George S. Hishmeh
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
October 22, 2010 - 12:00am

While all the world was watching, silently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to sabotage the US-sponsored “peace talks” with the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

Most governments and many international organisations, particularly the United Nations, seemed handcuffed, but the right-wing Israeli government has still lost significant support at home and abroad for its extremist views and shortsightedness.

This disappointing turnaround coincides with another noteworthy milestone, the 15th anniversary of the assassination by an Israeli extremist of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the first Israeli leader to sign a peace agreement, known as the Oslo Peace Accords, with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. (Rabin, the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat and Israeli president Shimon Perez all received the Nobel Peace Prize for their achievement.)

Whatever led the present Israeli leader to seemingly quash the negotiations, shepherded by the Obama administration, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the Israeli intransigence must have come as a shock to the White House, which had regrettably tried to cajole the Netanyahu government with military and economic rewards.

The Palestinian leadership has, meanwhile, notified Washington that it will hold off on any action until the end of October, the undeclared understanding being that once the mid-term elections are over, President Barack Obama may feel ready to take stiffer actions against Israeli intransigence.

The uncompromising Israeli tone has clearly been echoed here in the public views of American-born Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and other Israeli apologists, who all attempted to put the blame on the Palestinians who, like the White House, wanted an extension of the moratorium on colonial expansion in the Israeli-occupied territories.?After all, their reasonable expectation is that Israel will recognise that its settlers on illegally occupied Palestinian territories will have to leave once a settlement i? reached.

Ambassador Oren, born Michael Bornstein in upstate New York, the only Jewish boy in a Catholic neighbourhood in New Jersey, says he experienced anti-Semitism on daily basis.?This may explain his confrontational attitude, as was the case when he told reporters this week in Washington that Israel would not allow anyone to dictate its borders.

“Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organisation, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Oren argued earlier that?“affirmation of Israel’s Jewishness ... is the very foundation of peace, is DNA”. But he did not explain how a fifth of the Israeli people, who are Palestinian Arabs, can then be assured of equal rights with their Jewish neighbours, something they are denied to this very day.

In turn, Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post maintained, mistakenly, that the “settlement impasse originated not with Netanyahu or Abbas but with President Obama - who by insisting on an Israeli freeze has created a near-insuperable obstacle to the peace process he is trying to promote”. He does not understand that construction in occupied lands is illegal under international law.Moreover, the Arab world has always protested the encroachment of Israeli colonists on the occupied Palestinian territories - ?he West Bank and Gaza Strip - a little over one-fifth of pre-1948 Palestine.

The illegal Israeli expansion has been condemned by the United Nations, several international bodies and many nations. This explains why Obama brought the settlement issue up at the UN General Assembly session last month, much to Diehl’s chagrin who saw it as “misguided rhetoric”.

Netanyahu’s arrogance continues to have no boundaries; last week he approved the construction of 240 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem - a step the liberal Israeli daily, Haaretz, saw as “an attempt to sabotage the efforts to renew direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians”. Maybe the Israeli leader needs to be reminded that even the United States does not recognise Jerusalem as an integral part of Israel, since it still has its consulate in the Arab sector of the Holy City.

Last but not least, Israel now wants to amend its citizenship law whereby newly naturalised Israeli citizens must pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, a step seen as “unapologetically racist”. Lately, apparently on a second thought, Netanyahu said he wants all citizens to take the oath - a point that has divided the Knesset to the extent that it may not pass in any version.

Interestingly, more than a year ago, the Israeli government rejected a similar proposal. But can we be sure that Netanyahu has no additional tricks in his bag that may kill any chances of resuming the negotiations with the Palestinians?


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