Adel Saft
Gulf News (Opinion)
July 18, 2011 - 12:00am

The unrealised peace process recently suffered some setbacks. Last week, the members of the Quartet (US, Russia, UN and the EU) — the driving force behind the peace process — met in Washington. They took stock of the growing gap between the parties and the obvious dead-end the parties and the Quartet had reached.

They adjourned their meeting without issuing a statement. Since the members of the Quartet rely chiefly on Washington to advance the peace process through direct negotiations between the parties, and since the Obama administration had nothing new to report, there was not much to say. This was a disappointment for the Palestinians but good news for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who time and again has shown lack of serious interest in negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians.

In fact, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last week that an American official described the Quartet meeting as ‘excellent'. The US official reportedly said that the members of the Quartet "expressed support for President Barack Obama's May Middle East speech." The US official, using language eerily similar to that used by Netanyahu, added that the Quartet "called to start preparatory phases of talks without any preconditions."

At a press conference before the Quartet meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton refused to support the Palestinian drive to secure, in September, a United Nations declaration of Palestinian independence.

Another setback suffered by the Palestinians was the appointment last month of Denis Ross as President Obama's Special Envoy to the Middle East. This is a setback for the Palestinians because Ross holds the undisputed record of failures in the Middle East. He has been on so many missions to the Middle East and accomplished so little, it is hard to see what endeared him to Obama. Unless it is the fact that Ross is known as the lawyer for Israel at the White House. Ross, a Jew and a Zionist, served as the Chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute in occupied Jerusalem. The appointment of Ross, therefore, signals yet another move by the Obama administration closer to the Israeli position — a move designed to appeal to Obama's Jewish constituencies while bringing pressure to bear on the Palestinians.

The Ross mission is to convince the Palestinians to abandon their quest for UN declaration of Palestinian independence. That is not all. Ross is also expected to persuade the Palestinians to recognise Israel as the state of ‘the Jewish people.'

In other words, Ross will seek to accomplish through various means of pressure on the Palestinians what 62 years of belligerency since the establishment of Israel, and almost 20 years of negotiations since the Oslo Agreement in 1993, have failed to achieve: An acceptance by the Palestinians of the discriminatory nature of the Zionist foundations of Israel whereby a Jew born anywhere in the world, has more rights in Palestine than a Christian or a Muslim Palestinian born in Palestine.

This enormous concession, demanded by Netanyahu and endorsed by Washington, if granted, would mean giving up the Palestinian refugees' right of return — a core issue that Netanyahu and now the Obama administration, want to extract from the Palestinian leadership before any negotiations. The Palestinian leadership simply does not have the right to give away the Palestinian people's right of return, an inalienable right under international law and UN resolutions. A third setback to the moribund peace process and to Palestinian aspirations of independence, took place recently when the US Congress intervened to threaten retribution if the Palestinians did not abandon their UN drive for a declaration of independence.

Circumventing talks

The Senate adopted by unanimous consent a bill, and the House voted for a similar version by an overwhelming majority (407-6) both threatening consequences if the Palestinians insisted on going to the UN, and persisted in "circumventing negotiations."

In its draft version FY12 Foreign Relations Authorisation Act, the House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced two pro-Israel elements: one legislates into policy the reassurances Bush had given Israeli Prime Minister Sharon about borders and Jewish colonies (April 14, 2004 letter); a second compels Washington to relocate the American embassy to [occupied] Jerusalem, with the following astounding statement: " even if it directly conflicts with US national security to do so."

It is clear from these developments that the Obama administration moved closer to the Israeli position — already fanatically supported by the American Congress to the point where the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is said to have actually written the text of the two resolutions mentioned above.

While the administration and the Congress are joining Israel in making formidable demands on the Palestinians, the Israelis, as they wont, have been busy creating more facts on the ground.

The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem reported late last month that the Israeli civil administration announced its intention to confiscate 189 dunams of land, some privately owned by the Palestinian village Qaryut, and to give it to the so-called illegal outpost Yove. "The unlawful declaration of state land," a report by B'Tselem states, "gives a cloak of legality to the theft of land."

This theft of land is not only illegal, but also a flagrant violation of commitments made publicly by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during his June 14, 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan university. Proclaiming his acceptance of the two-state solution, Netanyahu affirmed: "We have no intention of building new colonies or of expropriating additional land for existing colonies."

With an American president unable to translate rhetoric into reality, an American Congress more concerned with Israeli interests than with US national security, an Israeli prime minister who once boasted about torpedoing the Oslo agreement; a timid UN, a conservative Russia and a helpless EU; and with continued Israeli collective punishment in Gaza and dispossession of Palestinian land, the peace process is crumbling.

It seems unsalvageable, unless Obama were to forcefully show concern not just for the security of Israel, but also for justice and international law as the basis for a peaceful settlement.


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