Like a seismic tremor before a volcanic explosion, the pressure for peace in the Middle East is ratcheting upwards on the diplomatic Richter Scale.
Like rapid-fire explosions from the muzzle of a machine gun, an aggressive cascade of diplomatic moves and counter moves is coursing through the international community. The pressure is building. The pace is accelerating.
Here is a synopsis of the play at this point in time.
Scarcely ten days ago, President-elect Barack Hussein Obama named his national security team including: Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State; Jim Jones as National Security Advisor and Susan Rice as Ambassador to the United Nations.
Two days later, Hillary Clinton held a lengthy teleconference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Two days later, Israel's progressive newspaper, Ha'aretz published an astonishing interview with Olmert who castigated the oppression of Palestinians by Jewish settlers on the West Bank. Describing the repression of the Palestinians as a "pogrom," Olmert shocked his political opposition. Last month in the New York Review of Books, Olmert stated that the US policy vis a vis Israel had been damaging to the best interests of both America and Israel for the Bush administration had been derelict in the pursuit of peace.
Here is the backstory to Olmert's shocking statement accusing Israelis of conducting a pogrom. The settlers on the West Bank are the most intransigent opponents of peace negotiations in Israel -- because a peace settlement will compel them to leave their homes in the settlements. The settlers are the nuclear core of political support for Likud, the party founded by the late Menachim Begin and other former members of Irgun, a militant group that separated from the Haganah, a senior paramilitary organization. Binyamin Netanyahu is the current leader of Likud, and they are enjoying a modest lead in the polls for the next elections that will take place in February.
Due to the deterioration of the situation in the Occupied Territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, international pressure is mounting for a peace settlement. The catalogue of atrocities is sadly familiar from suicide bombings to targeted assassinations. Many international authorities are now applying pressure for a prompt settlement.
From early 2001, the Bush administration abandoned the mature peace negotiations that stemmed from the Oslo Accords of August, 1993. The refusal of the Bush White House to engage in the peace process permitted what was already an appalling situation to metastasize into the toxic case of deadly poisoning that exists in the Occupied Territories today that led to Olmert's criticism of the Israeli settlers.
America's historic support for Israel in the form of stalwart diplomatic backing and generous military aid is regarded by ranking experts as the principal source of tension for US interests throughout the region.
Today, it is now clear that the individual members of Obama's team are working to end the perennial crisis in Israel. Jim Jones advocates a NATO peacekeeping force for the West Bank, an idea that is not popular in the settlements for obvious reasons -- it would compel the Israeli settlers to exist under a foreign military occupation.
Shortly after Hillary Clinton's teleconference with Prime Minister Olmert, Prof. Martin Indyk, a former official in the Clinton administration who was deeply involved with the abortive Camp David Summit between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the late Yasser Arafat, stated in a recent interview on NPR, "The era of the blank check (for Israel) is over." Prof. Indyk is the head of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, and he is regarded as a confidante and close advisor to Hillary Clinton.
In spite of right-wing opposition to a peace settlement, experts in Israel predict that regardless of who wins the election in February, they must come to terms with the Palestinians, because the situation is now so appalling that neither side can maintain the status quo. A leading light in the Israeli peace movement, Yossi Beilin stated on NPR that even "a hawk like Netanyahu will have to move toward negotiations."
The founding father of the Israeli peace movement, Gush Shalom, is Uri Avnery. This week, Avnery published an open letter to Barack Obama outlining the well known bullet points for the peace settlement that have been agreed for years. Avnery made two new proposals for Obama:
(1) A deadline of one year for the resolution of the crisis and
(2) Obama should address the Israeli public directly in a dramatic speech at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv during his visit to Israel sometime in the first quarter of next year.
Reports persist of Israel and its supporters lobbying aggressively for a US attack on Iran and US support for an independent Israeli strike on Iran. Two days ago during his interview with Ha'aretz, a senior advisor to President-elect Barack Obama, Zbigniew Brzezinski stated that this lobbying campaign would damage US ties to Israel. In other words, the policy is changing from the blank checks of the Bush Era to a more balanced approach that will be defined after Obama takes office next month. In a second statement, Brzezinski urged opening formal diplomatic channels between the USA and Iran.
In Israel, the youth are speaking out against their government and its policies. There is a growing movement in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem among young people who are self-described as, "Shminitsim" -- a term that can be translated as, "refuseniks." The Shminitsim have launched a sophisticated marketing campaign on the internet and in the Israeli media calling for an end to the period of hostilities between Israel and the Arabs. In one of their recent letters, the Shminitsim state,
We oppose the actions taken in the name of the "defense" of the Israeli society (Checkpoints, targeted killing, apartheid roads-available for Jews only, curfews etc.) that serve the occupation and exploitation policy, annex more conquered territories to the State of Israel and tramples the rights of the Palestinian population in an aggressive manner.
Barack Obama has repeatedly stated his commitment to pursue a resolution to the crisis in Israel from "the minute I am sworn into office" on 'Day One' of his term as president.
As of today, we the people are at forty days and counting, but the diplomats and foreign policy experts are already hastening to the movement for change in the most implacable foreign policy crisis in the Middle East.