The Middle East Channel

September Madness

September Madness

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.