Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jeffrey Simpson/ Sometimes it's only hard men who can make peace

(Jeffrey Simpson-Globe and Mail).Hard men sometimes are the only ones who can make peace. Only they have the trust of enough of their fellow countrymen. Only they have a chance to push through painful compromises. And even then, if peace is made, there will be critics of those compromises, perhaps furious and organized enough to scuttle their work, as so many tried to do in Ireland after Collins’s deal. We can be certain that if any deal is ever reached between an Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, there will be those on both sides who will attempt to destroy it, by violent means if necessary.

News reports suggest that Mr. Netanyahu this time is serious about finding a two-state solution for his country and the Palestinians, and that he insisted on the one-year time frame for the talks.

What might have changed his calculations, since such urgency had never been part of his approach to talks before?

Some months ago, a strategic gap opened between the Obama administration and his government. It became the settled view of the U.S. government that the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian accord ran counter to U.S. interests in the Middle East, in the struggle against jihadi terror, and U.S. foreign policy in general. In Jerusalem, by contrast, a peace agreement appeared theoretically desirable but not at all urgent so that more building could proceed in settlements, among other anathemas to the Palestinians (and Americans).

Mr. Netanyahu went to Washington and received about the coldest reception any Israeli prime minister had ever received. That chilliness might have contributed to his new-found eagerness to talk. So, too, the overriding strategic peril Israel faces is not really from the Palestinians in the West Bank or even Gaza but Iran. To combat that menace, the Israelis need the Americans, the Europeans and as many countries as they can find, especially since their country’s reputation is very low in most countries of the world.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is hardly one of the hard men of the Palestinian world, which might well be a problem if a deal comes within reach. We know the militants of Hamas who control the Gaza strip will oppose the negotiations. Some of their agents are already committing terrorist attacks. But if Mr. Abbas could ever negotiate something that may bring peace, with all the concessions this would entail, many of his fellow countryman may prefer an imperfect peace to perpetual struggle.

There have been so many false starts, broken dreams and violent conflicts littering past attempts to negotiate something durable that no one in their right mind should predict success this time.