It’s time for the US, the UN and the Quartet to take off the gloves and confront Israel with an inescapable reality. The Palestinians aren’t going anywhere and there will be a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital loosely based on 1967 borders sooner or later.
The world’s appetite for the inhumane status quo to continue indefinitely is receding. And as long as Israel continues its land grab the window of opportunity for two states diminishes. The only remaining option — apart from the genocide of historic Palestine’s rightful owners — would be the one-state solution, which most Palestinians reject and Israelis fear would signal the Jewish state’s demographic demise.
It’s not as if the international community isn’t united in its support of a two-state solution on the lines of the Arab Initiative that was first unveiled at the 2002 Arab League Summit held in Beirut that would facilitate Israel’s normalization of diplomatic and trade relations with all 22 League member countries — and satisfy Israel’s security concerns.
Breaking through the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians is not only in the interests of those involved but would also benefit Western nations by cutting the ground away from anti-Western extremists who use the Palestinian cause as a recruitment tool.
Moreover, Israel’s frequent breaches of international law, including its ongoing blockade of Gaza, are becoming an embarrassment for the US and its allies which loudly trumpet “freedom and democracy” for all while excluding Palestinians from their noble clarion calls. Such glaring hypocrisy and double standard also impact the West’s relations with strategically positioned Arab states that are guardians of much of our planet’s oil and gas reserves.
The main obstacles to peace are Israeli intransigence and the sheer cowardice of the West to do what’s right when it comes to twisting the Israeli government’s arm. These lily-livered attitudes stem in part from the collective guilt of the US and various European countries over their failure to prevent the Nazi Holocaust and their refusal to accept Jews fleeing from the horrors. But in recent times, they’ve been prompted more by the powerful pro-Israel lobby that has proven its ability to make or break political careers, which is why the US Congress is unfailingly sycophantic to Tel Aviv.
President Barack Obama — whose pledge to bring about a Palestinian state is, I believe, absolutely sincere — is currently walking on eggshells and courting American Jewish groups prior to upcoming US elections. Mr. Obama must have been discomforted when, in February this year, the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice was the only Security Council delegate to veto a draft resolution condemning the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank which almost exactly mirrored the president’s own statements on the issue.
If we were able to peer inside Mr. Obama’s mind I am convinced we would find much sympathy for the Palestinians but on each occasion he steps forward as he did in a speech promulgating 1967 borders with land swaps, he steps back two; indeed, just days later, when faced with the pro-Israel lobby’s outrage, he backtracked during an AIPAC meeting turning heckles into applause. As I write, the Quartet is expected to announce its support for the renewal of talks based on 1967 lines under pressure from the EU. If that happens, Israel and the US will be ring-fenced.
With a similar potentially embarrassing situation looming as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prepares to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state and seek UN recognition in September, the White House is anxious to persuade Mr. Abbas to drop the idea by getting peace talks back on track. However, the nub of the issue isn’t peace talks.
There have been peace talks aplenty for decades that have never come to fruition because each time final settlement is about to be sealed, the Israeli leadership changes thrusting negotiations back to square one. The Palestinians are sick of endless talking. Judging by “the Palestinian Papers” exposed by Al Jazeera, they have in the past been willing to make every concession requested by Israel. But, however much they are willing to sacrifice in terms of land and the refugees’ right of return, they inevitably end up empty-handed.
In any case, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that as far as he’s concerned, the 1967 borders are a no-go and says he will not negotiate with any Palestinian Authority that includes representatives of Hamas which signed a unity deal with the ruling Fatah faction last April. Surely, by now, anyone with half a brain will realize that Mr. Netanyahu isn’t interested in exchanging land for peace and never has been. He would prefer to subdue Palestinian residents of the West Bank with economic benefits while keeping the people of Gaza locked down. The only Palestinian state he might accept would be postage-stamp sized, demilitarized and wholly dependent on Israel for its survival.
So let’s not kid ourselves. Any resumption of peace talks will be nothing more than a comforter to revive Palestinian hopes in order to prevent them from rocking the UN boat and once again highlighting the fact that the Israelis have the US government — that purports to be an honest broker — by the nose.
A succession of American presidents, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have said it’s up to the two parties concerned to negotiate a way forward. That stance is complete hogwash because a virtually unarmed people living under occupation have few bargaining chips. What incentive does Israel have to concede on anything when it holds all the cards and has the superpower on its side?
Washington is well aware of this power imbalance but while the US didn’t hesitate to step in to prevent ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia and is now militarily engaged in Libya to prevent a crazed autocrat from slaughtering his own people, the Palestinians are being told to reach an agreement with the region’s King Kong.
The swiftest and fairest solution is for the US, the EU, the Quartet and the Arab League to get together to reach an imposed settlement that would stand whether the Israelis — or the Palestinians, for that matter — were in agreement or otherwise.
Any side that refused to abide by it would risk UN sanctions, withdrawal of aid, international pariah status — and ultimately the full force of binding UN resolutions passed under Chapter VII of the body’s Charter. Only when the international community stands united and quits playing mini-mouse will this long and painful saga finally come to an end. Anything less is mere foot-dragging.
(The writer is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. This article first appeared in Arab News on July 11, 2011)