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Obama’s Irrelevant Bid for Mideast Peace

The status quo hands the president a Mideast defeat.

by
Benjamin Kerstein

Bio

January 9, 2011 - 12:00 am
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What’s more, it is not at all clear that some of Abbas’ misgivings are any less ideological than Netanyahu’s. Though Fatah has been politically rehabilitated as the preferable alternative to Hamas’s violent and theocratic ideology, it remains a resolutely anti-Zionist organization. Abbas makes a show of pragmatism for peace with Israel, but his sincerity remains very much in question. Case in point: his rejection of the very idea of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

Most importantly, the current situation remains in stasis because there is precious little to motivate either side to change it. The truth is that the status quo is not, at the moment, a bad one. The West Bank is experiencing impressive economic growth, and the Israeli economy remains surprisingly stable despite global financial upheaval. Violence is at a minimum, security services are cooperating, and both sides have a common enemy in Hamas.

Something like peace, in other words, is taking shape in Israel and the West Bank, though neither side may be willing to call it that. It is now quite possible that drastic moves toward a formal agreement would cause more violence than they would prevent.

That said, there are long-term pressures on both parties that will not go away. For Israel, there are the settlements, and the looming demographic problem they represent. For the Palestinians, there is the powder keg of Islamic radicalism and the refugee issue.

Sooner or later, domestic pressure will begin to build on both Netanyahu and Abbas to deal with these problems. Abbas’ recent moves toward requesting international recognition of a Palestinian state may be one such reaction. Nonetheless, at the moment, both men seem to believe that the status quo is the best they can make of a bad situation. As a result, both have struggled, in a quiet but stubborn manner, to preserve it.

Despite the best efforts of a president desperate for a breakthrough and seemingly indifferent to the possible consequences, they appear to have emerged victorious.

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Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor who lives in Tel Aviv.
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