Israel's PrimeMinister has unilaterally laid waste to years of Middle East Peace negotiations by blatantly ruling out issues that have long been on the table, and in so doing has once again humiliated President Obama's albeit pathetic attempts to resolve the ongoing crisis. Meanwhile the Palestinians are getting on with business.
Israelhas made it very clear that it has no intention of negotiating any peace settlement with the Palestinians. This of course is of no surprise. While the Palestinains are not entirely blameless, Israelhas been stalling and breaching agreements for decades, and largely getting away with it. Now, in a rant that must have made US President Obama seethe, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has unilaterally declared key issues supposedly still to be negotiated as part of a two-state solution, to be off the table.
After a longer than scheduled, and obviously testy meeting in Washingtonon Friday, Obama and Netanyahu finally emerged. Obama the diplomat mentioned that of course, “as friends” they had a few disagreements.
Like a petulant blowhard, Netanyahu launched in to a tirade that cut through the so called final-status issues that continue to prove so problematic to the Middle East Peace process.
To Obama’s support (backed by the UN, the EU and Russia) for a two-state solution based on the pre 1967 June War borders, Netanyahu said no. Not going to happen. Those borders he labeled “indefensible” – as in the mighty Israeli military defense forces can’t guarantee to keep out all the neighbours who, for some strange reasons, don’t particularly like Israel.
What was indefensible was his blindsiding of a President whom he clearly can’t stand (and the feelings are likely mutual), and it was also indefensible to accuse the Palestinians of engaging in unilateral behaviour in their statehood bid, yet he unilaterally changed the agreed basis of any negotiations.
To a major grievance of the Palestinians – the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were expelled from their homes and lives to make way for incoming Jews - Netanyahu dismissed Palestinian refugees as not his problem and never to be accommodated within Israel. I suppose he finally came clean instead of continuing the charade he’s been engaged in pretending he was seriously considering the refugee issue. But now he blatantly said “not going to happen and time to tell the Palestinians the truth”.
Almost in the same breath he clung to the biblical 4000 year lineage of the Jews whom he declared have suffered more than any other people, and are on history’s final chance to have their sovereign state. He then rubbished the claims of the grandchildren of Palestinian refugees to return to their homelands. So 4000 years of largely undocumented history vs. two generations of reality, and he keeps a straight face? He’s not stupid enough to not get it. He gets it alright. Given his education he is also likely very well aware that such historical claims to land have absolutely no standing in international law, as any indigenous peoples who have been colonized will attest.
Netanyahu also said the Israelis are prepared to make “generous” concessions for peace, but couldn’t articulate one such concession.
The so-called “facts on the ground” which are a euphemism for illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land – often built only once the Palestinians have been forcibly evicted to make way for the settler condos – are now in open play.
Netanyahu says these “certain demographics” – including 1500 new apartments to be built in East Jerusalem which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state – have meant that new realities have to be acknowledged. Reality means Israel takes more land and Palestinians lose more land. Facts on the ground.
On the issue of negotiations, Netanyahu repeated his dictate that Fatah has to make a choice - a unity government with Hamas or peace with Israel. It can’t have both. Why? Because the peace-loving Netanyahu said it can’t. That’s why. This is the same man who used to regurgitate a convenient Israeli mantra that it can’t negotiate with the Palestinians while they are divided. Now they are united Israelcan’t negotiate with them because one of the party – Hamas – doesn’t recognize Israel.
Actually, it does in an implicit way because it has committed to working with Fatah towards a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, ergo; it recognizes a second state which is Israel. That is recognition, just not in a subservient capitulatory manner which would please Netanyahu and/or humiliate Hamas. The Israeli expects the world to believe his word, yet he blatantly ignores the commitment the Fatah-Hamas agreement has made to restrain from violence and to commit to all previously negotiated agreements with Israel.
Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, while rightly wary of Hamas’ involvement and ultimate intentions, have left some wriggle room for negotiations should Palestinian President Abbas pull off the unity agreement and bring about new democratic elections.
Neither Obama nor Netanyahu, in their fulsome praise for democracy seem to consider it is also a right of the Palestinians. Well, not a right worth mentioning publicly. Obama in his Middle East speech devoted much of the 50 minute rehash of what we already know about Tunisia and Egypt and all the other brave young (and not so young) people fighting for their rights, but never seemed to accord such rights or desires to the Palestinians who have been living under occupation since long before Mubarak, Assad, Ben Ali, Qaddafi & Co.
There is much controversy over whether Obama’s call for the 1967 borders to be the basis of a contiguous, viable Palestinian state was in fact the first such open mention of the planned borders by an American President.
If it was, it was refreshing. If not, who cares as it has been the basis of all negotiations of recent times anyway.
But, what was Obama playing at when he warned the Palestinians that their bid for international recognition as a sovereign state at the September United Nations meeting would not eventuate in statehood?
Was he trying to appease the powerful Jewish Lobby in the US, the fundraising tentacles of which permeate all political elections including those Presidents?
What he has done is indicate early on the US will use its Security Council veto to block any resolution recognizing a sovereign Palestinian state. That is the same veto it used in early 2011 to protect Israel from international criticism of its illegal settlement building, despite the US having deplored such settlements and demanded they be halted.
The Palestinians no doubt have some other tactical options, and have already said Obama’s warning will deter neither the speed nor depth of their diplomatic programme to convince the world’s countries to back their right to be a recognized, sovereign state. All indications are that the PLO will present a tremendous moral force at the upcoming UNGA, with possibly three times as much support Kosovo had when it was officially recognized as a sovereign state in 2008.
Kosovo of course had US backing for its right to national self determination and the sovereign state to go with that. Surely if the wave of change throughout the Middle East which Obama has now devoted so much speech time to has taught him anything, it is that now is the time to act for Palestinians. How can an outreach to the Middle East and a commitment to the spread of democracy possibly tolerate continued occupation?
If that’s not enough incentive, how about settling for a little light slapping down of Netanyahu given the humiliation the Israeli hawk has once again meted out to Israel’s “greatest friend and ally” – a friend he clearly has no respect for?
Now watch for Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress and to the Jewish Lobby group AIPAC.