By Ameen Izzadeen
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly sessions last month, many world leaders, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, expressed hope there would be a Palestinian state by this time next year. The United States President Barack Obama, who is spearheading the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, was more guarded. Though he was optimistic, his optimism was couched in words that would not cause alarm in Israel or among the politically and financially powerful Jewish lobby in the United States.
This is what Obama told the UNGA: “… when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”
Note that Obama only spoke of an agreement that may lead to the creation of the Palestinian state, not the state itself. Many agreements have been signed in the past, but none has led to the creation of the Palestinian state. A reading between the lines of Obama’s speech highlights the president’s limitations in pushing the peace process and the United States’ servility towards Israel.
“Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States,” Obama told the UN General Assembly in his 4000-word speech, one fourth of which covered the US policy on the Israel-Palestinian crisis.
In hindsight, one wonders whether this particular part of Obama’s speech was a precursor to Israel’s demand or blackmail this week that the Palestinians should recognize Israel as an exclusively a Jewish state if they wanted Israel to suspend settlement building in the occupied West Bank. The significance is that Israel is not offering a permanent halt to settlement building or a dismantling of the settlements. It is only offering a temporary freeze.
“If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people that it recognises Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my cabinet and ask for another moratorium on building,” Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
Instead of criticizing Israel, the US saw some justification in the demand. It was only a year ago that Obama was refusing to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the latter’s refusal to heed Washington’s request that settlement building should be stopped forthwith. But today, the Obama administration displays little or no such assertiveness. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said: “What Prime Minister Netanyahu said… is, in essence, a core demand of the Israeli government, which we support.
“This is not a one-way street. It is a two-way street. The prime minister is offering something and asking for something. It is perfectly within the rights of the Palestinian Authority and President (Mahmoud) Abbas to say there’s something I need and there’s something I’m willing to give,” he said.
Crowley should have reiterated the US policy of opposing settlement building. Instead he was supporting Israel’s demand, which is akin to a robber’s demand that his right to own the robbed property be recognized.
The Obama administration started the peace process in good faith. But it soon realized that the US Middle East policy was set by the Jewish lobby. The administration has no option but to please the lobby, especially at a time when its popularity has plummeted and it is facing crucial mid-term elections. Otherwise, why should Washington support Netanyahu’s demand even though he has spurned the US request to extend the freeze on settlement building?
No Palestinian will accept Israel’s demand. If they yield to the demand, millions of Palestinian people who are living in refugee camps and throughout the Arab world after they were expelled from Israel in 1948 will lose their right to return to their homeland. These refugees still carry the original deeds of their property and the keys to their houses. Besides, the Arabs, who comprise one fifth of Israel’s population, could also be expelled on the basis that Israel belongs only to the Jewish people.
By placing such an unacceptable demand, Netanayahu has successfully derailed the US-sponsored peace efforts.
A month after hope-stirring speeches at the UN, the Palestinians’ dream of an independent state has become a dream within a dream. Peace activists and analysts would agree that every time the Palestinians meet Israel’s demands, under US pressure and in the hope that it would lead to an independent state for them, they face a new set of demands.
In the past, Israel had got the Palestinians to declare their armed struggle to free their land as terrorism. It had got the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist. It forced the Palestinian Authority to disarm Hamas and other militant groups – a move that led to a fratricidal war in the Gaza Strip.
What have the Palestinians got in return? While they met Israel’s tough demands, the Zionist state grabbed more Palestinian lands by building a security wall, constructing new settlements and expanding the existing ones in the occupied Palestinian land.
The writer can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
(This article also appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka of October 15, 2010)