Can Obama swing a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-05-26
Perhaps encouraged by the impetus the killing of Osama bin Laden gave his administration, US President Barack Obama made a bold pitch when he recently proposed to Israel that they have to return to their pre-1967 Mideast War borders, if a lasting peace is to be attained with the Palestinians.

Speaking before the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference), Obama said: “The status quo is unsustainable. And that is why on Thursday I stated publicly the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims — the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians since at least the Clinton administration.”

He added: “Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. This will make it harder and harder — without a peace deal — to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.”

“Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.”

“Third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.”

“And just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years.  There’s a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab World — in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe. And that impatience is growing, and it’s already manifesting itself in capitals around the world.”

Obama warned: “But the march to isolate Israel internationally — and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations — will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative.  And for us to have leverage with the Palestinians, to have leverage with the Arab States and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success.”

Obama amplified his earlier proposal to return to pre-1967 Mideast War borders, which met stiff resistance from Israel. He said: “By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people — each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”

Indeed, there have been a lot of changes that are happening in the Middle East and Obama is right to counsel Israel to negotiate a lasting peace with the Palestinians. There is no predicting how the current People Power events in the region will reshape the Middle East. The less potential flashpoints there are, the better for the entire region.

The Palestinian problem has been a rallying point for the other Arabs who are promoting an anti-Israel stance. It has given Israel a lot of bad press all over the world where international media have successfully dramatized Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. An acceptable Israeli and Palestinian peace pact will diffuse a lot of Arab animosities towards Israel and its big patron, the US.

These are hard decisions for the Israelis to make. The Israeli setback when they last intruded into Lebanon demonstrated that fortunes are unpredictable in war. Israel should also consider that their patron, the US, is a superpower on the decline and should China and Russia decide to back the anti-Israel states — they’ll be confronted by tremendous odds.

By themselves, the Palestinians can hardly threaten Israel. The best they can do is to make life miserable for the Israelis. It is the involvement of other Arab states, especially if these Arab states are supported by either China or Russia, which is worrisome.

The Israelis and Palestinians are the exact opposite of Filipinos. Over here many Filipinos are clueless when it comes to our real history. The Israelis and Palestinians, on the other hand, are bogged down by bitter memories of the past. They’re both rendered immobile by the traumatic experiences of their respective histories. The bitter memories prevent them from trusting in the prospects of a lasting peace.

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