The U.S. must stand up to Israel or exit the Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Published September 30th, 2014 - 08:36 GMT

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has been playing by America’s rules for years and received nothing for his efforts apart from empty promises. Unlike his fiery predecessor, Yasser Arafat, until now he’s adopted a non-combative, compromising stance and been taken to task by his Palestinian critics as being too compliant. But since Israel’s seven-week-long onslaught on Gaza that robbed so many innocent lives and left 10,000 families homeless, he’s put diplomatic-speak on the shelf, as evidenced by his no holds-barred speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week.

Israel perpetrated “war crimes carried out before the eyes of the world,” he told delegates. “We will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment,” he said, while accusing Israel of committing “genocide.” Furthermore, he has petitioned the UN Security Council to pass a resolution giving Israel three years to withdraw from occupied Palestinian territories. The three-year deadline is no coincidence. Analysts suggest that if Israel continues building on Palestinian land at the current rate, there will be virtually nothing left for a meaningful Palestinian state; not that any such state can be truly independent when Israel refuses to contemplate anything other than a toothless, demilitarized entity without control over its own borders or air space.

Unfortunately, that request is merely symbolic because, of course, it will automatically be vetoed by the United States, even though a two-state solution has long been official US policy. Such a vote would, however, be an embarrassment for the Obama administration, especially if the US is the only country to wield its veto as has occurred in the past. Indeed, Abbas’ speech has gone down like a lead brick with the White House, which described it as “offensive and deeply disappointing.”

In fact, what is truly offensive and deeply disappointing is America’s unwillingness or inability to pressure Prime Minister Netanyahu to quit settlement expansion, to lift the blockade on Gaza and to conduct sincere negotiations on a future Palestinian state rather than go through the motions to keep criticism at bay.

There was no such compunction about punishing Egypt for overturning the failed Morsi government in accordance with the people’s will or slapping harsh economic sanctions on Russia on behalf of Ukraine. Whatever crimes Israel commits are glossed over. However, many UN resolutions Israel laughs in the face of are simply filed away to gather dust. Israel is arguably the only country in the world, apart from the US, that does what it likes with impunity.

Lest we forget during his first term in office, Obama pledged to dedicate his efforts toward bringing a two-state solution into fruition; he began with a bang appointing a succession of Middle East envoys and, as he’s done on so many other foreign policy matters, ended with a whimper. 

It’s an understatement to say that his relationship with Netanyahu is cool. And it’s probably true that he is genuinely sympathetic to the Palestinian cause — before he became a lawmaker, he used to attend Palestinian fundraisers and was quoted as telling the Palestinian writer/academic Edward Said to keep up the good work. But he lacks sufficient backbone to make a stand, thus alienating the pro-Israel lobby as well as the majority of the American voting public that’s been indoctrinated to believe Israel “the victim” can do no wrong for generations. It is doubtful that his successor, whoever he or she turns out to be, will act — or rather fail to act — any differently. Given the restraints put upon US presidents, past, present or future, it’s fair to say that America cannot be considered as an honest broker. 

It was interesting to see that Obama took his hands off the helm during Israel’s negotiations with Hamas on a cease-fire, moving aside to place Egypt front and center.

Egypt, partnered with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states, could be the key to negotiating a way out of this quagmire. All that’s required is some lateral thinking. Sad to say, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative was rejected out of hand by Israel. But circumstances have changed. Israel today is bordering on pariah status internationally with boycotts and divestments. At the same time, some Arab states are more proactive than they were on a variety of issues, as we are witnessing now with the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan in Syria and Iraq to defend the region and, by sheer happenstance, Arabs and Israelis face some of the same enemies.

It goes without saying that Netanyahu isn’t keen to part with any occupied land; he’s not a piece for peace guy. However, he’s also concerned about demographics undermining “the Jewish” state. Once the world says R.I.P. to two states, there will be loud calls for a one state solution giving political parity and rights for all citizens. Besides, all Israeli leaders have one concern uppermost in their minds — to counter threats to Israel’s very existence. 

In this case, it would make sense for the Arab League to produce a new peace initiative without set-in-stone pre-conditions guaranteeing Israel’s security and opening the door to diplomatic norms with all 22 member-countries. A committee could be appointed to negotiate directly with Israeli officials without the US middleman. America could either participate as an advocate for Israel’s interests (as it’s been doing all along) or as an observer.

Old paradigms have failed. New realities must be acknowledged. The old path to peace was strewn with boulders and quicksand, so it makes sense for all those involved to seek a new one. That might have insurmountable obstacles too, but it’s surely worth trying. 

By Linda Heard

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