Friday, August 01, 2008

Olmert resigns, peace at hand

Bank Closing this September, Put your money here
Frank Kaufmann

I published several articles urging readers to suspend emotional attachment to or even interest in peace language and promises from Olmert, Abbas, and Bush administration representatives. Each for their own (many) reasons represents zero chance to effect peace. The US is at perilous juncture with its status and international influence profoundly threatened by this administration's forfeiture of America's stance and reputation as a champion for human rights that abhors inhumanity, Abbas does not speak for the entire Palestinian Authority, and Olmert never shed the shadow of corruption charges on top of having committed the unforgivable sin of losing Israeli lives due to bad military planning. Counting on this collection of people to broker peace is like counting on the Marx Brothers to sit peacefully through La Traviata. While no one is ill motivated, none are situated or equipped to meet such expectations.

Yesterday Prime Minister Olmert tendered a graceful exeunt and opened the door to the mild madness known as Israeli electoral politics, a high-stakes clash of intensely held views related to survival itself. Olmert's resignation might compare to opening a crack the exit door of a burning theater, hardly a conducive environment for delicate peace conversations, and worse so when half those trampling others towards the door are war hawks.

The peace pursuits of this particular group always teetered on rickety scaffolding even in their best days. That so, imagine the "have I gone mad" disorientation that had to wash over
New York Times readers to find these as the first words of the article on Olmert's resignation announcement:

The official line in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah is that the decision by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel to resign will not affect American efforts to negotiate a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians before the end of the year

The article then goes on to present assurances from Olmert, Abbas (speaking from Tunisia), and Rice's "senior administration official" (“Fundamentally, as Americans,” the official added, “don't give up.”)

But author Aaron David Miller is quoted later in the article saying,

The bottom line: Can Olmert reach a half-baked agreement minus Jerusalem with Abbas and with Condi looking on proudly in the next several months? Maybe,” said Aaron David Miller, the author of "The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace

But can he sell it, let alone implement it, in an environment in which he has no popular support or moral authority, with Hamas threatening from the sidelines? No way.”

But there is something more urgent and more fundamental than merely the inadequacies of this particular group (in talent, disposition, or mere circumstance) to be effective agents for peace. The most debilitating problem facing our peace hopes is not the characters in the line up at present, but rather the anachronistic spell under which such efforts are conceived and sold. This is what must be changed, not the players on the scene at any given moment.

It is not a particular bias, strategy, political skill and insight (or lack thereof) that suddenly and magically will produce a coming era of stability and security. "If only we had a take-no-prisoners Nethanyahu at the helm, THEN we'd see progress." "Our only hope is an Annapolis-committed Livni, if we are to see the end of tensions and horror." Both views miss the point. Attachment to either dogma does nothing more than extend the spirit of political contention that itself inherently contradicts what is required to dissolve hatred and conflict.

Hope should not rest with whether or not this candidate or that matches my own preferred degree of intolerance and aggression that I like to see in my political figures of choice. Hope must lie first in the prospect that peace actors and commentators awaken from the slumber and pig-headed view that state actors in isolation can succeed as agents for meaningful change.

Political reality and state to state negotiations are wholly inadequate as peace-seeking platforms when taken in isolation. They only can contribute positively when integrated into a creative, carefully designed treillage of related peace-seeking activity. These include religion, social service, empowerment economics, intercultural foundations for education, the arts, sports, and other long term investment, organizations, and activities devoted to peace. The narrow, parochial characteristics of state actors and politicians cannot in isolation bring peace. This expensive activity does not deserve the privileged, excessive attention and resources it enjoys.

The political arena itself is contentious by nature. Political figures themselves are transitional by nature. Harmonization in political terms is characterized by compromise and self-interest. These characteristics are not evils. They have a role to play and cannot and should not be excluded from peace efforts. But the hubris, and the blind adherence old and failed mentalities that imagine political figures in isolation can bring peace, by now should be an embarrassing position to hold.

State level, politically based efforts for peace should not attract much attention until they are integrated creatively, strategically, and effectively into holistic peace-seeking agendas inclusive of central, more long term, and better suited enterprises for peace, such as civil society, the private sector, voluntary associations, and those from the enlightened sector of religion.

Frank Kaufmann is the Director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace
The opinion here is his own