Global Matters: A leaky peace in the Middle East

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I’m of two minds about WikiLeaks, the online disseminator of confidential government documents. On one hand, it performs a valuable service. It’s fascinating to see how the world of diplomacy really operates, and it’s important for citizens to know what their governments are really saying and doing behind the scenes.

On the other hand, if communications between diplomats and leaders are regularly exposed to the light, it certainly could have a chilling effect on the ability to speak frankly and openly.

Given the rapidly changing situation in the Middle East, I can only imagine what leaders in the region are saying, confidentially, to each other these days. I wonder if, in the coming weeks,WikiLeaks will unearth a fascinating exchange like this entirely hypothetical letter from Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It could have been written after Netanyahu’s meeting last week with President Barack Obama, who had just expressed his support for a Palestinian state defined principally by the pre-1967 borders between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza:

“Dear Bibi:

“It’s been ages since we spoke, so I thought I’d re-establish contact, at least in writing. I’ve been reading about your trip to Washington. Washington is a beautiful city, especially when seen from the back seat of a limousine. I love pulling up in front of the White House, don’t you?

“Anyway, I wanted to touch base regarding our ‘situation.’ I know you’re upset that Obama said that the pre-1967 borders should serve as the basis for a Palestinian state. Listen, I don’t blame you for being ticked. Who wants to be known as the prime minister who lost the West Bank to the Palestinians?

“Still, this couldn’t have come as a surprise. We’ve both known for years that the West Bank, or at least most of it, would become Palestine. And I know that the thousands of settlers (OK, residents) of Ariel, for example, aren’t going anywhere. We’ve always assumed that land swaps would even out the deal.

“So what are you so angry about? Obama just said out loud what we’ve each known for years. And, if you want to know the truth, your problems are nothing compared to mine.

“First of all, I’ve got to deal with these whack-job Hamas guys. I don’t know what’s worse: their talk about an Islamic state, their love for bin Laden, or the fact that if you disagree openly with them, you wake up dead the next morning.

“I mean, these guys really make me nervous. That’s why I can’t just go ahead and make peace with you based on the West Bank alone. They keep feeding my people this idea that we have to have everything, the West Bank and Gaza, especially since we’ll never get the rest of the land of Israel back.

“So I have to slather on all this ‘brothers in arms’ talk or else I’m a short-timer, if you know what I mean.

“And it’s not like I got such a great deal from Obama, either. He says that a Palestinian state will have to be demilitarized. Great. I get land, but no army. And then he says I have to drop Hamas. Hello? How am I supposed to deal with Hamas if I’ve got no army?

“We did this dance once before in Gaza and they beat the stuffing out of us. Now I have to welcome them to Ramallah and make peace with them (so I stay alive) but at the same time drop them like a hot potato (so I get my state.) Thanks a lot, Barack.

“So let’s cut to the chase. I know the ‘right of return’ is DOA. The Palestinians who either drank the Kool-Aid and left or who were driven out by your guys in 1948 are pretty much toast. I’m not happy about it, but I’m a realist. Toss me a few billion shekels for compensation and we’re good.

“As for Jerusalem, seriously, I’m willing to defer resolution of that one. If we can agree on this West Bank land swap thing, five years from now, if all goes well, I’ll have a state, a seat at the UN, zillions in aid from the EU and the US, a Nobel Prize and my grandkids will be in school in Switzerland or the US.

“I’ll still have to deal with Hamas, of course, but if I can keep them in the closet, or at least out of the cabinet while you and I wrap up this up, eventually they’ll end up being irrelevant to most Palestinians.

“Bottom line, Obama has us in a box. He knows that many Americans are sick of your intransigence. He also knows that I’ve got to deliver something soon or I’ll be a notch on Hamas’ belt. This guy is no sucker.

“I know, I know. You think you can wait me out. But I’ve got the Arab Spring and I can play my Naqba human tragedy card whenever I need it.

“So let’s put this to bed before you lose America or I lose control of the West Bank.

“I have to go to Europe now to charm the donor community again, but call me, will you?

“Oh, and make sure no one else sees this. I can’t be seen as weak or unprincipled. You know how it is.”

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Perry B. Newman is a South Portland resident and president of Atlantica Group, an international business consulting firm based in Portland, with clients in North America, Israel and Europe. He is also chairman of the Maine District Export Council.

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