Raghida Dergham
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
August 14, 2009 - 12:00am

The Barack Obama Administration behaved naively when, in demanding that both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict fulfill their commitments, it forcefully introduced the idea of the Arabs offering the Israeli government a reward or a bribe to stop violating international law and freeze illegal settlement-building, by taking step towards normalization that would be linked or would coincide with freezing Israeli settlement activity. And here is the US Administration today standing in the hole it dug for itself without even having obtained a pledge from the Israeli government that it will cease to commit such violations. Meanwhile two-thirds of the US Senate is being foolishly driven by an organized lobby and demanding that Obama exercise pressures on Arab countries to take “dramatic steps” that would prove in advance their commitment to peace with Israel, this while the Israeli government moves forward with settlement-building and forcefully expelling people from their homes in Jerusalem, in addition to exercising deception with regards to the two-state solution, and coming up with one novelty after another that would pull the rug from under the feet of President Obama’s anticipated initiative to move the Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli conflict towards a radical solution. Thus, the time has come for him to boldly and sincerely review the options available to him, after he spent seven months forging diplomacy behind the scenes and after his efforts reached what is almost a dead-end for reasons he is well aware of.

Indeed, the peace process has been halted because of Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement-building, not because the Arabs have failed to bribe Israel according to the US’s wishes, in hopes that it will cease violating international law and legitimacy. This while knowing that all of the Arabs are committed to complete normalization with Israel in exchange for it ending its occupation of Arab territories, and that some of them have repeatedly encouraged it by taking concrete commercial, symbolic and diplomatic steps, publicly and secretly.

The time has come to save the reputation of the Barack Obama Administration and to save US leadership from falling into a situation where doubts are raised over its sincerity, competence and credibility, as well as over its determination to achieve the qualitative shift it had promised – not because of the absence of Arab normalization procedures, but rather because of continued Israeli procedures that negate international law without being held accountable. The time has come for a policy of immediate US “interference” to force the two sides, Palestinian and Israeli, to implement their commitments as per the Road Map to the two-state solution, Palestine alongside Israel. Thus, if the Israeli government has failed to do this and continued to use deception and commit violations, the time has come to take action at the UN Security Council to issue a binding resolution to end the occupation and establish the two states, as well as resolutions that condemn Israel if it persists in its illegal settlement-building activity. In other words, the time has come to lift Israel’s absolute protection – which applies regardless of how much it violates laws or commits war crimes against civilians. The time has come to end impunity from war crimes in Palestine and Israel – regardless of whether the one committing war crimes against civilians is Hamas or Israel. The two-thirds of the US Senate might not bother to examine the truth of Israeli stances and procedures, but their moral and legal duty requires them to pay heed to what an American human rights organization like Human Rights Watch says. This organization has published six reports containing evidence of Israel committing war crimes by using white phosphorus against civilians in the Gaza war and by its army opening fire and killing civilians waving white flags, among them four women and five children, in an area devoid of any Palestinian fighters (the report about the white flag was issued last Thursday). The same organization speaks of Hamas committing war crimes by firing rockets on Israeli civilians. If the US Senate classifies the Hamas movement as terrorist, it obviously should not find it strange that it would commit war crimes against civilians. However, the Israeli government committing war crimes, as American human rights organizations (some of them headed by Jews who enjoy the highest level of respect, credibility and professionalism) say it does, would place it on equal footing with Hamas in terms of moral and legal responsibility. Thus the cover of protection from being held accountable must be removed from Israel, by virtue of international and American law, and this is what American voters should demand of the Senators representing them at the Senate, so that the masquerade of giving their blessing to Israel’s infringements and violations of international law may cease. If the US media is not prepared to allow this highly important matter to be discussed, American voters must exercise their rights and demand that their representatives stop exposing US national security to threats and danger, as a result of the US’s bias against Arabs and Muslims by absolutely protecting Israel from being held accountable for anything it does.

The Barack Obama Administration, on the other hand, might find itself surrounded by Congress, Jewish organizations, a lobby and the campaigns of think-tanks in forums and in the media, if it were to dare adopt the policy of “interference”. Then it would either have to yield and bow its head in submission to pressures, and renounce the flag it carried high the day Barack Obama came to the White House as President on January 20 of a pledge of radical change in addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, because resolving it serves the US’s national interest, or to have the boldness to create change before it ends up passing on the heritage of having encouraged Israel to move forward with its plans, including that of communally expelling by forced “transfer” the Palestinians from Israel and the West Bank, in an unprecedented ethnic cleansing operation, of which the consequences and reprisals – as well as their extent – would be impossible to predict. If the American people today have grown tired of wars, they should look not only to Iran, but rather to Israel, which will surely implicate them in wars and perhaps practice “ethnic cleansing” by imposing communal expulsion, if it were allowed today to escape punishment for violating international law and committing war crimes. The consequences will certainly be grave for Americans, no matter how much the Israelis believe that they have succeeded in erecting a fortress that befits them, as their siege mentality deepens.

All of this will be a direct result of what President Barack Obama does today. Indeed, before he was elected President, the Annapolis process was the reference for the international aspirations and US stances that drove peace efforts.

Today, the date of Barack Obama’s inauguration as President on January 20 has become the benchmark, and thus the responsibility he bears is increasing, especially on the eve of his heading to the podium of the General Assembly to put forward his initiative and his vision. Indeed, if he does not, he will leave behind him disappointment and what it involves in terms of repercussions and events, because the situation in the Palestinian territories is deteriorating and the situation in Jerusalem in particular is worsening, while the world waits for the results of the efforts of President Barack Obama and his special envoy former Senator George Mitchell. It is not a normal situation, and it has not improved at all since Barack Obama came to the White House. Now Obama and his team have tasted the bitterness of Israeli procrastination and deception regarding the two-state solution, through Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at Bar-Ilan University, in which he made the solution of two independent states devoid of the meaning of ending the occupation, of the meaning of independence and of the fundamental vision of the two-state solution. Now Obama and his team have realized that Netanyahu’s worldly experience and acrobatic skills in devising novelties allows him to charm members of Congress and to resist any Jewish American pressures upon him. Now Obama and his team realize how difficult it is to convince Israel to stop illegal settlement-building – with bribes or rewards or without them – because settlement-building is an essential part of the comprehensive Israeli plan to reject the final solution put forward in peace plans.

The Palestinian plan is that of building the institutions of the state during the next two years, according to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s vision. This in itself is the best investment in preventing Israel from implementing plans of thwarting the establishment of a true independent Palestinian state. It would in fact achieve more than this, as it would guard against plans of “transfer” and would make communal expulsion almost impossible. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia informed the Palestinian Authority a few days ago that it intends to donate the amount of 200 million dollars for building state institutions. Such assistance is exactly what Arab countries should offer at an institutional level, so that the building of Palestinian institutions can be an Arab project par excellence, and not just a Palestinian project with European and American aid.

The children of Palestine being busy competing to enter the Guinness Book of Records, and succeeding at carving a place for themselves by demonstrating their expertise in raising kites as high as possible into the sky, is nothing short of an achievement on the path of “normalization”, because these children and young people are seeking after a normal life and normalization after ending the occupation. In the same way, the smiles of Palestinian women and men taking pride in entering the Guinness Book of Records for cooking the longest dish of Kunafa sweets are also witnessing normal life, and such normalization is what is most important. Normalization is an Arab problem more than it is a Palestinian problem. In spite of this, the fact of the matter is that the word “normalization” was fabricated to serve Israeli political ends. Indeed, normalization is an expression that is incompatible with being forced. When it comes imposed, forced, as a bribe and as a reward, on the background of continued occupation, settlement-building and rejection of peace, it is nothing more than a sham, one that does not deserve for the Obama Administration to stoop to its level. Despite this all, the Arabs are willing to normalize completely – in every sense of the word, not just with selective or decorative measures – in exchange for Israel ending its occupation. And if an Arab official wants to address Israeli public opinion through the Israeli media, let them do so. Indeed, it would make a lot of sense for Arab countries to lift the restrictions on travel to Israel imposed on their citizens, so that they may visit East Jerusalem, walk in its streets, speak in its language, sleep in its hotels and eat in its restaurants. This is a step towards normalization that has meaning and purpose, and that should be encouraged. What is neither normal nor normalized is hypocrisy in normalization – a hypocrisy that is neither in the interest of Israelis nor of Arabs. Indeed, as long as there is no common discussion towards a common goal, normalization will not be normal. There are Israelis who believe that Israel’s interest requires a fair and quick solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and ending the occupation. Naturally, normalization with those people is self-evident. In any case, the Barack Obama Administration does not deserve such Israeli responses to its initiative. It had believed that freezing settlement-building would constitute a modest prelude to the more difficult matters, and it was met by Netanyahu with a slap of rejection, a tendency to divert attention and skill at gathering the support of Congress for his defiance and his violations. What the US President should do is obtain an absolute commitment from Israel of its resolve to freeze settlement-building completely, including in East Jerusalem. When he does this, he can then ask the Arabs for down payment for his next step, i.e. for measures that fall under normalization, yet on the condition that he come holding US guarantees concerning the final situation of the Palestinian territories. The best impetus to launch such a trend and to gather international support for the US guarantees would be to issue a UN Security Council resolution stating the end of the occupation and the establishment of the two states, one that would be binding for Israel, the Palestinians and all Arab countries. This way normalization would be normal. It is time for the Europeans to be bold enough to pave the way for such a necessary step by the United States.


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