Opinion – Expect A Major Deal in 2014

Will US talk their way to a Middle East deal? US Secretary of State Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Illustrative. Photo Courtesy of US State Department.

Will US talk their way to a Middle East deal? US Secretary of State Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Illustrative. Photo Courtesy of US State Department.

I believe that this year will include dramatic headlines that will surprise, anger, thrill and confuse many. And what could do that, you ask? Well, I believe that this year the Israelis and the Palestinians will reach an interim deal. But that doesn’t mean what you think and certainly isn’t a good thing.

First, let me clarify that I don’t think peace will happen this year. The past has shown us that the so-called “peace process” has typically resulted in more Palestinian violence, not peace. The Oslo Accords, Camp David Talks and Gaza Disengagement all were followed by increases in violence.

Even now, multiple attempted bus bombings have been foiled in recent weeks by Israel, so we’re nowhere near peace.

Second, an interim deal is not a final deal between the sides. The Americans have made clear they are seeking a preliminary agreement that can serve as a guide for reaching a final deal. It’s more like a general agreement on a plan towards a deal, not the nitty gritty details.

Still, even an interim deal will rock the news just because it’s the furthest the sides have ever gone. It will likely spell out in general terms what a “final solution” will look like and may even start off with some implementation. It is possible that some type of Palestinian statehood may be recognized by Israel this year. I used the term “final solution” for a reason, because I think this would be disastrous for Israel. More on that in a moment.

So why would this happen now after years of near misses? Simple. Desperation and America.

First, US President Barack Obama really likes interim deals. No one, and especially him, have to make too many concessions in them and they are often reversible. We somewhat saw this in Syria with the chemical weapons deal and it just happened with the Iranian nuclear program. Handshakes, moderate concessions and photographs for now. Worry about figuring out the really hard stuff later.

While an Israel-Palestinian deal is more permanent and dramatic, it still will prevent full implementation – like actually sharing Jerusalem as the capital or withdrawing thousands of Israelis from their homes in the West Bank. So it’s more palatable to Israel and the Arabs – it’s not the final deal, so if it’s less than ideal to either side that’s more okay.

The US is really pushing this interim deal and reportedly is making its own suggestions to the sides to bridge gaps. That cuts out excuses and forces the sides to either agree or face the wrath of America. Considering how much the Palestinians need money from the US and how much Israel thinks they need political support from the US, that American threat is serious.

And that brings us to the second point: the sides are desperate. Israel is watching the possibility grow of serious European sanctions unless a deal is reached. That would hurt the Israeli economy. And the US isn’t so interested in shielding Israel any more, with the least Israel-supportive president in decades.

Furthermore, the whole region is changing. What used to be the Arabs versus Israel is turning into the Arabs and Israel… versus Iran… versus Al-Qaeda. It’s a complicated two-front conflict and both Israel and the Arab states realize the US isn’t going to protect the Middle East by itself anymore. So Al-Monitor has reported on this shift in the Arab world, and it could mean the Arabs will be even more willing to compromise in a deal with Israel just so their cooperation vis-a-vis Iran can grow.

Furthermore, the Palestinian leadership desperately needs a victory and funding to survive the rocky Arab Spring revolutions that are still embroiling the region. While the Palestinians haven’t revolted yet, there’s still time for them to do so. An interim deal that’s backed by the Arab states may calm down the Palestinian populace for now and will open the door to lots more economic opportunity. Or at least, that’s what the Palestinian leaders will tell themselves.

And that’s why this is so bad. The hope for a deal are based on hypothetical best-case-scenarios that probably won’t happen. When the Israeli military pulls out of the Palestinian areas, chances are that Hamas and Al-Qaeda will move in.

Even if the “moderate” but not Palestinians really do eschew violence (and they haven’t really so far), they also won’t be able to hold back the radicals alone.

What’s more, the assumption is that the Palestinians want peace, but that hasn’t really been proven. They want a state. They want Israel to move away. But peace? The Palestinian media certainly isn’t promoting that image.

So an interim deal would likely just raise the risk of a new conflict breaking out as Israel pulls out and withdraws. Instead of peace, it will likely result in more blood. But no one in power seems willing to let that sink in, so they keep trying the failed “land for peace” model anyway.

It’s a new year, but there’s nothing really new under the sun. So unless the American and European leaderships change their minds, I say to expect a new twist on an old idea… with an all too familiar and tragic result.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, January 19, 2014)


What do you think?