Is there anyone familiar with the history of the Israel-Palestine peace process who still believes that this Israeli government would defy the over half-a-million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- by far the most influential political force in Israel -- and their networks of supporters within Israel, and present Palestinians with a reasonable peace plan for a two-state solution that would be acceptable to even the most moderate and accommodating of Palestinian leaders?
Shelly Yachimovich, an Israeli Knesset Member who is a leading candidate for the Labor Party's leadership, recently declared that Israel's settlement project is "not a sin or a crime" since it was initiated by a Labor government, and therefore "a completely consensual move." Leaving aside the bizarre notion that the consensus of thieves legitimizes their theft, if these are the views of candidates for Labor Party leadership in today's Israel, what prospect can there possibly be for an acceptable peace accord to emerge from the peace process?
And is there anyone who witnessed the frenzied applause that greeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's most recent speech before the U.S. Congress in which he left no doubt about his government's intentions for East Jerusalem and for the West Bank, or heard President Obama's assurances to AIPAC's conventioneers that the ties that bind the U.S. to Israel are forever "unbreakable," who still believes that the U.S. will ever exert the kind of pressure on Israel that will finally change its cost/benefit calculations with regard to its colonial project?
These incontestable realities give the lie to America's absurd insistence -- expressed most recently by President Obama on September 12 -- that a Palestinian state can be achieved only as a result of an agreement between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. Surely President Obama must know that left to their own devices, Netanyahu and Abbas will never reach a two state agreement, and that the only purpose a resumed "peace process" would serve is to continue to provide a cover for further Israeli land grabs in the West Bank.
The U.S. might have persuaded President Abbas to abandon the U.N. initiative in favor of resumed negotiations had it reassured him that if the Netanyahu/Lieberman government does not offer them a peace plan within a reasonable period of time based on the 1967 borders, agreed-upon equal territorial swaps and the sharing of Jerusalem, the U.S. would itself present such a plan to the Security Council.
Unfortunately the U.S. lacked the political courage to do so. Instead of enabling President Abbas to withdraw his U.N. initiative by providing him with a justification for such a move, the U.S. has sought to intimidate Palestinian leadership into changing course by threatening to exercise its veto in the Security Council and ending America's financial support for the Palestinian Authority. Leaving aside the perverseness of this threatened "punishment" -- which will not only end Israeli-Palestinian security collaboration but will increase the likelihood of a third Intifada -- when has an American president recently threatened an Israeli government with any kind of punishment for their rejection of U.S. advice, even when Israeli actions have been in clear violation of international law?
The Palestinian "crime"-- turning to the U.N. for relief from one of the longest military occupations in modern history, in part to deter those within its own ranks who have lost all hope from resort to violence-- that has elicited so draconian an American response might in fact be seen as an act of statesmanship, to be encouraged and rewarded. But stealing the Palestinian people's territorial patrimony -- which is how the U.N. Partition Resolution of 1947 defined not only the West Bank but territory twice its size-- is a crime in international law, as is the transfer of Israel's citizens to those territories. Yet these crimes have never drawn more than empty American reproaches, invariably followed by solemn reaffirmations of the immutability of America's bonds with Israel.
The contrast between America's reaction to Israeli and Palestinian transgressions dramatically illustrates the futility of relying on the U.S. to present the parties with a fair and balanced framework for a final status solution and then using its considerable clout to see to its implementation. Instead, the U.S. can be counted on to make the protection of Israel's interests -- as defined even by its most reactionary and xenophobic governments-- its first priority. The U.S. Congress, if not the White House, will see to that.
President Abbas and his supporters have reason to be confident that in refusing to withdraw their U.N. initiative they have chosen the right course. For Palestinians, as well as the international community, must come to terms with the hard reality that a two state solution will have to be achieved not only without U.S. help but in the face of its opposition. A General Assembly resolution affirming the Palestinians' right to statehood within the 1967 borders and granting them "non-member state" observer status will not produce immediate progress in ending Israel's occupation. But it is likely to trigger a global reaction to Israel's continuing efforts to dispossess Palestinians from the 22% of Palestine that has been left them. That reaction will have a far better chance of bringing Israelis back to their senses, and to the values of the Jewish state's founders, than any of America's feckless efforts have to date.
Henry Siegman is president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He is also a non-resident research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
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No Freedom For Palestine, Thunders Washington
Could we see a great leap forward next week on the Palestinian's long quest for statehood?
Not quite. The Palestinian Authority (PA) says it will ask the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade from being a non-voting "observer entity" to an "observer state." This bureaucratic-sounding change hardly seems earthshaking. The Vatican is an "observer state."
But the earth is shaking. A majority of the world's nations are fed up by the endless suffering of the stateless Palestinians and support creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza.
Turkey's increasingly influential premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, went to Cairo last week and spoke for the world: "Let's raise the Palestinian flag and let that flag be the symbol of peace and justice in the Middle East."
The United States is desperately scrambling to head off a favorable vote in the UN. Washington threatens to veto any pro-Palestine vote in the Security Council - that alone can grant statehood status to a new state. The US is exerting huge pressure on allies and dependant states to vote against any resolution in the General Assembly.
Threats and blackmail aside, the US, Israel and newly pro-Israel Canada are largely isolated on this issue. Israel is in a panic and is using all its mighty influence to sidetrack a vote. Its hard rightwing government is threatening the Palestinian territory with unspecified "grave consequences.'
A special Congressional election in New York City last week gave Israel and its American supporters powerful new ammunition. A Democratic candidate in a long-time Democratic district was soundly defeated after he and President Barack Obama were denounced for "throwing Israel under a bus."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading the anti-Palestinian diplomatic drive. She clearly has future political ambitions and is buttering up Israel's supporters. Her goal is to arm-twist the feeble Palestinian leadership, which critics call a stooge of Israel and the US, to accept some sort of diluted compromise that does not upset Israel.
Israel's right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu clearly controls Washington's Middle East policy through its US lobby. This has poisoned US interests in the Muslim world at a time that American domination of the turbulent region is weakening.
Turkey's Erdogan just called Israel, "America's spoiled child," a view shared by many. The 9/11 hijackers who attacked New York and Washington made plain they were doing so to punish America for its unquestioned support of Israel's repression of Palestine. Other attacks are likely to follow.
In a black comedy, US efforts to make PA leader Mahmoud Abbas back down are being led by Dennis Ross, one of Israel's staunchest partisans in the US government. The US Congress, ever responsive to Israel's demands, threatens to cut off all funding for Palestinian refugees and any UN organ that supports them.
Israel, now no longer quietly assisted by Egypt's former ruler, Hosni Mubarak, or Turkey's rightwing generals, is feeling increasingly isolated. But it can still count on unquestioning US support.
Many outsiders believe a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is possible provided irksome details can be resolved. This writer, who recently published a book on the subject, does not share this rosy view.
Israel's hard right Likud Party and its semi-fascist coalition allies are determined to retain the entire West Bank and Golan Heights. According to the closest thing Israel has to a real sage, Uri Avnery, Likud not only refuses to define Israel's borders, it has a powerful faction that wants further territorial expansion into Syria and Lebanon.
Israel's strategy has been to hold endless, phony "peace talks" while rapidly expanding West Bank and Golan settlements. As one Palestinian aptly noted, his people and Israel are negotiating over a pizza while Israel is eating it up.
Now, as President Obama steadily weakens, Israel's right sees a Republican victory in 2012 that will bring in a new president and Congress even more pro-Israel than Israel's own Knesset.
An upgrade of Palestine's orphan UN status won't do anything to address these basic problems. But it will at least keep the plight of Palestine before the world's view. It will certainly put the US and Israel on the wrong side of history and justice.
copyright Eric S. Margolis 2011