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Has the Obama administration made any progress toward Palestinian-Israeli peace?


Hoping for peace between Israel and Palestine is like hoping bacon triple cheeseburgers were healthy, your pet dog could live forever, and senior Bush administration officials were put on trial for torturing prisoners. Just because it would be nice doesn’t make it any less fantastical.

Still, every few years, we seem to get our hopes up that peace is around the corner — just a grip and grin on the White House lawn away.

Remember the 1978 Carter-brokered Camp David Accords? It was followed by the Israel-Lebanon war, the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Palestinian Intifada, and the rise of Hamas in Palestine. Camp David simply relocated the battlefronts. It didn’t end the war.

The Oslo Accords of 1993 were touted for creating the framework through which Palestinians could govern themselves and negotiate peace with Israel. They were followed seven years later by a second Camp David summit, which was followed by a massive escalation of the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

In 2002, Bush unveiled something he called the road map for peace. It was an extraordinarily vague list of bullet-pointed goals, basically: Step 1, be nice. Step 2, talk. Step 3, settle all deep-seated animosities and violent disagreements. Step 4, have peace.

To call it a peace plan is like ripping a page out of a cookbook and calling it dinner. Like nearly all of Bush’s foreign policy mishaps, the road map was a goal masquerading as a plan. Nothing came of it.

Obama hasn’t presented a peace plan yet, but he got a lot of people’s hopes up six months ago when he gave a speech at Cairo University
touting his commitment to the so-called two-state solution — the idea that Israel would relinquish control of the occupied West Bank, the blockaded Gaza Strip, and part of East Jerusalem for the formation of a Palestinian state. In exchange, Israel would get peace.

There was nothing especially meaty or shocking in the speech, but Obama’s comments acknowledging the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike contrasted sharply with the Bush administration’s chronic disregard for non-Israeli civilian casualties in the Middle East.

The only real policy-ish statement of note in the speech was Obama’s gentle demand that Israel stop expanding its illegal settlements in the West Bank. Right-wing Israeli politicians and many U.S. conservatives didn’t think it was so gentle. That’s not a surprise, though. They typically conflate “support for Israel” with “supporting the growth of Jewish settlements outside Israel’s border in the occupied West Bank.”

Interestingly, a majority of Israelis polled after the speech thought Obama’s demand was perfectly reasonable. Many Israelis and foreign supporters of Israel believe the West Bank settler movement isn’t just an obstacle to peace, but also a grave strategic error that threatens to undermine the viability of Israel itself.

But the worries of Americans and Israelis aren’t the only issues. The West Bank is home to nearly 2.5 million Palestinians. They matter, don’t they?

To them, Jewish settlement is a zero-sum enterprise. Each new Jewish settlement is a Palestinian loss — one less place for Palestinians to live or work. And each new settlement diminishes the viability of a Palestinian state. Palestine can’t be a country if its people can’t drive from town to town without enduring hours-long waits at Israeli checkpoints.

To the vanguard of the Israeli settler movement, diminishing the viability of two-state settlement is not a bad thing. Eliminating the geographic and political possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank is one of the movement’s goals. It’s a side effect of the “God willed us this land” religiosity that helps makes the dispute so intractable. “Location, location, location” is even more compelling when you believe God is your real estate agent.

After months of pressure, Israel’s government vaguely promised on Oct. 31 to “restrict” the growth of illegal settlements rather halt them. Shockingly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Israel’s humiliating rejection of Obama’s demand as an “unprecedented” breakthrough.

In an instant, all the hope for peace Obama conjured in Cairo last spring went the way of fat-free bacon cheeseburgers and immortal puppies.

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