For Israel, it wasn't an "Oy Gevalt" moment of fear, shock, and amazement but more of an "Oy Vey" exclamation of exasperated dismay.
President Barack Obama, a few hours before meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, trotted out a recycled Saudi peace plan, circa 2002. After all, Special Envoy for Mideast Peace George Mitchell recently resigned after two years of commuting between Washington, London, Jerusalem, and Ramallah with nothing to show for his efforts.
Mitchell, a former U.S. senator from Maine, had clearly decided it was Mission: Impossible. But evidently not impossible enough for Obama.
Now, Obama said, the time had come for Israelis and Palestinians to agree on the pre-1967 Six Day War border with minor border rectifications in Israel's favor.
When Saudi Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah suggested the same thing nine years ago, it carried a little more weight. All 22 members of the Arab League — which numbered such paragons of moderation as Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi — were aboard.
The 22 Arab governments said they were prepared to sign a final peace treaty with Israel, establishing normal diplomatic and commercial relations in return for the 1967 frontier.
U.S. President George W. Bush didn't do any broken-field diplomatic running with this unique opportunity because he was too busy preparing the 2003 Iraqi blitzkrieg.
For almost a decade, Israel has built, dug, and fortified the 440-mile "Separation Wall" between Israel and the West Bank, which now juts into Palestinian territory for 85 percent of its length. It's twice as long as the 195-mile border between Israel and the West Bank pre-1967 war.
Israel's detractors were happy to report that it is longer than the Communist-era Berlin Wall that kept East Germans under Communist denomination. The Israeli barrier is designed to keep Arab suicide bombers out of the Jewish state. But it also incorporates into Israel some of the larger Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It also put 90 percent of the territory's aquifer west of the demarcation, securely under Israeli control.
U.S. aid and Israeli bonds picked up most of the barrier's $2.5 billion cost. In its concrete sections, it is 26 feet high. In the rural areas, it's an electronic fence bordered on each side by trenches averaging 200 feet wide, security roads and coils of razor wire.
Agricultural land, including olive groves, was destroyed to make way and houses along the route were either leveled or turned over to Israeli military guard posts. Palestinians have to obtain special permits to cross through certain gates to tend their land on the Israeli side of the demarcation.
The barrier's tattletales are regularly tattle told by the Israeli media. There is no doubt in anyone's mind — with the exception of Peace Now activists — that anything west of the division is now an integral part of Israel.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who later became foreign minister, referred to the barrier in 2005 "as the future border of the State of Israel." Several ministers have said the same thing since.
Beyond the wall in Palestinian territory lie the balance of some 140 Israeli settlements and their populations totaling 300,000. In East Jerusalem, a Palestinian sine qua non for their capital, some 200,000 Israelis have moved. About the same number of Palestinians are there.
With the "Separation Wall" completed, 85 percent of the half million Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will be under the protection of Israeli security forces. These are also deployed along the Jordan River and Netanyahu says they must remain under any peace treaty negotiated.
Netanyahu lost no time rejecting Obama's call for a full withdrawal from the West Bank. The pre-1967 borders were indefensible anyway. And he flew to Washington the next day to tell him so.
He urged Obama to endorse a 2004 Bush commitment when the 43rd U.S. president said a full withdrawal to the 1967 frontier was "unrealistic" and that any future peace agreement would have to recognize "new realities on the ground."
Netanyahu was on safe ground in Washington where he went to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Washington's most powerful lobby was having its annual convention.
Both AIPAC (with a powerful membership of 100,000 of America's wealthiest Jews) and George W. Bush guaranteed U.S. support for retaining the major settlement blocs in Palestinian territory. Some 70 million to 80 million U.S. evangelicals are, for the most part, in AIPAC's corner.
It is a formidable coalition with sharp congressional elbows. No one would dare stand up to Israel's friends. And every member of Congress feels compelled to pledge fealty.
Obama also had the "Arab Spring" uppermost in his mind.
From Tunisia to the vest-pocket war in Libya, where civil war is getting bloodier; to Egypt, where the army was in charge pending fall elections that were expected to return an anti-U.S. majority for the Muslim Brotherhood; to Yemen where a pathetic tin-pot dictator was making things easier for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula; to Syria, where a ruthless dictator's son had almost 1,000 protesters gunned down by his security forces; and back to Gaza where Hamas agreed to form a common front against Israel with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
It was easier to spot the rites of hell in the Arab world than the rites of spring. Egypt's new foreign minister, Nabil Elaraby, under a temporary military government, which many feared would become permanent, bypassed the establishment and lifted former President Hosni Mubarak's blockade of Gaza.
At the same time, Elaraby upgraded diplomatic relations with Iran.
Obama may be a day late and a dollar short. He warned the Palestinians that their efforts to circumvent negotiations by going to the United Nations in September wouldn't succeed in getting them a state of their own.
They know that. But at least they'll get the name of the state of Palestine recognized by the world. Hamas also reckons that this could be the road to a third intifada.
Facebook and Twitter are already chattering.
Posts by Arnaud De Borchgrave
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