Domestic Foreign Policy Storm Clouds -- The Unresolved Israel Palestine Dispute

After President Obama's speech to a special Joint Session of Congress and the telecast of the GOP candidates' debate at the Reagan Library, the president will be confronted with a major foreign policy issue affecting domestic politics. This is the ongoing Israel-Palestinian peace and land negotiation dispute. Few issues, except for race relations in America, have the capacity to inflame domestic politics and become as divisive.

Historically, a majority of Americans have supported successive Democratic and Republican administrations' support for Israel. Such support will undoubtedly continue. However, there is a risk that such future support may be a mile wide; but only an inch deep. The significant domestic fiscal limitations upon United States economic power and resources have qualitatively rearranged the dynamics of the power and ability of Israel and the United States to play the decisive role they once enjoyed in the region. Sooner or later, the reality of this will impact and influence domestic politics in America.

The spark most likely and immediately to reignite and inflame the Israel-Palestinian "peace negotiations" is the pending plan of the Palestinian Leadership to seek admission of Palestine, as an independent "State" to the United Nations. The PLO leadership intends to appeal to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month. However, the proposal of the PLO, in and of itself, will not be the sole source of exacerbating divisions within Congress and our nation.

It is more likely that the "interrelatedness" of this event to the pending dispute between Turkey and Israel over the recent UN Report upholding the legality of Israel's efforts to stop the Mavi Marmara from breaking Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, and its refusal to apologize for the killing of several Turkish nationals. This, combined with the upheaval in Libya and Syria, the pending trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the accelerating winds from the Arab Spring are fanning the embers of the current Autumn of peaceful non-violent protest in Israel and Palestine against continuation of an unsustainable status quo. This may create, potentially, a perfect domestic political "storm" for President Obama.

In an editorial in the New York Times, last month, the Times commented:

For years, they (the Palestinians) have been promised a negotiated solution -- President Obama called for a peace deal by September -- and they are still empty-handed. But the consequences could be profoundly damaging for all involved.

... All share blame for the stalemate. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has used any excuse he can find (regional turmoil, the weakness of his coalition government) to avoid negotiations. He has blustered and balked at President Obama's prodding. Republican leaders in Washington -- who seem mainly interested in embarrassing Mr. Obama -- have encouraged his resistance."

We see no sign that Washington or the Israelis are thinking beyond the incremental.

The editorial says "all share blame for the stalemate." Factually, this is true but, it is also disingenuous. So-called "peace negotiations" have been taking place over a substantial period of time during which Israel has continued building settlements on Palestinian land it occupies, diminishing the amount of land that would be ultimately available to establish an independent "State."

The reason this remains such a potentially explosive issue for domestic and international politics is because the current leaders in Israel, Palestine and Washington may have become regionally and historically marginal, if not irrelevant, to the fundamental changes that have occurred and continue to occur on the ground in the Middle East following the Arab Spring. Neither Hamas, the PLO, nor the Netanyahu government can "negotiate" a solution acceptable and supportable by the emerging new generation of Israelis and Palestinians who are seeking another way; another possibility to resolving their differences. This "other way" appears to be a growing movement of peaceful non-violent protest to the status quo based on their quest for justice rooted in the principles and precepts of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

A powerful example of this is portrayed in a film about the community of Budrus and the successful efforts of members of that community to prevent the illegal acquisition of their land and olive trees. In 2003 Israel decided to build a "Separation Barrier" or wall on the land of Budrus, confiscating 300 acres of the community's land and removing 1,500 olive trees. Israel's rationale for the barrier was that it was needed to protect itself from suicide bombers and other acts of violence against it from the West Bank. The community of Budrus responded by asking "Why couldn't the wall or separation barrier be built on Israeli land, not our land of olive trees and close knit community?" Ms. Ronit Avni, a Washington, D.C. based film maker produced a documentary film about Budrus.

Last year Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times called the film "This Year's Must-See Documentary" and it received critical acclaim and awards around the world. The film describes the determination of the families in Budrus to save their ancestral land and olive trees by peaceful non-violent resistance to Israel's planned route of the "Separation Barrier." Budrus is the first Palestinian village to succeed in saving lands through nonviolence, and their model is spreading -- slowly but surely -- throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In recent weeks, a second village, Bil'in, also reclaimed lands that it had lost after many years of nonviolent protest.

Those of us who still believe in the viability and morality of non-violent peaceful resolution should direct the attention of President Obama to the successful non-violent resistance struggle of Budrus. We must encourage him to resist the repetitive pursuit of a failed strategy for Israeli Arab peace that is politically inconsistent with the new reality of the facts on the ground. We should urge him to support a new strategy which supports and encourages the current non-violent Autumn effort in Israel and Palestine to peacefully negotiate a settlement reflective of this new reality.