Sunday, January 09, 2005

Let's restrain the optimism

Early returns suggest that Mahmoud Abbas captured about 65 percent of the Palestinian vote in the elections to succeed Yasir Arafat. Although Abbas' election has been seen as the best hope for peace in years on the theories that Abbas is a more reliable partner than was Arafat and that Israel and the United States have been willing to deal with him in a manner that they would not with Arafat, I'm doubtful that there are any prospects for permanent peace on the immediate horizon.

Politicians are limited by their constituencies; it is unclear to me how Abbas' election is going to achieve permanent peace when Palestinian children are taught to hate the Jews and Sharon can hardly pull out of Gaza without his own government collapsing. Extreme Palestinian and Israeli factions do not want to share the land and will go to almost any length to prevent that from happening, whether it is in the form of suicide bombers or settlements.

Although we should always be cautiously optimistic lest the despair result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, I worry that unbridled optimism will raise expectations too high, with anything less deemed a failure and therefore cause for more violence. Better to be pleasantly surprised than to be bitterly disappointed.


Blogger Ha ha hit him again said...

I have to somewhat disagree with the views expressed here. While Abbas' recent comments have been disturbing, there may not be another chance to finally end the conflict.

George W. Bush has built up so much political capital with the American supporters of Israel (both in the Christian conservative and Jewish communities) that he should have a great deal of leverage. And despite the rhetoric against his opponent in the campaign, he has been prone to flip-flop repeatedly on a host of issues when it suited him. With Iraq rapidly disintegrating, he may be looking for a lasting (and positive) foreign policy achievement.

The hardliners in the administration have been discredited over Iraq, even if the President doesn't want to admit so. With Secretary Powell leaving, the vicious arguments within the administration are likely to come to an end. Say what you want about Dr. Rice's performance as national security advisor, but I don't think you can claim she is one of the Rumsfeldian true believers. I'm sure she will be eager to show she can be an independent voice, and with her easy access to the President, the Middle East peace process might be a perfect place for her to begin.

Sharon knows he will never have a better US president with whom to work. The Gaza plan will likely go through with the support of the Labor Party, over some Likud opposition. At that point, it is time for Abbas to step up and show he is serious. He is never going to be regarded by the militants as one of their own, so he will need the support of ordinary Palestinians. If he doesn't act quickly, the militants will gradually increase in power. The Israelis will then withdraw behind the fence, and the cycle will start all over again. It was 30 years before Arafat left the scene: how much longer will we have to wait before a suitable Palestinian leader emerges if Abbas fails?

1/09/2005 07:06:00 PM  
Blogger putonyourspecs said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/09/2005 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger putonyourspecs said...

I agree that both Bush and Abbas have strong incentive to try to seek a peace agreement, and that Sharon is unlikely to find another time when he will find peace partners as readily. I would not be surprised if serious negotiations resulted in an agreement to declare peace relatively soon (within a few months, or maybe a year from now). I'm skeptical, however, as to whether such an agreement would actually have any staying power due to factors beyond the control of Bush, Abbas and Sharon, their political incentives notwithstanding, for the reasons discussed in the original post.

A final thought: Oslo may be interpreted either as a spectacular failure that ultimately resulted in only more violence, or as a stepping stone towards permanent peace. Under this latter view, each "failed" peace treaty goes a little towards changing the structural dynamics that make permanent peace so hard to achieve. In this way, the next peace treaty, if and whenever that is, might still be a success even if violence resumes again after a brief lull, provided that it addressed some of the underlying factors that today encourage violence. Whether this next treaty represents two steps forward to compensate for the likely step backwards will determine whether it was worth the effort.

1/09/2005 10:38:00 PM  
Blogger Ha ha hit him again said...

I have a totally different view of Olso. In many ways, it made the Gaza pullout proposal - the author of which was previously the father of the settlement movement in Israel - a possibility. Sharon would never have gone even this far unless the stage was already set by Olso: it is clear the Israelis could not hold on to Gaza. Inch by inch, if necessary, until a final settlement is reached.

1/09/2005 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really think it matters who is elected because lasting peace cannot happen without the full support of both the palestinian people and israeli people. I think for the most part - both parties want piece but the conservatives of israel do not and the extremists (who are probably a small minority yet responsible for 95% of all terrorist attacks on israel) do not either. Peace would be great - but so would me winning the mega millions jackpot. Neither is likely to happen.

Small note - why is there support for Hamas? I was watching the Discovery Channel and they were explaining that Hamas has created a following because they give people food, money, etc., to those in the need of it. That is why during Arafat's reign he had problems controlling his own people. I once thought Arafat got a bad wrap for not limiting the terrorist attacks but then after his death they reported he had millions (maybe billions) of dollars i could no longer feel for him. If he had used some of that money on his own people maybe some of them wouldn't have fallen prey to Hamas.

1/10/2005 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger sling said...

I don't see how anyone's failed optimism would bring about further violence. The violence is not being caused by those who profess optimism. Maybe I'm just a little confused by what you're getting at...

2/10/2005 05:11:00 AM  

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