Hassan Haidar
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
September 25, 2009 - 12:00am

The first conclusion one can draw from the tripartite summit which brought together Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas in New York, as well as from the US President’s speech before the United Nations General Assembly, is that US diplomacy, which promoted a climate of optimism during the past few months and expressed its desire to play an active and positive role in resuming peace negotiations on balanced bases, was quick to abandon such a role with the emergence of the first difficulties, and has retreated to a position of spectator of an imbalanced “arm wrestling match” which, if it were to begin, would only lead to consecrating a reality which negotiations should be aimed at changing.

Indeed, the pressures which the Palestinians and Arabs were hoping for the new US Administration to exert on Israel to resume talks on the basis of a minor correction in the tremendous imbalance of power between it and the Palestinian Authority, one based merely on a temporary freezing of settlement-building, completely disappeared when they were confronted with the real Israeli stance, different from the talk of wanting peace, and turned into mere pleas “to show flexibility, common sense and sense of compromise”.

In other words, the Israelis have succeeded in “neutralizing” US efforts, curbing their momentum and reducing the effects of the “new approach” to the crisis in the region, after they had first tried to confine them to demanding the price of normalization from the Arabs in exchange for obscure promises. The Arabs asserted that attempting to achieve peace based on confidence-building measures “has not succeeded over the past three decades and will not succeed today”, thus thwarting Israel’s desire to put the carriage before the horses. It later appeared that the Hebrew state was not willing to facilitate any discussion over final situation issues, and especially Jerusalem, before completing the changes on the ground, in terms of expanding existing settlements and preparing to appropriate more Palestinian lands, and such as to cancel out in advance the possibility of obtaining any “concessions” from its side.

The message addressed by Saudi Arabia to members of the US Congress over the peace process provides a clear summary of Israel’s method of procrastination and buying time: the number of settlers was five thousand when the Camp David Accords were ratified between Egypt and Israel in 1979; when the Madrid Peace Conference was held in 1991, the number of settlers had risen to one hundred thousand; and in 2007, when the Annapolis Conference was held in the United States, that number had increased to two hundred thousand settlers. Thus the number gradually rises with each step of the steps of “peace”, as each one cancels out what had previously been negotiated over.

Successive US Administrations have in the past exerted pressure on Tel Aviv to drive it to negotiate, and have used to do so the guarantees of loans to Israel from US banks (it obtained nine billion dollars from the Bush Administration at the height of the 2002 Palestinian intifada), which have been and continue to be allocated to supporting settlement-building and erecting the separation wall, and there is more than a billion dollars left of them until 2011.

Despite the fact that freezing guarantees and threatening with them has in effect led only to limited results which Israel quickly retracted, Washington is able, if it decides to abandon its “excessive kindness”, to make use of multiple means of pressure with which it can “convince” Netanyahu to pave the way to resuming negotiations, if one were to take into consideration the strategic bonds between the two countries.

Some in the Obama Administration might say that failure to impose a “simple” procedural matter like temporarily freezing settlement-building would become acceptable if starting direct negotiations over final situation issues was permitted, but they would thus be ignoring the vital link which the Israelis make between settlement-building and security, making it impossible to come to a decision over these issues without abandoning it.


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