03 December 2007

03 December 2007 - Stop the hysteria

I am very much in favor of negotiating agreements, and even attaching a certain urgency to the peace process. But Israeli and American leaders have been running around and telling everyone that the sky will fall on our heads if Annapolis fails. This strikes me as a dangerous sort of hysteria, especially given that the chances of success are small and that time is something Israel can, for once, afford.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Ha’aretz last week: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.” That doesn’t strike me as the wisest posture to strike going into a new round of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Olmert, by the way, seems to like inflating the power of American Jews to Mearsheimer-and-Walt-like proportions, and then doing the opposite. Last Wednesday, Olmert said: “The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us, because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents."

Earlier, however, on Monday, Olmert denied that Jews in the Diaspora had any say over the future of Jerusalem, saying that “the government of Israel has a sovereign right to negotiate anything on behalf of Israel.” Well, which is it? Are American Jews the masters of Israel’s fate? Or are they a marginal group, easily flicked aside? The real answer is neither, but for Olmert’s changing purposes they are both.

Adding to the desperate confusion, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice compared her experience growing up in the American South during the Jim Crow era to the experiences of both Israelis and Palestinians. That is not only inaccurate but unwise, because it might be construed as support for a single-state solution as the only means of bringing about “full integration.”

The peace process is very important. But it is not, at this stage, desperately important. The most urgent priorities are ending violence and terror in Gaza; improving the Palestinian economy; and forming a united front against Iran. Olmert and Rice are both effectively lame ducks. This might inspire them to work for peace, but their personal deadlines are not necessarily everyone else’s deadlines.

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