One way to keep Bibi Netanyahu from making trouble is to keep him so busy meeting US envoys and diplomats that he doesn’t have time for anything else. That appears to be President Obama’s strategy this week, since Netanyahu will be meeting with a veritable avalanche of Americans, including: George Mitchell, the US special envoy; Jim Jones, Obama’s national security adviser; Robert Gates, the holdover secretary of defense who is showing no signs that he intends to go away; and Dennis Ross, the neocon-linked NSC official whose actual job remains ever vague.
Unless this is an covert effort to push Israeli hotel prices higher during the tourist season, the goal of the US effort seems to be to prepare Israel for what may, in fact, be a serious effort by the United States to resolve the Palestine conflict. There’ve been rumors floating that Obama may be thinking about proposing the outlines of a comprehensive US peace plan as early as this September. If so, it would be a plan that goes far beyond the nasty dispute over Jewish “settlements” — i.e., massive, concrete and asphalt cities being built in the environs of Jerusalem and around the West Bank — to include the elements of a final status agreement.
Or, on the other hand, Obama can do what AIPAC wants, namely, to continue to call for endless negotiations between the two sides.
It’s been known for many years, or decades, what that might look like: the establishment of state called Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, within borders slightly modified from the 1967 lines acceptable to both sides, with Palestine’s capital in now-occupied East Jerusalem, an accord on Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homeland, etc.
A question is: what sort of guarantees will Obama promise Israel to get them to feel more secure? General Jones, the former NATO commander, is an advocate for stationing US and/or NATO troops in between Israel and Palestine, not as a fighting force but as observers and guarantors. Presumably, though Israel would insist that Palestine be “demilitarized,” General Dayton and his US team of military advisers, who’ve been working closely with Jordan and the Palestinians, would accelerate their efforts to create Palestinian army and police units. There’s talk about a formal US security guarantee for Israel, though what form that would take isn’t clear. And some, including pro-Israel neocons in the United States, have proposed bringing Israel into NATO. Last week, Hillary Clinton proposed what sounded like a “nuclear umbrella” over Israel and the Arab states as a guarantee against an acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, and there’s no doubt that the US will provide assurances to Israel about Iran. (In fact, however, the threat from Iran is wildly hyped by Israel and its allies, and there is much less there than meets the eye.)
Mitchell is trying to complete the package by working hard to bring Syria into the mix, which would be useful for several reasons — because it would split Syria and Iran, because it would allow Syria to put some pressure on Hamas to make a deal with Fatah to re-unify the Palestinian movement, and because Syria could be helpful in reining in Hezbollah in Lebanon, especially now that Hezbollah has suffered an electoral setback in the June vote. After Mitchell’s meeting with President Assad of Syria, Assad’s spokesman said: “The messages coming to us from President Obama stress his administration’s determination and resolve to open a new page with Syria.”
A new report by the Center for American Progress says that the Israel-Palestine conflict is in “stalemate,” but it says there is a “window of opportunity” to get things rolling, and it proposed four steps: a plan for Palestinian elections, the strengthening of Palestinian institutions, steps to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and “a public outreach and strategic communications effort in the Middle East outlining U.S. regional strategy, with increased attention to Israeli public opinion.” The Center suggests “moving quickly toward first negotiating permanent borders between Israel and the West Bank.” But the report stops well short of recommending that the United States put forward its own ideas on what a solution might look like.