George S. Hishmeh
Gulf News (Opinion)
February 12, 2010 - 1:00am

Inch by inch, the Palestinian president appears to be once again succumbing to American pressure. He is about to allow his junior officials to start so-called "proximity talks" with their Israeli counterparts to pave the way for the resumption of peace negotiations, which broke down after Israel's invasion of Gaza in December 2008.

Meanwhile, Israel, which stubbornly refused an earlier request to freeze all illegal colony construction in the Occupied Territories ahead of peace talks, has got off scot free. This is thanks to its new protector, Barack Obama, who as Israeli columnist Gideon Levy put it, keeps "heap[ing] sticky-sweet praise on Israel."

Writing in Haaretz, Levy did not hold back in expressing his feelings about US policy in the Middle East — a position that is undoubtedly shared by many, particularly in the Arab world. He wrote that the American president and his key aides should "stop sucking up to Israel."

"Now is the time to say to the United States: Enough flattery. If you don't change the tone, nothing will change. As long as Israel feels the United States is in its pocket, and that America's automatic veto will save it from condemnation and sanctions, that it will receive massive aid unconditionally, and that it can continue waging punitive, lethal campaigns without a word from Washington, killing, destroying and imprisoning without the world's policeman making a sound, it will continue in its way."

Interestingly, Levy's column was written weeks before Israeli troops invaded the Gaza Strip and committed war crimes, in the opinion of the UN investigator. Yet Washington has remained inexplicably silent while, in contrast, several Israeli critiques of the Netanyahu government have been published.

For one, Akiva Eldar, a respected Israeli columnist, has written that Netanyahu's failed policies since he took over the premiership a year ago are "making us miss [former prime Minister Ehud] Olmert," who was responsible for both the invasion of Lebanon and the bloody assault on Gaza. Olmert was compelled to resign after he was indicted on corruption charges.

Neve Gordon, a tenured professor at Ben Gurion University, wrote what has been described as "an impassioned plea", published in The Los Angeles Times, calling for a boycott of Israel. He believed that "outside pressure is the only answer" to achieve a two-state solution and "stop the apartheid state." Gordon said he is "convinced that [this] is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself."

No ambiguity

Another Israeli commentator challenged Netanyahu, saying if he "really wants to be the one who brings peace, he must set an unequivocal policy and end the suspicion" that he endorses the anti-Arab statements of his far-right Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The writer went on to urge the expulsion of Lieberman and his party from the coalition government.

Judith Miller, a veteran New York Times reporter and now an adjunct fellow at the right-wing think-tank the Manhattan Institute, noted that there was "precious little" about Israel's actual strategic thinking and plans" discussed at the annual Herzliya conference, a pace-setting national security conclave, last week. Netanyahu, she wrote, delivered "a rambling ode to the joys of rediscovering one's Jewish roots and heritage," revealing very little about his true thinking or plans — a point that has caused many to lose their trust of the Israeli prime minister, whose record is littered with contradictory positions. "Netanyahu's limp performance and sophomoric lecture on the need for Jewish patriotism," she wrote, was particularly resented.

Best remembered for her role in revealing the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame, Miller noted that a keynote panel at the much-watched conference was titled ‘US-Israeli Relations: Still Special?' Her observation: "The panelists agreed that the ties between the two states and US support for Israel remain strong, despite Israel's refusal to yield to President Barack Obama's demand that it suspend expanding [colonies] on occupied Palestinian land."

But, she pointed out, it was "only Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt now at Princeton, [who] warned that it was unreasonable and self-defeating for Israel to insist that the Palestinians come to the negotiating table to discuss the fate of land that Israel continued to seize."

A new poll conducted by Tel Aviv University indicated that the popularity of both Netanyahu and Lieberman is plummeting. This turnaround should give Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas more time to do some serious thinking as he must be careful not to repeat the same mistake he made when he chose to delay a UN indictment of the Israeli invasion of Gaza in response to American pressure. Why would he want to endorse "proximity talks" when the Israeli leadership cannot or will not deliver without public American pressure? After all, if he gets nothing from these talks Abbas will find himself in a defenceless corner.


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