Friday, December 10, 2010

"Bad Faith" among the Faith-Based

The current state of play in negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians has now become blatantly pathetic.  The week began with Israel successfully pressuring the United States to give up on pressuring Israel to cease settlement-building;  and, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been trying to be diplomatic about this mess, prevailing Palestinian opinion seems to agree that the United States has now forfeited any credibility that it can serve as an honest broker in mediating talks between Israel and the Palestinians.  Now a group of former leaders of European Union (EU) countries is trying to enter the discourse by establishing more acceptable “honest broker credentials.”

These leaders have distributed a letter that recognizes settlement-building as a violation of international law to which Israel should be held accountable.  In other words they have composed a “frank and open” statement of what needs to be done as a precondition for meaningful peace negotiations.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that it does not look like the current EU Administration is going to buy this message and will probably hold to the United States party line.  Meanwhile, the reaction from the Israeli foreign ministry has been to declare this attempt at straightening out the rules of engagement for peace negotiations as “a giant leap of bad faith.”

No words could better capture the extent to which the peace process has deteriorated to name-calling between black pots and kettles.  It is because the United States has continued to support Israel in the face of Israeli intransigence to show any sign of good faith that our own country has contaminated its honest-broker reputation.  Now it appears that the contamination has spread to EU policy.

It thus seems fair to acknowledge those who have tried so hard to find a better way.  The initiative appears to have come from Javier Solana, former EU Minister for Foreign Affairs.  According to the BBC report on his action, those who have signed on with him include “Romano Prodi and Giuliano Amato of Italy, Richard von Weizsaecker and Helmut Schmidt of Germany, Mary Robinson of Ireland, Felipe Gonzalez of Spain and Norway's Thorvald Stoltenberg.”  This is not a case of partisan politics, as it is in the United States, where it is virtually impossible to hold any significant office without a nod of approval from the American Israel Public Affairs Council (AIPAC).  Now we see the extent to which the partisanship of the United States can interfere with clear-headed deliberations at the EU level of governance.

Israel is clearly pursuing a strategy of exhaustion.  They figure that all they have to do is hold their hard line until everyone else gets tired of trying to break it.  They are far from the first to have engaged this strategy.  Nevertheless, someone should be asking just what consequences are likely to ensue if they succeed.

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