President Obama is going to lay out his new Middle East policy this week including a new attempt to force a start to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We can discuss later a fact which we have discussed many times before, namely the fact that there is virtually no chance of substantial progress is any such negotiations any time soon for a whole variety of reasons. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority seems to be in need of being helped out of the corner into which it painted itself (threatening to abandon all previous agreements and trusting in a combination of violent uprising and the UN General Assembly). Unless it is helped out, the Palestinian Authority could end up sending the conflict back to the way it was pre-1979 with Egypt and Jordan undoing peace agreements as a demonstration of support for the Palestinians. The leaders of the United States and European Union don’t want that, so here comes the new Middle East policy.
The reality is that in any new policy, the President has three options:
- Throw Israel under the bus and force it to make concessions in order to appease the Arab street while enabling the Palestinian side to avoid making even minor concessions and enabling the Palestinians to strengthen their demands for unreasonable future concessions.
- Throw the Palestinians under the bus and demand that either Fatah reject working with Hamas or that Hamas publicly renounce armed struggle against Israel and actively combat it. The US would threaten to cut off aid to the PA.
- Throw both sides under the bus, proposing a solution that is impossible for either side to support publicly for certain, but possibly in private as well, and which will have no impact on the ground (because neither side will be able to accommodate it). This will allow the President to appear to be boldly offering a new solution.
There is no “Win-Win” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are “lose-lose” scenarios and some of them are pretty drastic. More than likely, the President will offer a “lose-lose” scenario, throwing both sides under the bus, that will upset Israel more than the Palestinians in the hope that Israel will opt to take it rather than facing a “lose-win” scenario. A problem arises however in that the Palestinians may believe that if they hold out, they will eventually get their own “win-lose” option anyway.
For any solution proposed by the United States to have any impact, it has to be made abundantly clear by the administration that it will support an Israeli biased solution if whatever is proposed is not accepted by the Palestinians. There must be a credible threat that the Palestinian side could get worse than what is offered and little hope that it could get better if that option is not chosen. Meanwhile, no one should be holding their breath that whatever is proposed will lead to a final peace agreement anytime soon.