Francis Matthew
Gulf News (Opinion)
March 4, 2009 - 1:00am

Every four years there is a depressing ritual in which a new US Secretary of State agrees that the US will secure Israel's security, but will also support the establishment of a Palestinian state. As has happened many times before, this week the Palestinians told Hillary Clinton that the Israelis should stop building illegal colonies in the West Bank. The Palestinian point was vindicated by the discovery this week of an Israeli government plan for a massive expansion of Israeli colonies, which was published by Peace Now, an Israeli peace lobby.

However, the protective tone Clinton used towards Israel when she was in Occupied Jerusalem on her first visit appears to allow no criticism of Israeli lies, as the Israeli government talks of negotiations but in reality continues to grab land.

Clinton's tone gives rise to grave concerns that President Barack Obama's administration will place more importance on Israel's security than on the formation of a Palestinian state, when both should have equal priority in any implementation of the two-state solution.

In bizarre fashion, Clinton did not discuss the two-state solution with in-coming Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, when they met three days ago - despite their disagreement over the issue.

Netanyahu has dismissed the plan as unworkable, whereas Clinton said that "the inevitability of working towards a two-state solution is inescapable," and promised the US "will be vigorously engaged" in trying to make it happen. Netanyahu's spokesperson was dismissive of the matter, saying that "the subject didn't come up" in the meeting.

Clinton's readiness to agree with Israel is supported by her apparent agreement with Israel on how to tackle Iran, despite an astonishing (and typically arrogant) set of terms dictated by Israel to the US.

In a leaked document published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israel set four conditions under which the US could talk to Iran.

The first of the Israeli red lines is that "any dialogue must be both preceded and accompanied by harsher sanctions against Iran, both within the framework of the UN Security Council and outside it. Otherwise, the talks are liable to be perceived by both Iran and the international community as acceptance of Iran's nuclear programme."

Secondly, before any action is taken, the plan requires that the US formulate an action plan with Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain on an alternative course of action to do if the talks fail.

The plan stresses that there must be an agreement that if the talks fail, this will then prompt "extremely harsh international sanctions on Iran".

Third, the plan states that a time limit must be set for the talks, to prevent Iran from merely buying time to complete its nuclear development. The talks should also be defined as a "one-time opportunity" for Tehran.

Lastly, the leaked plan states that timing is critical, and the US should consider whether it makes sense to begin the talks before Iran's presidential election in June.

Clinton would be well advised to turn these conditions back on Israel. Sanctions should be used on the country which has broken more UN resolutions than any other state, and is continuing to kill people and grab land. Israel should be offered a time limit to implement the two-state solution as a "one-time" opportunity.

These four red lines come from a country that itself has negotiated for years with tireless ability to sidetrack serious talks on Palestine. In addition, Israel has an illegal nuclear military programme and has refused to sign the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), yet it is discussing Iran and the US, both of which have signed the NPT.

This means that Israel wants no meaningful negotiations between the US and Iran and expects them to fail, and that Israel wants the US to work on the expectation of failure.

However, rather than dismiss this spurious piece of advice from Israel and not only reassure the world that the Obama administration has its own ideas on how to move the Middle East forward, but also that there is a plan which is being worked out, Clinton has been quoted in The New York Times telling high-ranking Arab officials that she doubts that Iran will respond positively to the US overtures.

When asked two days ago about Iran's nuclear programme and the possibility of dialogue between Washington and Tehran, Clinton said the US "will do everything necessary to ensure Israel's security" and consult closely on the Iranian issue with Israeli leaders.

She said the US shared Israel's concern "about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons".

Clinton needs to distance the Obama administration from Israel, and make clear that it has some new ideas on how to tackle Iran, as well as finding a better route to peace in Palestine and Israel.

If the Obama administration turns out to be more of the same, as defined by the disastrous George W. Bush administration, then the world will be entitled to pour scorn on Obama's rhetoric that we have all applauded for months.

The Middle East needs a new approach based on respect for all players in the region. This will not be found in self-serving Israeli red lines.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017