Zuheir Kseibati
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
July 30, 2009 - 12:00am

US peace envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell neither utters a word nor reveals the features of the final solution that President Obama’s administration wants, when he insists that comprehensive peace means the normalization of Arab ties with Israel. The Arab peace initiative does not rule out normalization as a result of final settlements, which would restore the Golan Heights and the remaining occupied lands in southern Lebanon. This settlement would also end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all by establishing a Palestinian state.

It might be incorrect to cast doubts over Mitchell’s move and Washington’s insistence on speeding up settlements on the Syrian, Palestinian, and Israeli tracks as a priority before resolving other tracks in the region. But the adherence of the man of difficult missions to the demand of normalization before the resumption of talks between Israel and Syria and the Palestinians plants enough seeds of apprehension and mistrust.

In fact, Mitchell is keen on exploiting the new language of Obama’s administration with Damascus, and to contain the Israeli discontent with the American “dictations” regarding the settlements file, hinting at the possibility of Washington’s acceptance of an agreement with Netanyahu’s government to freeze the settlements partially and symbolically. At the same time, he is asking the Arabs for a “goodwill” certificate vis-à-vis the peace requirements and calling on them to pay half of his “bill” in advance for the rightwing Israeli government.

But what the Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has called the “sacrifice” of normalization does not seem to be a pure American product as much as it is a result of the ideas of Netanyahu, whose government is accelerating the pace of Judaization of Jerusalem and the seizure of West Bank territory by random and organized settlement building. When he calls the Arabs to take the initiative to facilitate the delayed settlement and sponsor it by forms of “in advance” openness, he is offering no more than promises to resume negotiations that might take years, after which the Palestinians shall have nothing to negotiate on in Jerusalem, nor shall they have the ability to put the fate of settlements that have extended in the West Bank on the table.

It might be also incorrect to say that the Israeli malicious intentions have prompted the “good” US intentions to search for comprehensive peace, and that the Jewish state has succeeded in convincing Mitchell that the priority is to ask Arabs to make courageous stands, while Netanyahu is unable to convince everyone that his extremism is less racist than the Israeli rightwing tyrants, and that all what he utters about peace proposals is a mere attempt to divert attention away from their big project. This project rests on the firm establishment of the Jewish state, which will only coexist with its Jewish citizens.

Mitchell has the appropriate formula to outflank the “crisis” of the American-Israeli conflict over the cessation of the settlements and Netanyahu’s justifications of the “natural growth” of these settlements. This formula has reshuffled priorities so that resolving this problem becomes one of the natural results for demarcating the border of the Palestinian state. But can Washington only seize Israeli promises to set a timetable for demarcating the border?

The Palestinians are aware of the negative answer before anyone else, just as they realize that Obama’s desire to accelerate settlements in the Middle East is not a sufficient guarantee or an inevitable prelude for just solutions, even if this settlement was comprehensive.

The Palestinian Authority’s concerns are legitimate. They are further magnified by the fear from being isolated, especially if Washington succeeds in reviving the Syrian-Israeli negotiations soon, after the American-Syrian ties would have gradually moved to the level of warm relations. Whether this track was resumed soon or was delayed for months – with or without a complementary Turkish role – the first project for the Israeli extremist Israeli rightwing, i.e. the Jewish state, continues to make the Palestinian track the weakest of all Arab tracks. This track is already vulnerable, and is getting even weaker with the conflict between the authorities in Gaza and the West Bank.

According to Mitchell, all what is between Washington and Netanyahu is “a disagreement among friends, not adversaries.” He is not asking the Arabs for complete normalization but rather semi-normalization in return for freezing a quarter of the settlement activities. As for the Judaization of Jerusalem, its cessation is not on the list of American demands.

All what is between Washington and the extremist Israeli rightwing government does not portend with a reassuring beginning for Mitchell’s mission in the region. He spoke about the Arab peace initiative, overlooking the fact that this initiative has rendered normalization a result of this peace, rather than a “booster” of negotiations. In fact, we cannot wager on the usefulness of such negotiations now, because the Jewish state does not see itself threatened by the Palestinians who are involved in a power struggle. Moreover, it does not consider itself threatened by Syria and Lebanon, except for what it calls the missile arsenal of Hezbollah, which it of course assimilates to the conflict with Iran (the nuclear file) and its allies.

The US envoy may feel optimistic about the “progress” he achieved in convincing Netanyahu to revive peace, but it is a peace that has no known track, even if the Israeli Prime Minister claims to have paved the way for it… and even if he alleges his concern about the fate of the Palestinians and their well-being with their authority in a second “Dubai” (as he said) produced by… the West Bank! It is a well-being of the type that does not involve sovereignty for the Palestinian state or weapons!

With semi- or quarter-normalization, Netanyahu entices the Americans into a trap aimed at depleting their initiative, and holding the Arabs responsible for their “negative” behavior vis-à-vis a peace process that is still nothing but an illusion


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