Aid de­rails peace po­ten­tial

$38 bil­lion in lever­age to­ward putting an end to the Is­rael-Pales­tine con­flict is now gone

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Richard C. Gross Richard C. Gross, a for­mer cor­re­spon­dent and bureau chief in Is­rael and for­eign edi­tor of United Press In­ter­na­tional, re­tired as opin­ion page edi­tor of The Bal­ti­more Sun. He lives in New Mex­ico, and his email is rcg51@com­cast.net.

The late eru­dite Is­raeli for­eign min­is­ter, Abba Eban, was quoted widely for once hav­ing said “the Arabs never miss an op­por­tu­nity to miss an op­por­tu­nity” for peace. The same could ap­ply re­cently to the Amer­i­cans.

The United States signed a deal to give Is­rael $3.8 bil­lion a year over the next 10 years be­gin­ning in 2018 — a to­tal of $38 bil­lion — in what Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Su­san E. Rice char­ac­ter­ized as the big­gest mil­i­tary as­sis­tance pack­age to an­other coun­try in U.S. his­tory.

The pact was con­sum­mated de­spite Wash­ing­ton’s re­peated com­plaints about Is­raeli set­tle­ment build­ing in the oc­cu­pied West Bank and plans to de­mol­ish the Pales­tinian vil­lage of Susya in the area, all vir­tu­ally ig­nored by the govern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.

At the same time, there has been talk in Wash­ing­ton of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tak­ing a last stab at try­ing to spur a peace agree­ment be­tween the Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans. He tried that at the out­set of his pres­i­dency nearly eight years ago, and the ef­fort fell flat, cre­at­ing ev­er­last­ing en­mity be­tween him and Mr. Ne­tanyahu that wors­ened over the Iran nu­clear deal.

A re­newed U.S. peace ef­fort may be an at­tempt at one-up­man­ship as Rus­sia seeks to per­suade Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans to meet in Moscow to dis­cuss pos­si­bil­i­ties for an agree­ment. The Rus­sians al­ready have shown up the Amer­i­cans in Syria, and an­other diplo­matic set­back for Wash­ing­ton in the Mid­dle East, which it con­sid­ers its tra­di­tional area of in­flu­ence, cer­tainly would be an em­bar­rass­ment.

So why did Wash­ing­ton agree to give Is­rael $3.8 bil­lon a year — up from $3.1 bil­lion — and thereby sur­ren­der any lever­age the United States may have in try­ing to bring the Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans to­gether? Couldn’t it wait?

U.S. at­tempts at en­gi­neer­ing an Is­raeliPales­tinian peace are nearly as old as Is­rael’s cap­ture of the West Bank, among other ter­ri­to­ries, in the 1967 Arab-Is­raeli war. Mr. Obama merely sought to carry on what has be­come a cottage in­dus­try tra­di­tion, to no avail. The U.S. has agreed to give Is­rael $38 bil­lion in aid over 10 years, be­gin­ning in 2018. Here, lead­ers of the two coun­tries shake hands fol­low­ing a 2014 meet­ing at the White House.

J Street, the more lib­eral al­ter­na­tive to the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, Is­rael’s lead­ing lob­by­ist in Wash­ing­ton, hailed the new de­fense pact but couldn’t help prod­ding Mr. Obama to con­sider last-ditch “ef­forts to forge peace be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans.”

In a state­ment, it sug­gested a “ma­jor speech lay­ing out the pos­si­ble pa­ram­e­ters of a peace agree­ment and po­ten­tially seek­ing to en­shrine those prin­ci­ples in a new United Nations res­o­lu­tion” — op­tions the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­port­edly has been dis­cussing.

Mr. Obama served no­tice af­ter the sign­ing of the aid deal that the United States will con­tinue “to press for a two-state so­lu­tion to the long­stand­ing Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, de­spite the deeply trou­bling trends on the ground that un­der­mine this goal. As I have em­pha­sized pre­vi­ously, the only way for Is­rael to en­dure and thrive as a Jewish and demo­cratic state is through the re­al­iza­tion of an in­de­pen­dent and vi­able Pales­tine.”

Good luck with that so long as Mr. Ne­tanyahu re­mains in power. If any­one thinks the un­prece­dented aid pack­age will nudge Mr. Ne­tanyahu to­ward a peace pact with the Pales­tini­ans, think his­tory: There have been lots of sound, lots of fury over the decades about Is­rael sur­ren­der­ing all or part of the West Bank, and vir­tu­ally noth­ing to show for it.

In a video be­fore the sign­ing cer­e­mony in Wash­ing­ton, Mr. Ne­tanyahu thanked the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion “for this his­toric agree­ment” and made a pass­ing ref­er­ence to the thorny peace process as “dis­putes you have be­tween fam­ily.”

“This agree­ment,” he said, ac­cord­ing to the on­line Times of Is­rael, “demon­strates the sim­ple truth that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Is­rael and the U.S. is strong and pow­er­ful.” Ap­par­ently not pow­er­ful enough. With $38 bil­lion in lever­age gone with the strokes of two pens and Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s stiff re­sis­tance to an agree­ment with the Pales­tini­ans, in part to sat­isfy his na­tion­al­ist and con­ser­va­tive con­stituency, there is lit­tle chance for a peace agree­ment any time soon.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu is fore­most a politi­cian and has mouthed plat­i­tudes about mak­ing peace with­out any fol­low-through. Sounds good, but that’s it.

OLIVIER DOULIERY/MCT

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