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Wild Mideast Saloon

Three men – an American, an Israeli and an Arab – walk into a bar. And… but let’s forget about the premise of a joke for a moment and get serious here, because the fate of the Middle East is at stake these days, and if the major players of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won’t get their act together soon, they will be left behind. Or worse: be drowned underneath the revolutionary tsunami sweeping the Arab world. In other words, they’ll be kicked out of the bar like the ending of a bad joke.

So let’s see: while many components – history and religion, national and tribal, war and peace – are involved in finding a solution and defusing this potentially fiery conflict-cocktail, there are currently three leaders who hold most of the cards in this tumultuous arena of the Wild Mideast Saloon. One is the American leader, President Obama, who while having his plate full with issues and problems at home, and wars galore abroad, still has a major stake, influence and sway in the outcome, and plausibility, of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Alas, since he’s by nature a compromiser, and in spite of the early move of his administration to try and secure peace there, he so far has failed miserably to do so. The problem lies not in his lack of understanding of the issue and gravity of the situation; I cannot, in good conscience, blame such a clever, knowledgeable person of that, but in his inability to enforce the desired, two-state resolution. It’s in his character: as he does in every issue facing him here at home, he compromises. I tend to think sometimes (and I voted for him and still support him, though half-heartedly), that while he’s a great politician, he’s not a principled leader. It is for that reason that, though he got the Nobel Peace Prize, he’s yet to achieve one single peace treaty on earth, and involved currently in two and a half wars. And so, when he walks into this saloon, he carries with him weak cards to the poker table (and certainly not a gun). We need him to be a decider here, an enforcer, which he’s not by nature. Hence his failure to this date to moderate a peace in this town (place, area, etc…) and the outlook is bleak that he’ll be able to do so in the future. He’s a guest at this saloon, after all – not its Sheriff – and so he shall remain; unless he’ll transform himself suddenly into a decider.

Fat chance, I agree, but let’s not give up hope. Because right behind him, kicking the swinging door open, here comes Mr. Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister. As he enters the bar, he has the manner and swagger of a Middle East Cowboy (Bush like, almost), and he projects the persona of a decider. Alas, he is just a divider. To begin with, he brings with him no plan of action to the poker/peace table (and if he does, it’s just a camouflage). His only plan of action is to divide his two opponents, and therefore win by default. To his credit, one has to admit that until now his major policy, that of “divide and rule,” has worked perfectly well for him, both internally and externally. While his party is not the largest in his country’s parliament, the Knesset, he’s still the leader of his country; while there’s no peace in the land, he still continues to build houses and settlements in places the international community, friends and foes alike, consider illegal. As noted here before, he cleverly realized who Mr. Obama is from the beginning of his presidency, and therefore – using his superior skills as a poker player in the Middle East Saloon, and his wider experience – maneuvered the American president to a corner, making him a loser in every game. This policy of divide and rule, which so far has kept the Americans and the Palestinians apart, while maintaining the status quo in the saloon, is a win of sorts for Mr. Netanyahu. It is by no means sure, however – in light of the forces converging on the saloon from all sides – that the future is winnable as well. In fact, it does not look that way right now.

Here is why: the third man to enter the saloon is Mr. Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President. And while he’s the smallest and supposedly the weakest of this intriguing trio, he holds most of the good cards. And because the forces and multitudes assembling on the saloon are on his side – including the supporters among the vast international community watching from aside – he fancies himself the decider. And with good reason, maybe, though the results are abysmal thus far. First he decided to quit his position altogether, but was persuaded by the Americans, with the Israelis pushing from behind, not to do so. So he didn’t. Then he decided not to enter the saloon at all for the new peace negotiates, until Mr. Netanyahu stopped all settlement activity. But yet again, he did enter and resumed peace negotiations, only to acknowledge the failure and deciding, albeit too late, not to continue with it. Mr. Netanyahu, meanwhile, laughed in the face of Mr. Obama and the world – using his best poker face, though, to pretend seriousness – and continued building in the occupied territories, while at the same time presenting the persona of a peace-lover. In other worlds: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Then Mr. Abbas decided to start negations with Hamas, the ruler of Gaza, in order to bring a unity to his camp and better face the challenges ahead. But again, successfully, Mr. Netanyahu intervened, and declared that Mr. Abbas cannot make peace with Hamas and hope, at the same time, to make peace with Israel as well. So, it seems, he dropped that effort as well. But his biggest decision, his joker card – to seek an international and a U.N. resolution, recognizing an independent Palestinian State within the 1967 pre-Six-Day war borders—seems to be gaining momentum and traction and is moving full steam ahead.

And so, as our trio – the Compromiser, the Divider, and the Decider – sits down at the poker table, drinks in hand, Mr. Abbas appears to be holding the better cards. The question remains, however, whether Mr. Abbas will be able to use his cards wisely, and decisively, in order to win, or will he fold early as he did in the past so many times. The strength and commitment of all three leaders in this Wild Mideast Saloon will be tested, surely, and will determine the outcome. My bet, though, is on Mr. Netanyahu (who’s coming to Washington soon to open his counter attack.) I believe he’ll be able once more to easily maneuver Mr. Obama (and Madam Secretary Clinton) into his corner, and by doing so isolate Mr. Abbas again. His divide and rule policy will win, ultimately, but as the three of them will stagger out of the saloon drunk and elated, the angry crowd awaiting for them outside will not cheer: it will still be demanding justice – if not their heads!

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One Response

  1. So what, Damron, you want Obama to enforce a solution? No way, man. And yes, Netanyahu will win the next round too!

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