Monday, 15 November 2010

A Black President, Universal US Health Care and... Peace in the Middle East?

I always hesitate to write anything at all about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, because I can rarely think of anything to say other than, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here!"

So it's with some doubt and trepidation, that I am letting my inherent optimism link you to this article, which speculates that the same type of messy, ugly, but ultimately effective process that led to the this government passing the first ever comprehensive universal health care provision - as dreamed of by generations - has the distant hope of, after a similarly gruelling and painful process of compromise and setbacks, to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a path towards lasting peace.

Because what this deal actually does is provide the various parties to the negotiation an opportunity to delineate a border. As New York Times correspondent Mark Langer writes, burying his lead:

The logic behind a 90-day extension is that the two sides would aim for a swift agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state. That would make the long dispute over settlements irrelevant since it would be clear which housing blocks fell into Israel and which fell into a Palestinian state.

As with healthcare, the administration is taking a path that is not easy to watch, but may be the most practical. I have argued here before that the US government must have, and eventually convey to the parties, a view regarding the elements of a final status agreement: more Dr. Kissinger, less Dr. Phil. But the occasion for putting a thumb on the scales should be a negotiation over the border, not a dispute over continued settlements, which has been clouded by past negotiations over the border. Various talks between Israelis and PA officials, from the Geneva group, to the Olmert meetings, portended land swaps. These first efforts to draw lines, all of which assumed the Eztzion bloc would be part of Israel, say, cannot simply be erased from everyone's consciousness.

THE ANALOGY TO healthcare may be pushed further. The administration has been criticized for allowing Senate committees to debate the shape of the healthcare bill before committing itself to a final plan. The process was ugly; and the administration sweetened the outcome for resistant blue-dogs along the way. In the end, however, it got senators who had skin in the game, and it used their disagreements to define the "solution space" in which to intervene. And once (as Jonathan Cohn has shown) Obama saw the shape of the bill he could get, he still had to choose: let it go, for political reasons, or campaign for it, for historical ones. Had he not chosen the latter course, we would not have had a health reform bill at all.
As always, I'll take a humilating victory over a noble defeat any day. There are still a million and one steps between this moment and a lasting peace for the people of Israel and Palestine. But one step in the right direction is not nothing.

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