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Commentary: Strategic gullibility

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Aug. 2, 2013 at 7:18 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- "You'd be surprised what people will accept once you insist two or three times running that they have seen what you tell them they have seen" -- So wrote Andrew Levkoff in "A Mixture of Madness."

That was the gullibility syndrome that allowed us to accept a punitive expedition into Afghanistan to punish al-Qaida and its Taliban hosts after 9/11 without questioning how the presidential mandate turned into the longest conflict in U.S. history.

Almost 75 percent of Americans have been against the war for several years but somehow they were talked into accepting extensions until the end of next year.

Sleight of hand is also handy in the Middle East. As Israelis built and steadily expanded new settlements in the West Bank, the wheels came off the peace chariot a few decades ago.

But now, with a new set of wheels courtesy of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, mission impossible has been declared possible for the next nine months.

As Financial Times correspondent David Gardner, who writes from Beirut, wrote, "The only process that has advanced is Israel's relentless colonization of occupied Palestinian land."

The Israelis must get rid of the notion that such a statement of fact is anti-Israeli or shows anti-Semitic bias. It is incontrovertible fact that Jewish settlers have moved pawns across the West Bank chessboard -- and checkmated the possibility of a "viable contiguous" Palestinian state that would also include Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's enlarged coalition government will be negotiating in good faith a "non-viable" state that Palestinians could never accept.

Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians is Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister and now justice minister, who is held in low esteem by Netanyahu. He doesn't trust her, nor she him.

Kerry's six round-trip shuttles to the Middle East in as many months persuaded Palestinians and Israelis to meet for the next nine months to hammer out the outlines of an independent Palestinian state. That was the easy part.

Ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank that began following Israel's total victory over adjoining Arab states in the 1967 Six Day War, is simply not conceivable in this age of strategic uncertainty.

Israel has peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt but both these countries are being tossed in a geopolitical maelstrom that has swept aside yesterday's conventional wisdom.

For the past 2 1/2 years, Syria, another neighbor, has been mired in a civil war that has taken more than 100,000 lives. And Israel occupies Syria's Golan Heights, captured in 1967 and annexed in 1981.

In 2002, Saudi Arabia put forward a proposal, endorsed by the entire Arab League, which would have extended full recognition of Israel in return for East Jerusalem (captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War), the West Bank and Gaza.

That has now lapsed into the fog of no-war-no-peace, a period that has allowed Israel to expand and consolidate its hold on the West Bank.

The only possible geopolitical deal today would have to be roughly comparable to the Saudi peace plan. And this is inconceivable to the current Israeli coalition government.

Most Jewish settlements in the West Bank are large modern developments interconnected by a hard surface road network, banned to Palestinians.

Arabs have to use their own dirt roads, lengthening some trips by several hours.

Almost 400,000 Israeli settlers are in the West Bank and another 300,000 in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians insist must be the capital of an independent Palestinian state. One estimate puts the total number of Israelis in the would-be Palestinian state at 1 million in four years.

The Arab Spring turned nightmare provides Israel with formidable arguments against major geopolitical concessions.

An independent Palestinian state in the West Bank in this age of uncertainty would most probably be rejected in a referendum.

So why did Kerry conclude his timing would be propitious?

Long-time Middle Eastern correspondent for ABC Barrie Dunsmore summed up near unanimous consensus among the news veterans of the region: "I have seen this movie many times and it always ends badly."

A slim chance of a small breakthrough is as far as any Mideast expert is willing to go.

Most Israelis seem unconcerned by the continued occupation of the West Bank. It seldom comes up as a subject worthy of debate. The core issues have been debated for decades and a breakthrough in the current Middle Eastern chaos still seems a bridge too far.

Nothing has changed for years -- except Israeli settlements in the West Bank keep growing under the Western media's self-censored eyes and ears.

International opinion is riveted by the unfolding Egyptian drama.

Can the Egyptian army, under Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, now back on top again after dethroning President Mohamed Morsi and putting him under house arrest in a secret location, restore the status quo ante, or military rule that has prevailed since 1952 (Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak)?

With tens of thousands of Egyptians still siding with and demonstrating for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood round the clock, how long will the army be seen as the savior of the nation?

And how long can they keep the legally elected Morsi in a secret gilded cage detention?

A lot more questions than answers. The recently reviled security forces are back on top, applauded as the saviors of Egypt. This could lead to the release of Hosni Mubarak, the air force commander who ruled Egypt as president for almost 30 years. He will soon be a free man again.

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