctions against Israeli activity over the 1967 lines may end Palestinian jobs in firms created by Israeli investors.
American aspirations have dire prospects beyond those already mentioned. Washington do-gooders are learning only slowly about the Middle East. From all the signs, they have not yet learned to balance norms in favor of democracy with the realities of Islam. Reducing aid to the present Egyptian regime has not only upset Egyptians and Saudis--for whom the adjective "moderate" is as appropriate as it is anywhere among Muslim countries--but will threaten Israel and bring its own reactions due to the weakening of the Egyptian campaign against extremists in Gaza and the Sinai.
This week's Israeli headlines emphasize occurrences associated with Washington violating the key policy making principle, Don't make things worse.
One item is the second round of releasing Palestinian prisoners, agreed by Israel as part of the price for getting the Palestinians to the table. Another is what Israel demanded as its price for releasing the prisoners, i.e., a recognition that it would continue building in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and in West Bank settlements.
The cost to the Palestinians and John Kerry for Israel releasing another 20-30 prisoners--who committed more serious offenses more recently than the first group released--may be more than a thousand additional apartments beyond the 1967 lines.
Both the prisoner release and the construction plans are each angering those who could be expected to be angry in Palestine and Israel. Neither is likely to advance the spirit of peace.
Israel's should not claim that America has a monopoly of nuttiness in high places. If Sheldon Adelson falls at least partly on our side of the fence, he goes a long way toward balancing the phenomenon of dangerous amateurism in the White House.
We can argue whether nuking Iran in order to force it into giving up its own nuclear program is more or less wise than John Kerry pressuring Israelis and Palestinians into what he calls a peace process.
We do better by ourselves.
Palestine was developing nicely, perhaps to no imaginary end goal that would please Washington, but to something substantially better than what the Palestinians had earlier in terms of well being and security.
We understand the appeal of bringing peace to the Promised Land.
Better for all of us, however, would be for the key players in the White House to deal with the nastier parts of what they are more likely to understand. They can begin with the ghettos of Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington, and smoothing out the onset of Obamacare.
If there are other problems in the US, we'll give up claims on White House attention for their sake.
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