Middle East peace: Is Israel going back to the golden calf?

By Ameen Izzadeen
US President Barack Obama’s deadline for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority expired on Wednesday with the two sides blaming each other and the US blaming both. But the deadline expired not before it exposed the hardline Israeli government’s lack of desire for peace and the weaknesses in Washington’s peace efforts.
President Obama, perhaps, had good intentions to bring peace to the violence-plagued land of the peacemakers. In his naivety, he probably thought he would succeed where his predecessors had failed.
Displaying the enthusiasm of a schoolboy upon being appointed prefect or class monitor, Obama, upon being elected as the US president in 2008, sent a powerful message of peace to the world. On his first day in the White House Oval Office as President of the United States, he made his first overseas telephone call to Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas. The peace-starved Middle East was elated and the people thought the messiah had come, though his moves irritated the powerful Israeli lobby in the US. Hardline Zionists branded him an enemy of Israel. Rightwing politicians wondered whether Obama was subtly putting into action the words of his Chicago pastor and close associate Jeremiah Wright.
Pastor Wright of the Trinity United Church of the Christ officiated at Obama’s wedding and his two children’s baptism. His sermons inspired Obama to name his 2006 memoir as ‘The Audacity of Hope’. In his sermons, the radical priest condemns the white settlers’ robbery of the land belonging to the Native Americans. He labels the US bombing of Grenada, Panama, Libya, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki as acts of terror and charges that the United States supports Israel to commit state terrorism against the Palestinians.
The fact that Obama did not dissociate himself from Pastor Wright’s controversial but morally correct comments until the rightwing US media raked it up and made a political scandal out of it during the 2008 election campaign indicates that Obama at least sympathises with Pastor Wright’s views or sees some truth in them.
Despite the rightwing corporate media’s efforts to show that Obama was hostile to Israel, a majority of the American voters elected him on an anti-war platform. In his inauguration address in January 2009, he sounded as though he was ready to mend fences with the Muslim world. He called on the Muslim world to join him in “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
He took this message forward and signalled a new beginning in the United States’ Middle East policy when he delivered one of his famous speeches six months into his presidency in Cairo in June 2009. He told the audience at the Cairo University that he would pursue a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and he would do so “with all the patience that the task requires.” The ecstatic crowds screamed, “Obama we love you” although his speech contained the usual refrain of reassuring and mollycoddling Israel.
During his Cairo speech, he described the United States’ ties with Israel as “unbreakable,” but vowed not to “turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own”. He said that “just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.”
His speech and subsequent efforts to re-launch the Middle East peace process drew only lukewarm response from Israel where the Zionist hardliners vowed to make him a one-time President. Despite his turbulent relationship with Israel, Obama, defying predictions, won reelection in 2012. He even had the courage to snub hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by refusing to meet him in September 2012 just two months before the crucial reelection. He was livid that the Israeli prime minister had paid no heed to his request that Israel should stop building Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. For Obama believed that the settlements were the main impediment to the peace process. However, he worked towards a thaw with the Netanyahu government and undertook a visit to Israel and the West Bank last year to inject some steroids into his peace plan, which is also called ‘the John Kerry initiative’. He urged Netanyahu to make the “tough decisions” needed to advance a two-state solution.
Carrying Obama’s peace plan to the region, Secretary of State Kerry made several visits, the frequency of which was unprecedented in the Middle East peace-making history.
But what was not unprecedented was Israel’s response. Every time, the Palestinians met the conditions set by the US and the international community for peace, Israel would make fresh demands and push the peace process backwards. This happened during the Kerry initiative also with Israel sabotaging the peace process by annexing more Palestinian lands and provoking the desperate Palestinians to take countermeasures such as seeking membership in international organisations.
The US in deference to its special relationship with the Zionist state — a relationship that has prevented it from playing the role of an honest broker in the peace initiative — would say nary a word publicly censuring Israel. Instead the Palestinians got the flak for trying to dampen the peace process. For instance, under the Kerry initiative, Israel was to release several Palestinian political prisoners but Israel made only a perfunctory gesture by releasing a few Palestinians and stopping the process.
Obviously, the Palestinian frustration built up and they began losing hope in the peace process.
In a highly calculated move, President Mahmood Abbas did what was right. His Fatah group and its rival Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip signed a unity deal last week. As expected, Netanyahu seized the announcement of the unity deal to halt the peace talks and urged Abbas to “tear up” the unity deal.
Under the unity deal, the Palestinians will form a government comprising technocrats until elections are held before the end of this year to the Palestinian presidency and the national assembly. There were at least four such attempts at a Palestinian unity government previously and hence many Palestinians are not too optimistic about the present agreement.
Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of scuttling the Kerry initiative. But the Palestinians disagree.
“When we are divided, Mr. Netanyahu claims that he cannot find a Palestinian that can represent all Palestinians and thus he cannot make peace and when we are united he claims that he cannot make peace with a unified Palestinian front. In my opinion it is Mr. Netanyahu that is the problem, it is his extremist government that is the problem. Mr. Netanyahu has chosen settlements over peace,” Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti told reporters.
But describing Hamas as “a murderous terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel” Netanyahu says, “Whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace.”
A statement released by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) says the new government will continue to seek a negotiated deal with Israel, support non-violence to end the occupation and uphold previous agreements signed with Israel. The statement conforms to the US conditions for any unity government.
Yet, the US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki described the unity deal as “disappointing,” and repeated the fallacy of defending the Zionist state by saying it was hard for Israel to negotiate with a government that did not believe in its right to exist.
Israel and Hamas have entered into several ceasefire agreements. Besides, Hamas has long made it clear that it is for a two-state solution, indicating it recognises Israel’s right to exist. Yet Israel and its friends in the West keep referring to Hamas as a group that has pledged to destroy Israel. Hamas is no match for Israel militarily. Therefore, Netanyahu or Washington citing Hamas as an obstacle to peace is hogwash. In contrast, the United Nations, Russia, the European Union and even Iran have welcomed the unity deal.
The US apparently knows that Israel is once again up to its delaying tactics to buy more time to rob more Palestinian land and build more settlements. That is probably why Kerry, in private, has told US foreign policy experts that Israel by refusing to endorse the two-state solution was taking the risk of becoming an apartheid state. He was in a way endorsing the views of former US President Jimmy Carter who in his famous book ‘Palestine: Peace not Apartheid,’ says Israel is already an apartheid state – with one rule for the Jews and another for non-Jews.
When asked for his comments on the likely collapse of the Kerry initiative, Obama in Seoul said it might be time for a pause in the Middle East peace talks while both Israelis and Palestinians consider their options.
In an apparent bid to placate the powerful Zionist lobby whose money and support the Democrats will require for mid-term elections in November this year and the presidential poll in 2016, Obama described the Hamas-Fatah unity deal as ‘unhelpful’ but said his administration would not give up on its push for peace.
It was only last month that Obama nudged Netanyahu to try harder to make progress when they met at the White House. “It’s difficult and it requires compromise on all sides. The time frame that we have set up for completing these negotiations is coming near, and some tough decisions are going to have to be made,” Obama told journalists in the presence of Netanyahu.
Days before this meeting, in an interview with the Bloomberg news service, Obama asked Netanyahu,
“If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”
But bringing Netanyahu back to the negotiating table and making him to love peace requires an effort of a Moses in dissuading the Israelis from worshipping the golden calf in millennia gone by.
Now that the self-imposed US deadline for a peace deal aimed at a two-state solution has virtually collapsed, the US should allow the Palestinians to take the United Nations path that will not only give them full membership and complete statehood, at least on paper, but also enable them to take Israel to the world court.
Obama has just two years more to complete his second term. Going by past peace efforts, it is unlikely he will succeed however good his intentions are or however determined he is.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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