Walid Choucair
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
January 25, 2010 - 1:00am

Not a day goes by without US efforts to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations track appearing to be serious and possibly headed for producing a result, without the issue appearing difficult and nearly impossible to achieve the following day. Ever since US President Barack Obama tasked special envoy George Mitchell with responsibility for advancing peace negotiations, the region has appeared to be stuck in this cycle, which, as time goes on, increases the complications related to resuming the negotiations. This is due to the linkage between a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the region’s other crises, along with Iran’s stance on these issues, and the position of Israel and the US vis-à-vis Iran. Moreover, there is a linkage between Washington’s ability to pressure Israel and domestic American politics and improvement in the American economy, so that Obama can have more leverage against the Israeli lobby, if he decides to force Israel to make concessions.

Washington has moved from asking Israel to halt settlement activity to trying to tempt the Palestinians with the idea that the White House will support them in their demand for a halt or freeze to settlements, after failing to convince the Israelis of this. As with each time the Americans backtrack on promises they have made, or stances they have adopted, Israel benefits by trying to make progress at the expense of the Palestinians. Benjamin Netanyahu has begun to accuse Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the person who needs a resumption of negotiations the most, and who is the most enthusiastic about such a move, of not wanting the talks because he has conditioned them on a halt to settlements. Thus, what the Americans ask for, after they backtrack, becomes an accusation directed at the Palestinians. It also becomes a reason for attacking the Palestinian leadership as part of the policy of eliminating a negotiating partner, by weakening it and causing it to lose credibility before their people and public. The Americans are unaware that Netanyahu is employing this method, supported naturally by the Judaization of Jerusalem and expanding settlements, under various pretexts, and that extremist Israelis are continuing the policy that was backed by the previous administration, during the days of George Bush. This policy is based on eliminating the negotiating partners in order to justify the destruction of the peace process, which aims at establishing a Palestinian state. In other words, Netanyahu is doing the same thing that Ariel Sharon did when he brought down the Oslo accords through military means, and eliminating his peace partner, the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. However, Netanyahu is pursuing this policy through diplomatic means, backed by the measures of his government, which is expanding settlements and Judaizing Jerusalem on the ground. This is in contrast to the military methods used by Sharon, which were unprecedented in their barbarity, and continued to be used by his successor Ehud Olmert in Gaza, benefiting from Palestinian internal division, also unprecedented in the history of the Palestinian national movement.

If Netanyahu’s policy of eliminating the peace partner through diplomatic positions and the expansion of settlements, as he tries to make Abbas commit political suicide by accepting negotiations in parallel to an expansion in settlements, is a continuation of the Bush administration’s policy, then this puts the Obama administration before a huge contradiction. Obama’s peace initiative was based on a review of Bush administration policies but it did not cover a retreat from the requirements of this policy and its repercussions, and the Israeli actions that it has generated. This is because a retreat from the Bush policy requires halting Washington’s disregard for Israel’s continuation of its earlier policy by using other means, and because a change in Washington’s stance would remain verbal as Israeli policies and measures continue. Washington’s seriousness in pushing the Israelis in the direction of making concessions will be measured by the extent to which it rejects the practice of only searching for impossible conditions, which are put forward by Netanyahu, such as prior recognition of the Jewishness of Israel by Arab states. These demands require a considerably more balanced stance by the US, because they effectively eliminate the Arab negotiating partner, following the elimination of the Palestinian partner, and do away with the negotiation process that is being sought by Mitchell before it even begins.

Will the Obama administration conduct an actual – and not verbal – review of its policy toward Israel, and break with the Bush administration policy, as it increasingly requires true steps in the struggle to solve the Palestinian problem to drum up support for imposing sanctions on Iran in the United Nations Security Council over Tehran’s nuclear program? The coming weeks will provide an answer to this question.

In the meantime, the Palestinians are not relieved of their responsibilities when it comes to eliminating their negotiating status themselves, due to their horrible internal divisions.


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