As “peace talks” begin between Washington, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Reza Aslan writes in the Daily Beast that nobody should get excited (including the feckless media which seem to love reporting on renewed colour and movement):
I recognize that those of us in the media who want peace for Israel and dignity for Palestine are supposed to gush enthusiasm and feign optimism every time a U.S. president gathers the Israeli and Palestinian leaders together in the same room. The situation in the region has become so desperate that we have no choice but to put away our skepticism and confidently declare that “this time things are different… this time there’s hope” (Exhibit A: Martin Indyk in The New York Times).
But it’s hard to be optimistic when we have been using the same playbook for decades and have not come one inch closer to a peaceful resolution to the conflict (Exhibit B: the Madrid Conference, the Oslo Accords, the Hebron Agreement, the Wye Agreement, Camp David, the Sharm El-Sheikh Summit, the Road Map to Peace…). A right-wing Israeli coalition, ruled by a prime minister whose party platform explicitly rejects the possibility of a two-state solution, and a powerless Palestinian leadership at war with itself does not inspire confidence that this time things will be different, this time there is hope.
Wasn’t the whole point of electing Barack Obama to throw away the playbook altogether? Isn’t this the president who staked his reputation on his ability to think outside of the box? Why is it then that, when it comes to the Middle East peace process, he is relying on the same policies—indeed, the same personnel!—that have repeatedly failed to move the Israelis and Palestinians one step closer to peace?
What does “thinking outside of the box” look like? It begins by abandoning the Bush-era idea of trying to play Hamas and Fatah against each other and discarding the notion that the Palestinians can be neatly divided between a “moderate” pro-America camp and “extremist” anti-America one (Robert Malley and Peter Harling make this point brilliantly in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs). It requires negotiating with Hamas, as both the former director of Mossad and the former head of Israel’s National Security Council have advised, instead of continuing to pretend we can ignore the most dynamic political and social force in the region (Is there anyone left who actually believes that isolating Hamas in Gaza has made it weaker?). It demands that the U.S. tie the billions of dollars in aid that the Israelis and Palestinians receive each year from American taxpayers to their respective obligations in working toward a two-state solution. And it requires doing more than just talking about a Palestinian state, but actually making it a reality.
Here’s a deadline that would actually make a difference: Instead of pretending that all final-status negotiations will be resolved in a year, Obama should announce that on September 1, 2012—two years from the start of this newest round of talks—the United States government, along with the European Union and the United Nations, will be ready to officially recognize the existence of an independent Palestinian state. Ready or not.