Obama’s Jerusalem Visit

President Obama is coming to Israel and two of its neighbors to confer with American partners about problems and challenges in the region. These challenges include Iran, Syria and the need to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Obama is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and the King of Jordan.

Obama is said to bring an “urgent” peacemaking agenda to Israel on his upcoming visit, reassuring that he is not coming with conditions or demands but rather to consult and confer.

Obama often states that Israel is a close ally of the USA, and that a special bond connects the two countries. There is a slight discrepancy between these declarations and the fact that Obama did not visit Israel during his first presidency. I assume that many people in his close circle and many more among his donors expected him to visit the Promised Land a long time ago.

I also suspect that his new Secretary of State, like many others who held this desired post in the past, would like to have a go at bringing peace to the Middle East. Like his predecessor, John Kerry has good intentions and noble motivations to end the bloody conflict. Obama appreciates the well-meaning Secretary and is willing to give Kerry some support in pushing the peace wagon forward.

But if he meets a stubborn “no thank you” approach in Jerusalem, I suspect Obama will lower expectations and efforts in this sphere. Wise people have better things to do than to knock their sensible heads against obstinate walls. Obama, who is a person with a developed sense of history, would like to leave some legacy behind him. He will pick other targets where his chances to make a positive change are more welcomed.

Unfortunately, after the establishment of Israel’s new government under Netanyahu’s leadership, prospects for peace remain grim. Netanyahu simply does not understand that peace is the key to Israel’s survival. He thinks it is enough for Israel to remain strong, and Israel will continue to prevail. Netanyahu fails to understand that as long as the Palestinians feel miserable and frustrated, Israel is doomed to face repeated cycles of violence.

On Netanyahu’s right is his dear political partner, Avigdor Lieberman. His sympathy for the Palestinian plight is similar to the lion’s sympathy to its prey.

The designated Minister of Defence and former Chief of Staff Moshe Bugi Yaalon is an uncompromising hawk who believes that almost everything can be resolved with force. The rest can be resolved with more force.

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Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party has very similar views with 12 seats in the Israeli Knesset (parliament). The Palestinian Arabs of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem might as well relinquish their hopes for a sovereign state. The Green Line, which demarcates the occupied territories from Israel proper, has no meaning for Benett.

One of his campaign ads stated: “There are certain things that most of us understand will never happen: ‘The Sopranos’ are not coming back for another season… and there will never be a peace plan with the Palestinians.” Bennett announced that he will do everything in his power to make sure that the Palestinians never get a state. As far as he is concerned, there is no need for further negotiations, no need to spark more illusions about “peace.”

In this government, the moderate views are those of Tzipi Livni, leader of Hatnuah Party (6 seats), and Yair Lapid, leader of the newly formed party Yesh Atid (There Is Future), the second largest party with 19 seats in the Knesset. Livni and Lapid constitute a small minority in a very extreme right-wing government. They will make noises, table initiatives, make statements, all will come to nothing. They will be a negligible factor.

When Lapid formed his alliance with Bennett, he made it clear that peace is not his agenda. He wants to make changes in Israeli society. If at all, peace with the Palestinians will come after addressing some serious problems: the economy, housing, state and religion.

Also, Lapid’s platform makes it abundantly clear that he has little understanding of what is required to achieve peace. Yesh Atid is for a two-state solution, keeping the major clusters of settlements under Israeli sovereignty, and against the establishment of new settlements. At the same time, Yesh Atid is for continuing the already ongoing building of settlements, and against dividing Jerusalem. Lapid does not recognize the inherent contradictions in this impossible platform. I am in favor of vegetarian lions and pink elephants. They are cuter. This is not going to happen.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor (D. Phil., Oxon) is an educator, researcher, human rights activist, Chair in Politics and Director of the Middle East Study Group, University of Hull, UK. He regularly writes on Israel and Middle East Affairs. Blog: http://almagor.blogspot.com.