Although some analysts have given reasons why negotiated solutions to the wars in the Gaza and Ukraine are not in the cards, for the most part, they have also been hesitant to say that in a simple noun-verb sentence. Perhaps they hope against hope that a frame-breaking event will radically shift the current boundary conditions for the various parties. Or they hew to the “messaging can create realities” school of thought, and don’t want to legitimate very bad outcomes, no matter how likely they seem. Or it may be that as a matter of personal style, they are averse to being declarative.
So let’s look at why, despite the new round of Western officials (and in the case of Gaza, what is coming to be called the Global Majority) and the press making noises about talks the Middle East and Russia-Ukraine, there are yawning chasms between what the two sides are willing to do, and no prospect of meaningful movement in their positions even if the key players change. If you parse down the problem to key considerations, it’s not hard to find the underlying rigidities.
With Israel and Palestine, there is a widespread consensus, which includes many non-Zionist Jews, that the only route to a durable peace is the two state solution. But the current hard right government and an ever-more-powerful settler cohort are committed to a policy of securing Israel for Jews only, and on top of that, a “historical” Israel which means more territory. Existing conditions, such as the degree of balkanization of Palestinian living space, also render a two state solution untenable. And the Hamas October 7 attacks have radicalized some of the moderate Jews in Israel. A Palestinian state would have a military. Not hard in the current climate to scaremonger around that prospect.
It is true that Prime Minister Netanyahu has powerful personal incentives to keep the crisis going as long as possible. The prospect of imprisonment wonderfully focuses the mind. Therefore US punditocracy too often depicts Netanyahu were the problem. The implication is f he could be removed, the situation would become more tractable. That’s false.
While Netanyahu has been the lead architect of the anti-Palestinian policies and is an extremely cunning politician, those positions and practices are now very well embedded. As former British ambassador Alastair Crooke explained:
“Israel” has shattered into two equally weighted factions holding to two irreconcilable visions of “Israel’s” future; two mutually opposing readings of history and of what it means to be Jewish.
The fissure could not be more complete. Except it is. One faction, which holds a majority in parliament, is broadly Mizrahi — a former underclass in Israeli society; and the other, largely well-to-do liberal Ashkenazi.
So, what has this to do with Al-Aqsa Flood? Well, the Right in Netanyahu’s government has two long-standing commitments. One is to rebuild the (Jewish) Temple on ‘Temple Mount’ (Haram al-Shariff).
Just to be clear, that would entail demolishing Al-Aqsa [one of the holiest sites for Muslims].
The second overriding commitment is to the founding of “Israel”, on the “Land of Israel”. And again, to be clear, this (in their view) would entail clearing Palestinians from the West Bank. Indeed, the settlers have been cleansing Palestinians from swaths of the West Bank over the past year (notably between Ramallah and Jehrico).
On Thursday morning (two days preceding Al-Aqsa Flood), more than 800 settlers stormed the Mosque Compound, under the full protection of Israeli forces. The drumbeat of such provocations is rising.
This is nothing new. The First Intifada was triggered by (then) PM Sharon making a provocative visit into the mosque. I was a part of Senator George Mitchell’s Presidential Committee investigating that incident. Even then, it was clear that Sharon intended the visit to fuel the fire of Religious nationalism. At that time, the Temple Mount Movement was a minnow; today it has ministers in Cabinet and in key security positions — and has promised its followers to build the ‘Third Temple’.
The second problem is that the economic marginalization and cordoning of the Palestine population has become so advanced that it looks impossible to unwind it….tacitly, without costs to Israelis that they would not accept. Key sections from an article in Vox from February 2023 by Jonathan Guyer. Note his prescient call of the risk of a third Initifada:
The US policy does not take into account how entrenched the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem has become. Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank has made a viable Palestinian state all but impossible. The US-led talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have been on hiatus since President Barack Obama’s second term, and even at the time, there was little hope that they would amount to much. And Arab states like Morocco, UAE, and Bahrain have abandoned Palestinians, as they normalize relations with the State of Israel and eliminate any incentives for negotiations toward a Palestinian state…
But the actions that have foreclosed the possibility of a two-state solution are decades in the making….Israeli actions, like construction of a hulking, concrete separation barrier between Israel and the occupied West Bank, have rendered the proposed borders of the future Palestinian state moot. Further cut off by Israeli settlements, Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank has been reduced to unconnected cantons, with a network of settler-only roads sometimes being the only connection between them. This brutal new geography puts into question a Palestinian state’s economic viability…
Meanwhile, the Palestinian government run by 87-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is fractured, dysfunctional, and increasingly authoritarian. It also essentially is the subcontractor of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
The third issue is despite the US in theory having leverage over Israel, in practice we don’t due to the power of the Israel lobby in the Beltway. Guyer’s article pointed out that when the Biden State Department top human rights appointee Sarah Margon had her confirmation held up for two years over a tweet that approved of AirBnB removing listings in settlements in the West Bank. Ranking member and gentile James Risch depicted Jewish Margon as an anti-Semitic. She eventually withdrew her candidacy.
As Professor John Mearsheimer put it in his interview last Friday with Judge Napolitano (starting at 1:34):
The fact is the United States and Israel are joined at the hip. There are no two countries in recorded history that have a closer history that have a closer relationship than the United States and Israel. And when this crisis broke out on October 7, President Biden made it very clear we would give Israel whatever aid it needed, and that meant both weapons and money, that we would support Israel to the hilt. And we have done that.
Once you take into account that tight relationship, how committed we already are to this war, it’s very difficult for us to back off and to begin to put pressure on Israel to do X or Y or Z. There is no question that Blinken can try to go to the Middle East and pressure Israel, but the Israelis can tell him “No” and then what is he going to do? And if he decides he’s going to then get tough, which he isn’t going to do, American domestic, the power of the Israel lobby, would kick in and make it very difficult for the Biden Administration to put pressure on Israel.
Mearsheimer charitably depicts Biden and Blinken as interested in curbing Israel, if nothing else for the benefit of Israel. But that’s hard to see. Alastair Crooke pointed out in (also in a Judge Napolitano interview) that Biden had done less than any recent president to advance the two state solution (I infer that means even Trump gave it more lip service).
Biden also has the established habit of saying things that are expedient at the time that have no relationship to his policy aims, like telling China’s President Xi that the US supports the China one-state policy, then turning around and continuing to escalate in Taiwan. So he and Blinken are mouthing the two state remedy because even though it is no answer, it at least makes them appear responsible and fair-minded when they are anything but.
So one has to wonder what the latest Blinken round of visits to the Middle East was supposed to accomplish, since all it did was expose our impotence. Even the Financial Times could not hide that the meetings with Netanyahu and then Arab leaders were a train wreck. Netanyahu rejected even any itty bitty ceasefire, branded a humanitarian pause, to get relief in, demanding that Hamas release all hostages first.1 The fact that Israel has welched or underperformed on its past begrudging promises to let trucks from Egypt in, would make that a non-starter even before getting to Hamas being sure to stick to its position of wanting to trade hostages for Palestinian prisoners. And of course the Arab states are not about to budge. Blinken got a more pointed version of what he was told before. From the pink paper:
Antony Blinken faced intense pressure from regional allies to facilitate an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, laying bare the stark gap between US support for Israel and the outrage in Arab capitals over the siege and bombardment of the strip….
Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, demanded an unconditional ceasefire, a commitment that Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly rejected after meeting Blinken on Friday.
This section reveals Blinken as a rank amateur:
Blinken had been expected to “brainstorm” with Arab diplomats the future of Gaza, home to 2.3mn Palestinians, after the war ends. Safadi bluntly rejected those talks as premature.
“How can we even entertain what will happen in Gaza when we do not know how Gaza will be left?” he asked Blinken. “Are we going to be talking about a wasteland? Are we talking about a whole population reduced to refugees?”
This comes off as the sort of thing someone who had just read classic texts on negotiating trying to put in practice: “Gee, let’s get a dialogue going! Let’s get to ‘Yes’ on some less fraught issues to pave the way for further agreement!”
In addition, “brainstorming” is cringemakingly American. You don’t do that with people who are mad at you. You don’t do that in a crisis. Between independent entities, you do not do that at the top level. You have low level people or emissaries float ideas.
So why this exercise? The worst is that Biden and Blinken come off as so disconnected from reality that they though they might get someone to accommodate US needs.
But some more generous possibilities: To try to get in front of a mob and pretend we the indispensable power, are leading a parade? To try to reverse some of the damage to our reputation as more of the world recoils from our not stopping or even criticizing the genocide in Gaza? To try to placate American Muslims who are moving away from Team Dem to the degree that the party might lose Michigan? Perhaps insiders comfort themselves with the thought that American supporters of Palestine have nowhere to go; Donald Trump is a rabid supporter. But they forget that these voters can just stay home. If there was a PR angle, that turned out to be a bust too.
The information on the IDF progress against Hamas fighters is thin and not likely to be reliable. But even though it seems likely that Israel will be able to declare a victory even though that will amount clearing Gaza of civilians more than destroying Hamas, Israel is likely to suffer real damage in the process.
As to the inevitable failure of the kinda-sorta revival of the idea of having Ukraine negotiate with Russia, that’s an even more obvious non-starter, despite Putin making polite noises that he’s willing to talk. The excitement about a new NBC article stating that the US is pressing Ukraine to negotiate is just another example of the Ukraine coalition side talking to itself without considering seriously what it might take to get the other side to agree.
U.S. and European officials have begun quietly talking to the Ukrainian government about what possible peace negotiations with Russia might entail to end the war, according to one current senior U.S. official and one former senior U.S. official. https://t.co/f8doGW2rIh
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 4, 2023
However, on a practical level, this does start to let the air our of the Ukraine hype balloon.
As with Israel, we have the apparent obstacle of a non-negotiable leader obscuring other fundamental problems. We can go through the usual litany. The West has repeatedly been a bad faith actor, with its welching on its “not one inch further east” promise, its gleeful admission of duplicity in the Minsk Accords, it not delivering on its part of the grain deal bargain, and getting Ukraine to renege on its preliminary deal in March 2022. The West keeps talking about having Ukraine negotiate with Russia when Russia knows and the West has admitted that Ukraine is a proxy. You don’t talk to the money, you talk to the organ grinder.
The West also continues to be well behind the state of play for what its side would need to concede even to get Russia’s attention. Merely allowing Russia to keep the territory it presently occupies won’t do when the Ukraine army is now increasingly admitted in the Anglosphere press to be low on arms and men with no prospect of getting to adequate levels. That translates into collapse being in the foreseeable future. As many observers, including yours truly, have pointed out, Russian officials have increasingly signaled that they intend to return formerly Russian land to Russia. That has been taken to mean areas with significant ethnic Russian populations, meaning the territory east of the Dnieper and the Black Sea coast.2
But we described the showstopper in our September post, Original Sin: How the Weak Legal Foundations of NATO Make Negotiations With Russia Virtually Impossible. One of Russia’s fundamental demands is that Ukraine never enter NATO. NATO so far has rejected that idea with hostility. But even if NATO were to have a Damascene conversion, “NATO” cannot commit as a body. Each member state has to agree individually. As we wrote then, expanding on an important post by Aurelien:
So this goes a long way towards explaining why the so-called Collective West gets so wrapped around the axle of having to negotiate with itself. If “NATO” has to act in some manner to settle the conflict in Ukraine, every member of NATO (an as Aurelien argues, potentially even interested parties like Switzerland) would have to come to an agreed position, since each country would have to sign off individually on any pact for it to amount to a NATO-equivalent treaty.
Aside from the procedural mess, do you think the Baltic states would ever agree?
So again, we need to remind readers that despite the US floating yet more negotiation trial balloon, nothing had changed. And tragically, it’s pretty certain nothing will change.
1 Seymour Hersh’s new article, How the Hostage Crisis Could End, based on accounts from “an American official” on the claim that ngotiations with the Hamas political leadership are underway. Hersh also cites a supposed Middle East expert, but this expert was spitballing on how Hamas political leader Yayha Sinwar might respond (I really do not like Hersh’s slippery formulation with respect to this guy: “…who knows of the seriousness of current hostage talks.” If he really had inside knowledge, he would not need to speculate.) His other sources, which include an Israel general, are not corroborating the fact of these supposed negotiations.
The claim here is that the Hamas political leadership was in the dark as to what the military wing was going to execute on October 7, the military force is collapsing, about to suffocate in the tunnels, and the political leadership is willing to sell the armed forces out to save their hides. Specifically, we are told Israel is negotiating for the men in the tunnels to be released if Hamas also frees all hostages and will subject everyone who participated in the October 7 attack to war crimes trials, including “combat leaders” who are accused of witnessing the purported crimes and not attempting to stop them. This account also presupposes that most of the hostages still alive after all the shelling and the political wing of Hamas can get whoever is left standing in the military wing to release them. Pray tell, why should they cooperate? Even Hersh has to concede this scheme comes off as something “out of a bad novel.” One has to think the Hersh account is nothing more than yet another idea cooked up by the US that is going nowhere.
Perhaps Hersh will be proven correct, but I have trouble buying this as anything more than the US and Israel depicting Hamas as a spent fighting force in Gaza and to get the meme that Hamas committed war crimes back in circulation as Israel is being correctly accused of mass scale war crimes in Gaza, and increasingly, genocide. Scott Ritter can be melodramatic, but as an ex-Marine, he often talks about soldiers putting their lives on the line, as in that’s understood to be fundamental to the role. Hamas fighters had to expect that they could die in this operation. Not that anyone welcomes that outcome, but one has to think that the rank and file, and even more the leadership, were prepared. Why should they let Israel attempt to reclaim the moral high ground, particularly since Israel is also demanding death for any Hamas member who is successfully prosecuted? Dead is dead. Better to die with some dignity, fighting.
2 Putin has started to argue that Kiev might be subject to incorporation as “historical Russia.” However, Putin has also made a point to hold elections to validate territorial acquisition and it’s doubtful there would be a credible win in Western Ukraine ex its South. And holding hostile territory is corrupting. So this section of his speech may be a warning that Russia sees it as legitimate to march to Lviv if it has to….but then what happens? Alexander Mercouris also called attention to his remarks at Meeting with members of the Civic Chamber. Key section:
First of all, we all know very well – these are the facts of history – that all, as you said, the South Russian lands were given to the Soviet Ukraine during the formation of the Soviet Union.
There was no Ukraine as part of the empire, there were regions, and it came in the 16th century, Ukraine, consisted of three regions: Kiev and the Kiev region, Zhitomir, Chernigov – that’s all. It came from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, from Poland voluntarily. We have a letter in our archives – I have already mentioned it – we, the Russian Orthodox people, appeal to Moscow, to the Tsar, and so on. In an attempt to defend our rights, we addressed the same letter to Warsaw: we, the Russian Orthodox people, ask to preserve this and that, demand, and so on.
Then what happened happened. They started to form the Soviet Union and created a huge Ukraine, and primarily and to a large extent at the expense of the South Russian lands – all the Black Sea region and so on, although all these cities, as we know, were founded by Catherine the Great after a series of wars with the Ottoman Empire.
Ok, so it happened, modern Russia came to terms with it after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But when they started to exterminate everything Russian there – that is, of course, extreme. And in the end they declared that Russians are not an indigenous nation in these lands – it is a complete outrage, you know? And at the same time, they also started exterminating Russians in Donbas to the applause of the West.
So if you read this carefully (and what follows), Putin is still concerned with the treatment of ethnic Russians, but warns this issue could be considered expansively.