By Adel Safty
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 17/01/2011
Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations, preferred managing crises rather than solving them. He believed that as long as the crisis did not reach a point of explosion, managing it was preferable to solving it because it gave Washington more leverage, both with the regional parties to the conflict and with the Soviet Union — its Cold War rival.
Kissinger applied this philosophy to the Middle East conflict. After sabotaging then secretary of state William Rogers' promising peace initiative in the region, he let the conflict fester. He ignored the many warnings from then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat that in the absence of a negotiated solution that ended Israeli occupation of Egyptian and Syrian lands, war was inevitable.
When war did come in October 1973, Kissinger became fully engaged and his shuttle diplomacy in the region led to various disengagement agreements between the combatants and eventually to the reopening of the Suez Canal.
To his credit, President Barack Obama committed himself to the opposite approach: full engagement from the beginning of his administration; and the declared goal of resolving the conflict rather than managing it. But Obama's handling of the special relationship with Israel proved inept and humiliating. Instead of securing the cooperation of the dependent junior partner, it allowed it to evade accountability.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on record boasting about his success in sabotaging the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreement. His strategy then — as it is now — was to use his rhetorical talent to convince the international community, especially the Americans, that he had a sincere interest in peace while in reality doing everything to sabotage peace efforts.
This gives him the time to apply one of the basic tenets of Zionism: redeeming the land; which translates into expropriating Palestinian land to build colonies, create facts on the ground, and forever change the demographic landscape of Palestine.
Netanyahu not only defied Obama, he managed to take the wind out of his sails.
Recently the New York Times reported that "In the three months since Israel ended its settlement [colony] construction freeze in the West Bank, a settlement-building [colony-building] boom has begun, especially in more remote communities that are least likely to be part of Israel after any two-state peace deal".
Netanyahu has managed to make Obama's approach a Kissingerian strategy: manage the conflict rather than seek a solution unless there are compelling reasons to reintroduce urgency. In Kissinger's case it was the 1973 war; in Obama's case it might be another major outbreak of violence in the region.
Meanwhile, the urgency has been removed from the latest American peace initiative. Just what Netanyahu needs.
The peace process no longer commands the press coverage it initially did; other events that contain the element of urgency are getting more attention in Israel and in the Arab world. The latter is understandably stunned by the events in Tunisia. For the first time in the Arab world street protests have brought about the collapse of an authoritarian regime.
Even Washington seems more preoccupied with issues of Arab governance than with its own engagement in the Palestine conflict. Speaking at a conference in Qatar last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointedly warned Arab regimes against the dangers of rampant corruption, unrepresentative governance and alienation of the citizen from the political process.
You know that the American sponsorship of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is running out of steam when the other partners in the Quartet — Russia, EU, and the UN — who have been long ignored are invited back into the process. The members of the Quartet will meet next month in Germany to try to revive the negotiations.
The removal of urgency and the restoration of the Kissingerian approach are not the only successes that Israel and its friends in America have scored. The recent elevation by the Obama administration of Dennis Ross to the position of influential adviser to the president in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is another.
Ross is known for his activism on behalf of Israel and for the role he played as an agent for a foreign government when he was chairman of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in occupied Jerusalem — an organ of the Israeli government. At the Israeli Palestinian negotiations sponsored by Bill Clinton at Camp David, Ross's role was described as that of Israel's lawyer.
To place Ross in a position to challenge the current US envoy George Mitchell is to reconstitute the Kissinger-Rogers rivalry with an advantage to Ross and the Kissingerian model.
True to form, Ross began with another failure. The disastrous idea of bribing Israeli leaders with astounding ‘incentives' to extend the moratorium on Jewish colony construction, turns out to have been his.
Obama elevated Ross to send a message to the Israelis that their needs are protected at the White House. It is the misfortune of the Palestinians that they have no one to defend theirs. And now they have to live with a peace process contaminated by the Kissinger model.
Adel Safty is Distinguished Professor Adjunct at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky, and published in England by Garnet, 2009.