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Alignment of Views on the Middle East a Little Too Serendipitous

March 12, 2012 ·

Reports of the death of Palestinian hopes have been greatly exaggerated.

Of course it was a coincidence. Of course. Even if it did sound to me like talking points.

A number of pundits and reporters came to the same conclusion at about the same time. To wit (as one of them put it), “the Palestinian leadership has found itself orphaned. Politically divided, its peace talks with Israel collapsed and its foreign support waning, the Palestinian Authority is sidelined, confused and worried that its people may return to violence.”

Those are the words of soon-to-be-ex New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner. They appeared March 7 on the paper’s web site in advance of his story – “Mideast Din Drowns out Palestinians” – that showed up above the fold in the print edition the following day.

Coincidently, on March 8, Reuters carried a report by correspondent Noah Browning titled “Amid Iran war of words, Palestinians are forgotten,” which contained this colorful bit of analysis: “A monumental wooden chair erected in Ramallah to symbolize the Palestinians' sought-after United Nations seat collapsed this week after months of wind and rain. Bulldozers quietly took away the shattered remains by night.

“It's (sic) collapse and stealthy removal could well serve as an emblem of Palestinian hopes for statehood.”

Palestinian officials are said to be drafting a statement setting forth guidelines for the resumption of peace talks with Tel Aviv. In Browning’s view, “The Israelis will certainly reject the demands, if they ever arrive, and will face no international pressure to back down, with world attention fixed firmly on the Iranian nuclear row.”

Browning’s obituary for Palestinian hopes for a settlement appeared the day after Bronner’s. The same day, Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine, a neo-conservative monthly, wrote:

"For decades, the chattering classes have been working hard to teach us that the central issue of the region was not the Shia-Sunni conflict or the struggle for freedom by Arabs longing to rid themselves of autocratic monarchs or dictators. The belief in the centrality of the Palestinian issue was so strong that every other consideration had to be subordinated to the cause of trying to assuage the anger of the Muslim world at their plight. But in the past year, the main subjects of discussion have been the Arab Spring revolts and the debate over how best to stop the Iranian nuclear threat. The result is that the world is getting on with its business these days without obsessing about the Palestinians. Even President Obama, who had picked an annual fight with Israel, chose this year to abandon his usual attempt to pressure Israel into concessions to the Palestinians."

Tobin’s piece (“Who Marginalized the Palestinians?”) cited Bronner’s, “the “substance” of which was, he wrote, that “The Palestinian answer to their dilemma is much like that of a child who threatens to hold his breath until he turns blue.”

Those words were not in the version of the article he wrote the night before that dealt with the pending unity agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. It said, “The lack of alarm, or even much worry, about the impact of Hamas on the peace process makes it clear that not only is there no more peace process to worry about, but that the Palestinians have made themselves irrelevant.”

“Where once the international chattering classes doted upon every aspect of Palestinian politics in a way that confirmed the prevalent myth that Israel’s antagonists were truly at the heart of all the problems of the Middle East, it is no longer possible for even their cheerleaders and apologists to pretend this is so. In the 18+ years since the signing of the Oslo Accords,” wrote Tobin. “The Palestinians have talked and bombed their way not only out of peace and the independent state they claimed they wanted but also off the front pages. While supporters of Israel still keep their eyes on the goings-on in Ramallah and Gaza, the rest of the world is gradually moving on.”

All of U.S. President Barack Obama’s initiatives “to push the Israelis to give in on Jerusalem, settlements, and the 1967 borders have been rendered moot by the Palestinian refusal to negotiate” wrote Tobin. “At this point, and with his campaign staff worried about shoring up his popularity in an election year, any further attention paid to the Palestinians is not only bad policy but also a waste of time. Though the Palestinians’ erstwhile European friends have no such worries, even they have figured out there are other more pressing issues.”

In the same haughty, arrogant spirit, Tobin went on to declare, “there is little the world can do” for the Palestinians “unless they decide to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Until they do so — and that seems unlikely for the foreseeable future — they are going to have to reconcile themselves to being marginal players on the world stage rather than the focus of the world’s sympathy.”

The coincidence of this theme of Palestinian defeat and isolation by Bonner, Browning and Tobin, all appearing within a 24-hour period coinciding with the gathering in Washington of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance there, and his meeting with President Obama is as fascinating as it is troubling. An effort to get that message out was, however, foreseen.

“Peace talks with the Palestinians dominated President Barack Obama's meeting last year with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but will barely warrant a mention at their White House session Monday or in speeches to a powerful pro-Israeli lobby,” Associated Press reporters Bradley Klapper and Matthew Lee wrote March 3. “Iran is now the issue commanding urgent attention.”

The Palestinians “probably will not get much more than a passing reference by the U.S. and Israeli officials, lawmakers, GOP presidential hopefuls and others” at the AIPAC conference “nor in the Obama –Netanyahu meeting in the Oval Office,” the AP story read. “Shifting focus from the seemingly intractable Mideast conflict has political advantages for both Obama and Netanyahu, even if they also don't see eye to eye on the preferred tactics to prevent Iran from being a nuclear-armed state.”

As the country’s “pro-Israel advocates gather again, the call for peace with the Palestinians has succumbed to fever-pitched talk of military action against Iran,” Klapper and Lee wrote. 

"Putting the peace process on the back burner has not solved any of the underlying tension and mistrust between the Obama administration and Netanyahu government," Haim Malka, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AP. "If anything, tension over the Palestinian issue has been eclipsed by bilateral tension over how to address Iran's nuclear program."

“Relegating the peace process to the background is a coup for Netanyahu. His government has brushed aside American criticism of Jewish settlement expansion in lands the Palestinians want for their future state, and has insisted on Palestinian concessions, notably their endorsement of Israel's Jewish character, before any talk of granting Palestinian independence,” concluded Klapper and Lee.

The issue of Palestine and the occupation is not going away – even if Netanyahu and perhaps Obama wish it to. The Palestinian leadership is hardly likely to remain holed up in Ramallah ruing their alleged impotence until next year. Tobin’s notion that they “are going to have to reconcile themselves to being marginal players on the world stage rather than the focus of the world’s sympathy” is a pipe dream.

Gershom Gorenberg wrote on the American Prospect site March 7 that a count of the words devoted to each subject in his AIPAC speech “shows that Netanyahu has succeeded in defining the agenda in U.S.-Israel relations as being all Iran, all the time. Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, truly the key to Israel's future, has been demoted to less than a distraction.”

“Compare this year's speeches to last year's,” wrote Gorenberg. Addressing AIPAC in 2011, Obama devoted about 200 words of a 3,000-word speech to Iran. The concluding section, nearly half the speech, portrayed the urgent need for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, ‘based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.’ This year, the proportions were reversed: Obama spent less than 200 words defending the very fact that he'd ever engaged in peace efforts. His long crescendo dealt with Iran. Last year, Netanyahu had to declare, ‘Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a vital interest for us,’ even while putting all blame for the failure to achieve it on the other side. This year he felt free to leave the word ‘Palestinian’ out completely.

“That doesn't mean the issue has disappeared. There's nothing static about the status quo. Two weeks ago, an Israeli planning authority approved nearly 700 new homes in settlements in an area north of Ramallah that Israel would have to give up in any two-state accord. Palestinian frustration with the diplomatic stalemate is growing; the only question is whether it will explode in violent or non-violent protest. Even conservative European leaders such as Germany's Angela Merkel are tired of Netanyahu's policies. Without a two-state agreement, international pressure to declare a single state between the Mediterranean and Jordan will grow—a ‘solution’ almost certain to be disastrous.”

Carl Bloice, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, is a columnist for the Black Commentator. He also serves on its editorial board.