Exclusive to The Gulf Today
In the current confrontation between the unborn Palestinian state and global heavyweight US/Israel, Palestine has won the first round. The US has demonstrated its reckless adherence to the line dictated by the right-wing Israeli regime while it has, once again, exposed its rejection of the two-state solution the international community has not only endorsed but also wants to see implemented.
It remains to be seen how the Palestinians handle rounds two and three in the ongoing campaign for the “internationalisation” of the Palestinian drive for statehood. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has adopted a two-stage strategy which may or may not work. On Friday, before delivering his address to the UN General Assembly, he handed a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling for Security Council recognition of Palestine as a state with borders defined by the ceasefire line of June 4, 1967 and admission to the UN as a full member.
Regulations dictate that the Council has 25 days to consider this letter before voting and ten days to pass its recommendations to the General Assembly. Abbas has said he is prepared to wait, without specifying how long. If the US-dominated Council fails to act or the US blocks the Palestinian bid either with a veto or by subverting countries pledged to support the application, Abbas could go to the Assembly where the Palestinians have the support of at least 130 of the 193 members.
The Assembly can upgrade Palestine to the status of “non-member observer state.” This would be a major breakthrough for the Palestinians because the borders of this state would be defined as encompassing East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The definition of the border between Palestine and Israel would settle one of the most contentious issues under negotiation over the past 20 years and not to Israel’s liking since it has planted half a million illegal colonists in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Having failed to prevent Abbas from going to the UN, the US now seeks to block Council action and to pre-empt Palestinian action in the Assembly by trying to restart negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. The US is unlikely to succeed because Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not willing to meet Palestinian conditions for resumption: halt the expansion of its colonies in occupied Palestinian territory and negotiate on the basis of the 1967 line. Netanyahu is unlikely to change his mind at Washington’s behest because he has defeated and repeatedly humiliated the Obama administration whenever it has tried to break the impasse between the sides.
As a result, an Israel-compliant President Barack Obama blew it in his address to this year’s opening session of the General Assembly. A year ago he pledged that Palestine would take its place as a full member state by the 2011 session. Thanks to Israeli intransigence and US pusillanimity, this did not happen. Last Wednesday, he gave no date for Palestinian entry and simply said there was no route for Palestinian statehood except through direct negotiations with Israel. Obama did not mention a halt to Israeli settlements, refer to the border of the Palestinian state on the line of 1967, or give a timetable for results in the negotiations he wants to resume.
He spoke of Israel’s need to live at peace with its neighbours who, he said, untruthfully, had repeatedly waged war on Israel. He did not admit it was Israel that constantly mounted military campaigns against countries in the region. He did not note that the Arabs have only initiated conflict with Israel once, in 1973.
Israel was the aggressor in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1978, 1982, 1996, 2002, 2006, and 2008-09 and numerous skirmishes in between. Writing in The Irish Times on the morning after Obama delivered his dud address, Lara Marlowe exposed Obama as a hollow man. “It was Israel and the US alone against the world yesterday.” She cited last year’s enthusiastic welcome of Obama’s pledge to recommit to multilateralism and to the emergence of Palestine.
At that time, he “was greeted with thunderous applause.” But this year the Assembly chamber was silent, even shocked by his attitude. “A chasm had opened up with Europe…” she observed, pointing out that French President Nicolas Sarkozy put forward “a peace plan with deadlines and an interim status for the Palestinians” — as citizens in a “non-member state,” the operative word here being “state.”
The Israeli liberal daily Haaretz reported that Obama’s speech received “a kosher seal of approval” from none other than Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for delivering what the paper called “the warmest pro-Israel speech ever given at an annual General Assembly meeting by any US president, bar none.” Israeli commentators have quipped that Obama is the “first Jewish president” of the US. This is, of course, unfair since many US Jews do not support the hardline adopted by Netanyahu and his right-wing expansionist government.
Obama’s strategy seems to be to show a great deal of empathy for Israel at a time it is under more pressure than ever. Obama seems to believe this could tempt Netanyahu to restart negotiations. Talks with the Palestinians are the last thing he wants, particularly if asked to commit to a reference to the 1967 border, demanded by the Palestinians, and a definite timetable, demanded by Sarkozy.
A Palestinian attending the Ramallah celebrations marking Abbas’ UN bid reported that Michelle Obama, the president’s wife, observed that her husband’s great fault is that “he never finishes anything.” If indeed she made such a remark and if it is correct, it is a tragic and dangerous fault. It is tragic and dangerous because he is president just at the time the US must press Netanyahu to reach a deal acceptable to the Palestinians and the Arabs.
Failure to do so will mean another century of conflict and instability in a strategic region already unsettled due to the Arab Spring. If the Palestinians are denied independence in a viable state, Israel will never have peace and security.
Obama understood this when he gave historic speeches in Cairo in 2009 and at the UN in 2010. But his influence and popularity have been eroded by the US economic crisis, the determination of the Republican right to drive him from office, and his failure to assert leadership. Obama is now a president desperately running for a second term. He will do whatever it takes to get re-elected, even damn the Palestinians to eternal Israeli occupation.
(gulftoday.ae / 24.09.2011)