The red carpets are laid out for the coming of another American President, who like his predecessors, arrives bearing an olive branch. The only problem is that there is no one to hand the branch to. More so, as is becoming apparent in several media reports, the Americans are aiming extremely high, seeking to revive the frozen Peace Process within the framework of the so-called 2002 Saudi Initiative.
For those who have forgoten, this initiative basically says to Israel: resolve all territorial issues with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon, and you’ll get recognition and peace from all Muslim states (except Iran). Sounds tempting, right?
The Americans are apparently convinced that there is a real chance that Netanyahu and the Palestinians can find a formula within the initiative’s umbrella. New Secretary of State Kerry is spearheading this theory based on the belief that the Saudis can offer Israel and the Palestinians incentives that are currently lacking in the jammed bilateral process. Israel can greatly improve its regional status, not to mention its strategic position against Iran. The Palestinians can receive financial backing from the Saudis, something they are in dire need of since the Americans and the Europeans are in the process of minimizing their foreign expenditures.
So, Kerry was in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago where he also met Abu Mazen, probably to soften the ground for the new/old idea. He is now in Israel, and will return next week after Obama leaves, to play the same tune to Israeli ears. President Obama, all signs show, is extremely doubtful that any initiative will work, but he has given Kerry a mandate to do as he sees fit. During his visit, he will try and convince Israelis that the only chance to secure Israel’s future is to move forward with the Peace Process, helping his Secretary of State by softening Israeli public opinion.
There are two main obstacles that the Americans fail to recognize, or have chosen to ignore. First and foremost, a regional initiative in a region that is undergoing perhaps unprecedented changes and turmoil is extremely risky and bound to fail. Secondly, the current Israeli government is probably one of the most rightist governments Israel has ever seen. I cannot picture Netanyahu, Lieberman, Ya’alon, Bennett, and also Lapid, making the concessions needed to trigger the renewal of negotiations (which makes Livni’s decision to accept Netanyahu’s promise that she lead renewed negotiations a political suicide).
A wiser approach by the Americans would be to focus efforts on renewing the bilateral track between the Israelis and Palestinians by using the carrot and the stick method, threatening to withdraw financial and military backing. But the Americans do have the tendency to do things big, don’t they?