Election won’t remake Mideast

by Ramzy Baroud

LONDON — U.S. President George W. Bush sounded much less uncertain of his peace “vision” when he received the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on Sept. 25.

Certainly much has changed since the November 2007 conference in Annapolis, Maryland, where Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exhorted that a Palestinian state could be created only by moderate forces, thus designating Hamas and other Palestinian groups as enemies of peace. They marked the end of 2008 as the deadline for an agreement to create that state.

If the last 10 months are a lesson, it is that the Bush administration is not ready to abandon its pro-Israel position — which has jeopardized any real chance at true peacemaking. Nor is the Israeli government under Ehud Olmert ready or willing to advance the cause of peace.

It also became obvious that Abbas is hopelessly ineffectual in exercising any pressure, or holding any leverage to determine the speed or direction of peace negotiations with Israel. This, once again, reinforces the belief that the re-launch of peace talks under American auspices was a strategic choice pertinent to isolating Hamas following its election victory in January 2006 and its clash with Fatah in the summer of last year.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat reportedly conveyed Bush’s pledge to Abbas, made “behind closed doors,” according to AFP, “that if a Palestinian state does not come about during his presidency, it will happen in the near future, not more than a year.”

If true, this would be the first indication that the 2008 yearend deadline is being abandoned as unrealistic. But can a truly viable and just peace agreement be achieved within “not more than a year” of Bush’s departure?

There are no indications that a Barack Obama presidency with Joe Biden as vice president, or John McCain with Sarah Palin, will make a measurable difference following eight years of Bush-Cheney leadership. One difference, however, is that Bush disowned the peace process altogether in his early years in office. The next president is likely to avoid such a miscalculation.

Various factors contributed to Bush’s reluctant return to his self-declared role as a peace broker. One was the death of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, and another was the need to create a distraction from the Iraq fiasco. Abbas was created to present the antithesis of Arafat as a legitimate statesman. He was further bolstered after the political rise of Hamas, whose existence was presented as the only obstacle to the peace process.

But will Obama-Biden, or McCain-Palin, approach the Middle East’s toughest conflict differently, especially as Israel is itself being shaped by a seemingly major political reformation with the advent of Tzipi Livni as Israel’s next prime minister?

Presuming that Livni’s Kadima party victory on Sept. 18 will yield a stable government or coalition that keeps her at the helm, one finds it difficult to believe that any combination of future Israeli-U.S. administrations will bring about a satisfactory peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. This is not sheer pessimism or even an empirical review of history, but simply the failure of the names above to exhibit any promising signs of change.

Obama’s groveling before Israel at the recent American-Israeli Public Action Committee’s conference and his increasingly hawkish foreign policy stances — consistent with the expectations of Israel and its friends — was meant to “assure” Israel and its backers that Obama’s Muslim middle name will not interfere with the “historic responsibility” that every U.S. administration must feel toward Israel. His devastating comments declaring Jerusalem the “undivided capital of Israel” was a violation not only of international law but of America’s own foreign policy.

Obama’s choice of Sen. Joe Biden, a devout “friend of Israel” who tenaciously declared in an interview with Jewish-American cable network Shalom TV that “I am a Zionist,” was intended as further evidence that his love for Israel is unmatched, undying.

Nonetheless, the Obama-Biden ticket is faced with real competition in McCain-Palin, who represent an ideal manifestation of everything that compels many Americans to stand for Israel, right or wrong: One is a hawkish militancy and the other is religious extremism.

It’s this mix of militancy — McCain is willing to stay in Iraq as long as it takes, and bomb Iran on a whim — and religious zeal — Palin comprehends world affairs in biblical terms, and the Iraq war as a mission from God — that Israel and its Washington backers find particularly comforting. This mind-set guarantees unqualified support for Israel’s occupation and war adventures in the Middle East, and ignites the passion, plus political and financial support, for Israel among a growing constituency of Christian Zionists.

Whoever is chosen to dwell in the White House is likely to maintain the “special relationship” between his country and Israel. If they differ on anything it will be on the type of symbolism that would accompany the tangible support.

A McCain presidency is likely to infuse more religious characterizations of the U.S.-Israeli rapport and continue to champion the Israeli cause separate from the sentiments of the United Nations and the European Union. An Obama administration will likely emphasize the need to enlist the support of the international community, but only to maintain the existing regime of unconditional support for Israel, which often means the isolation and targeting of Israel’s enemies.

A similar assertion can be made regarding Israel. Regardless of whether Livni manages to prevail over Israel’s stormy politics and shaky coalitions, or whether Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu manages to snatch a win in possible general elections, the outcome is likely to remain the same as far as the peace process is concerned.

Livni would likely maintain the charade of a peace process to no particular end: maintaining the illusion of peacemaking, but never a real peace. Netanyahu is likely to stall, delay and postpone his dealings with Palestinians, to please his more hawkish supporters. Different approaches, same outcome.

Similarly, Livni will exploit the unconditional U.S. support of Israel and whatever agenda she finds suitable for her country’s “security” needs. A worldly Livni with experience in foreign policy and international espionage is likely to present a better match with an Obama-Biden administration.

Livni is an intelligent, shrewd and calculating rightwing politician with reasonable foreign policy experience. She would certainly struggle to explain Israel’s war and regime change doctrine — the original Bush Doctrine — to Palin, who has repeatedly proved to be clueless in foreign policy matters and much else.

There are no signs that change, true change is, coming regardless of who wins the White House and regardless of who rules Israel. The fact remains that the relationship that governs the U.S.-Israeli love affair is much more convoluted, deep-rooted and institutionalized to be affected by the exit of one man.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle.”