George S. Hishmeh
Gulf News (Opinion)
June 9, 2011 - 12:00am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have had a point when he claimed that Syria allowed Palestinian youth to jump the border fence separating northern Israel from Syria's Golan Heights — occupied by Israel after the 1967 war — in a bid to deflect attention from the bloody demonstrations against President Bashar Al Assad.

As things turned out, the world's attention ended up being focused on Israel's lethal response — it gunned down two dozen unarmed Palestinian youths climbing the border fence that Israel built 44 years ago after occupying the Golan Heights.

This Palestinian action was a repeat of what happened three weeks ago when young Palestinians resorted to the same tactic to mark Israel's establishment in May 1948 which led to the dispossession of their homeland.

Once again, it also served as an eye-opener about the brutal policies of the Israeli regime since all western powers, particularly the US, remain by all accounts beholden to Israel and their wealthy Jewish supporters. All keep mum about these bloody Israel reactions and their continued colony expansion in the West Bank where more than half a million colonists have moved since the 1967 war.

More so, these ruthless Israeli measures, championed by Netanyahu's right-wing government, have sowed serious dissension within Israeli society — a significant development that the western media hardly exposes, thus allowing western governments to make only perfunctory responses.

In the case of Arab autocrats, however, western governments have taken, though belatedly, salutary countermeasures as in freezing the assets of government leaders and their families.

Wouldn't it be more logical, for example, for the US to freeze its financial support of Israel — more than $3 billion (Dh11.01 billion) annually — in the hope that Israel can work out a decent settlement with its neighbours?

But thanks to some US supporters, especially well-placed journalists like Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, Israel has a glorified image. Lately, however, and in the wake of the Arab Spring that is toppling Arab autocrats, several American Jewish groups and activists have turned their guns on the Israeli establishment.

Biased reporting

For example, Jerome Segal, president of the Jewish Peace Lobby, took Krauthammer, who regularly appears in talk shows, to task for "misrepresent[ing] both the Israeli and Palestinian positions in past negotiations about borders, "the 1967 lines and land swaps" — two issues highlighted by President Barack Obama during his recent speech on the Middle East.

Krauthammer reported, erroneously, that the Palestinians have three times rejected this formula — "at Camp David 2000, Taba 2001, and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas negotiations," explaining that "everytime, the Palestinians said no and walked away" insisting that their position remains "the 1967 lines. Period." Segal countered in a letter published in the Washington Post that the agreement on swaps failed because at Camp David the Israelis "initially proposed swaps on a nine-for-one basis".

Segal explained that the Israelis sought annexation of colony "blocs' that include "considerably more land than just where settlers [colonists] reside" leaving the Palestinians "facing a map that looks like Swiss cheese". Furthermore, "the two sides have not been able to agree on whether, when Israel retains Jewish neighbourhoods in [occupied] east Jerusalem, these areas will count as areas for which Israel has to provide compensation".

Segal concluded: "Were the Netanyahu government to state its willingness to accept one-for-one land swaps, negotiations could probably resume promptly and a compromise could be reached".

There are many similar interactions that are now surfacing, probably because more Americans are fed up with the extremist views of Israeli leaders and what Obama said on May 19 that the Arab revolutions under way have made the resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict "more urgent than ever".

A former senator, Mike Gravel, pointed out that during his 12 years in the US senate he "enjoyed the support of a number of Jewish organisations, most notably the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the preeminent pro-Israel lobbying organisation".

But as a result of a conflict with Aipac over his intention to vote on a draft resolution offering military aid to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel — Aipac did not want Egypt and Saudi Arabia included; he realised that "political positions and decisions within Aipac were and continue to be profoundly influenced by the Israeli government".

He wrote last month in Counterpunch that "Until Israel's leadership and policies change, we will not see regional peace. Unless American leaders acquire a more balanced approach, and become more supportive of Palestinian aspirations for freedom, the United States will not be able to act as a fair broker for peace".

In a recent letter to Obama signed by many prominent former US officials including Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Congressmen Lee H. Hamilton wrote, "if we do not put forward a clear framework for a fair and workable two-state solution to the conflict, the peace process will in effect have been abandoned, for all other approaches have been tried — over and over again — and have failed".

All this is going on without any significant Arab presence except for an occasional Op-Ed from an Arab-American university professor or activist. What is urgently needed is a well-financed Arab-American advocacy group to energise new thinking in the US.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017