In 1988, on a trip to Yugoslavia, Yasser Arafat the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was asked by a reporter if he believed there would be a Palestinian state in five years. His response "If God is willing, it will be within two years".
Twenty-two years later, Arafat has been dead for five years, the oval office has seen four new presidents, the Israelis had seven new prime ministers, Yugoslavia disintegrated into six republics, Pluto is no longer a planet and yet, according to the Obama administration’s Special Envoy George Mitchell, we are still but two years away from a Palestinian state.
The peace seems lost in the process. After the Oslo Accords, a timeline was set and never met. After the road map, a timeline was set and never met. On several occasions, leaders repeated a one, two, three or four year time-table as if it were part of the instructions on the back of a box of Insta-State mix. We heard this in 2002 in the Rose Garden, with the Road Map in 2003, after Arafat in 2004, after Annapolis in 2007 and after Fayyad’s plan in mid-2009.
Please pardon the Arab world, the Israelis and everyone else on the face of the earth if they no longer take these initiatives seriously. As the U.S. continued to cry wolf, Israel only perpetuated its colonization of Palestinian land. Time-tables were reset, the oasis of a Palestinian state moved even further away and another generation is born into occupation.
What’s missing is the use of real American leverage over Israel. Let’s not forget that the United States is a superpower, and it is not unrealistic to think that it could use its leverage over Israel to make it comply with international law and end its occupation. If the United States was trying to leverage any comparable country to follow a certain path, it would not take two decades.
At the crux of the problem is the fact that the United States has been reluctant to pull the levers at its disposal to influence the Israelis to end the occupation. Recently, the Saudi foreign minister said that Israel is treated like a spoiled child. He is right, except I would add that this spoiled child is something like Chucky out of the movie Child’s Play. Israel is a well-armed nuclear power, with no undeterred threats, maintaining an occupation over 4-5 million Palestinians. The United States has continued to provide allowance money for Israel to buy American weapons and build more settlements in defiance of declared American policy, in addition to an omnipresent veto against any attempts to restrain Israel’s behavior in the international arena.
If anyone is to take the process seriously, there needs to be an immediate and abrupt change in the flow of this hypnotic process. Everyone is locked into a perpetual cycle of delayed time-lines and endless negotiations and setbacks. The U.S. has always had two options for getting the message across to the Israelis that it’s been reluctant to take. The first is ending arms sales to Israel. The second is the threat to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders by a specific time regardless to what transpires before then.
The U.S’s "special relationship" with Israel has always stood in the way of taking these necessary steps and that leaves Palestinians with only one conclusion; the peace process is a faÃ§ade.
After 9/11 it became clear that resentment of American support for Israeli occupation motivated some in the Arab and Muslim world to radicalize and convinced some policy makers that Israeli-Palestinian peace is in the U.S.’s interest. But if Washington thinks that they can placate public opinion in the Arab and Muslim world by being semi-engaged in a never ending on-again off-again process, while providing the weapons to Israel that ultimately kill Palestinian civilians, they are tragically mistaken.
Very few people have faith left in this process and many never did. The Arab public has grown tired, not only of the United States’ support for what they see as its deranged, spoiled off-spring, but they have also grown tired of their own leaders, many of whom are thought to be more loyal to their American backers than the people they govern.
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Based on recent history, I wouldn’t be betting on a Palestinian state in 2012.