US Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has made headlines with secretly recorded comments released by Mother Jones in which he argues that there’s little chance of a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, and that given the realities – as he sees them – the best that can be done is to manage the situation:
“There’s just no way.” And so what you do is you say, “You move things along the best way you can.” You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don’t go to war to try and resolve it imminently.
To be sure, the general view that Romney puts forward in his full comments is a faithful rendition of the position of the Israeli government: there is no “peace” because Palestinians don’t want it and are “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel” and that an independent Palestinian state would simply be a beachhead for Iran.
To this extent, Romney’s view of the Palestinians – who in his view can all be characterized in terms of generalities – represents the racist and colonial worldview of the Israeli establishment.
Romney also stated, “The idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world.”
But his comments get at a truth that is widely recognized in the US establishment though rarely spoken in public – and Romney too seems to have thought his comments would remain private among those attending the $50,000-a-plate fundraiser at which he made them.
Although Romney does not use the term, what he lays out is a strategy of “conflict management”: the belief that no political solution is available, at least at any price a US administration is willing to pay, and therefore the best that can be done is to try to keep a lid on things and stop the problem getting worse or flaring up in ways that damage other interests.
It’s a view that has been pushed by the Israeli right, but it is also the de facto policy of the Obama administration, the European Union and Arab states.
The rules of “conflict management”
The first rule of conflict management is that you claim that your actual goal is a just, lasting political solution as soon as possible.
The Obama administration observes that ritual. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, for example, President Obama asserted, “Our commitment to Israel’s security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace.”
However, ever since Obama abandoned any effort to make Israel accept even a nominal freeze on settlement construction, and since long before his Middle East envoy Senator George Mitchell departed the scene, Obama’s approach has been conflict management. This involves:
Appeasing Israel’s war-mongering toward Iran by waging an escalating economic and covert war on Iran while never ruling out a military attack;
Maintaining, at Israel’s behest, financial and other support for the Palestinian Authority puppet regime in the West Bank which serves to keep a lid on the Palestinian population on behalf of Israel;
Supporting “economic peace” aimed at pacifying the Palestinian population with consumer goods and illusions of prosperity;
Supporting the siege of Gaza and maintaining the ostracism of Hamas in order to prevent a challenge to the West Bank puppet regime;
Always, always saying that you are fervently working toward peace negotiations and peace.
Romney vs. Obama
So how would a president Romney be different than Obama? He wouldn’t. Like Obama, he would let Israel gallop ahead with its colonization and de facto annexation of the West Bank. Like Obama, he’d support the siege of Gaza. Like Obama he’d block all international efforts to hold Israel accountable. Like Obama, he’d keep US military and economic aid for Israel at record levels. Like Obama, he would maintain funding for the Palestinian Authority, because this is a policy supported by the Israel lobby, AIPAC.
Would Romney attack Iran?
And, like Obama, Romney would keep up pressure on Iran in order to appease Israel’s fanatical lobby. But wouldn’t Romney go to war against Iran for Israel – something Obama seems reluctant to do, to the great annoyance of Israel fanatics at home and abroad? I’m not so sure. Look again at what Romney said:
You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don’t go to war to try and resolve it imminently.
Sure, Romney is talking about “stability” on the Palestinian-Israeli front. But there’s little reason to believe he wouldn’t – like Obama – seek “stability” in the broader region, which means a status quo that favors US imperial interests.
If Romney were elected, on Day One he’d receive the same “advice” from the same military establishment that instructs Obama, and there’s little reason to believe he’d deviate greatly from current US policy (Here I recommend Joseph Massad’s recent article “Arab instability and US strategy”).
The only difference is that Romney has now let the cat out of the bag. When he’d say he’s working for “peace,” we’d really know it’s just a ploy to “kick the ball down the field.”
The protestations of Obama partisans that their man really really cares about peace should not fool anyone. His approach is exactly the same.
The answers are not in Washington
As I wrote days after Obama was elected in 2008, the developments that matter are not those dictated from Washington, but what Palestinians and their allies do on the ground.
Diplomatic stagnation and the bankruptcy of the “peace process” is our opportunity to push forward with BDS and other work that has the potential to shift the balance of power.
Conflict management is an admission of ideological defeat by Israel and its allies – it means it is up to us to articulate a democratic alternative to the racist and colonial status quo which both Romney and Obama fully support.