Ewen MacAskill, the Guardian’s Washington DC bureau chief, had an article on CiF on March 17th straight out of the Hillary Clinton fan club annual. According to him, this is the US administration which will go where no man has ever gone before.
“The secretary of state has an advantage this time round in that the Obama administration signalled at the start of the presidency it was intent on tackling the Israeli-Palestinian question. She and Obama have almost another three years left and possibly almost another seven: long enough to get some sort of peace process underway.”
When one has lived long enough in the Middle East, one gets used to this. At the beginning of his term a new US president comes along with his pristine broom and tries to sweep clean. Then things usually die down a little towards the middle as he gets bogged down with other concerns, but approaching the end of his tenure, the outgoing President will often see a final opportunity to be scribed in the annals of history and a shot at a Nobel Peace Prize, so a final frenzied fling of peacemaking ensues.
Obama already has his Nobel Prize of course and it’s looking as though he has analysed the attempts of his predecessors and grasped that nothing has worked so far, but has he understood why all previous attempts have failed? From the US administration’s performance over the past few weeks, I’m afraid the signs are that he has, but that instead of addressing the core problems, he has elected to take a route with more chance of instant gratification. After his Cairo speech last year the writing was definitely on the wall, but now we see Obama’s priorities in all their naked form. So we had the bizarre spectacle of Joe Biden choosing to be insulted about something his administration has known about for four months: Israel’s agreement to a 10 month freeze of building in disputed areas not including Jerusalem. Then we were treated to the public chastising of Israel’s leaders by Hillary Clinton and the famous 45 minute phone call. Straight after that there was a Quartet meeting in Moscow on March 19th after which a press release was issued. In this document, there are several demands being made of Israel which are of considerable significance as they indicate a shift in the approach and methods of the US administration and the rest of the Quartet.
“The Quartet reiterates its call on Israel and the Palestinians to act on the basis of international law and on their previous agreements and obligations — in particular adherence to the Road Map, irrespective of reciprocity –”
Those last three words are important because the first clause of the Roadmap is a stipulation that “Palestinian leadership issues unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere. All official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.” As we are all too aware, this is not happening and PA leaders have made it amply clear to anyone who will listen that they are not prepared to recognize Israel or to renounce violence, so in making this statement the Quartet is in effect demanding that Israel uphold its side of the Roadmap bargain even if the PA flagrantly goes against everything written in it.
“The Quartet urges the Government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem.”
This is in effect a back-slide on the US administration’s part from its former position of acceptance of, and even praise for a freeze which did not include Jerusalem. It also represents a gross interference in internal Israeli affairs such as decisions made by Israel’s Supreme Court to reinstate property to its lawful owners or the Jerusalem municipality’s obligation to demolish illegally erected and potentially dangerous structures.
“Recalling that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community, the Quartet underscores that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties, and condemns the decision by the Government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem.”
In other words, not only does the Quartet adopt the position opposite to that of the Israeli government and people as regards negotiations regarding Jerusalem, even before such negotiations have commenced it seems to have decided that part of Israel’s capital city is no longer under its jurisdiction.
“the Quartet continues to support the Palestinian Authority’s plan of August 2009 for building the Palestinian State within 24 months”
This of course indicates that The Quartet has adopted the position of America’s man in the PA, Salem Fayyad.
“significant improvement in the Palestinian Authority’s performance with respect to security and law and order,”
One would be forgiven for wondering in which sand dune the members of the Quartet have stuck their collective heads after this. PA incited riots in Jerusalem and the murder of Israeli motorists obviously pass them by.
“and ensures the opening of the crossings to allow for the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza, consistent with United Nations Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).”
One can only despair about the apparent lack of understanding of the connection between rocket and mortar fire upon Israeli citizens and the partial embargo imposed upon Gaza as a result. Open borders as described above are the result of neighbourly relations with an adjoining state, not a prolonged situation of warfare and terrorism. Even the US does not permit the ‘unimpeded’ transit of persons into its sovereign territory.
Reading this statement, I was struck by how far the Quartet has moved towards adopting the demands of the 2009 Fatah conference (the PA is of course Fatah controlled) regarding the latter’s 14 pre-conditions for resuming negotiations with Israel which included a freeze on all settlement building, the lifting of the ‘blockade’ on Gaza and a guarantee that East (and West) Jerusalem would be given over as the capital of the Palestinian state. At the end of last year Obama was bemoaning the lack of progress in the negotiations. Has he managed to persuade the Quartet to adopt some of the Palestinian pre-conditions in a misguided attempt to kick start the talks? If so, it cannot be long until we see even more items from the Palestinian shopping list such as the release of all prisoners from Israeli custody or the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees creeping into the Quartet’s documents. As for any Israeli requests such as recognition of Israel or the renunciation of violence, given Clinton’s mealy-mouthed response to the recent riots or the naming of a square after a terrorist by an authority whose name she cannot remember, it seems as though they are very much on the back burner.
Bizarre as it may seem, we appear to be heading towards a situation in which a two-state solution may be brought about without the recognition of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state; an action which could even pave the way for the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees and create two majority Muslim states between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. As far-fetched and even alarmist as this sounds, so did dividing Israel’s capital to many of us not long ago and we must be aware that the rules of the game appear to be changing without our knowledge or consent every few months. Despite all the Clinton rhetoric about being committed to Israel’s security, are we actually sure that when Hillary uses that phrase she means the same as we do? Will Israel be able to resist these pressures to agree to unreasonable demands from the US government and the rest of the Quartet? In other times maybe, but with the Iranian threat looming ever larger and Obama having already indicated that he has no qualms about tying Israel’s hands behind her back on that issue, two things are becoming increasingly obvious.
The first is that unlike the American people, the Obama administration apparently has no qualms about selling Israel out for what it perceives as its own interests and that it has become overly appeasing of a PA authority which is unfortunately still nothing more than a group of ageing terrorists in suits. So much so that one is beginning to wonder who pulls the strings in both the US administration and the Quartet because it is all too obvious that the Iranian issue is being used to create leverage and force concessions which Israel cannot possibly consider. Second is the issue of trust, and it has become very clear over the past few weeks, starting with Ramat Shlomo, through the Quartet meeting and up to the AIPAC conference that Israel needs to quickly reassess the degree of trust it can afford to put in the current US administration.
We have all come across the fast-approaching-forty bachelor or spinster who is so desperate to find a spouse that he or she cannot see past the joyous ‘big day’ to actual real life with the less than suitable person they have decided to marry. The Obama administration is behaving in just such a manner – desperate for a peace agreement, but blindly ignoring the results it will bring if not achieved through careful consideration. Only in this particular scenario, it is someone else who will have to live with the results of hasty actions and shoddy decisions. When the US government’s statements become almost indistinguishable from those of an unreformed terrorist group which continues to laud terror and produce daily incitement and violence, the Israeli people and the American people both have a lot to worry about, along with anyone else who can see past the end of their own nose.
As for the comments to this article, well most of them indulged in the well-worn conspiracy theories about Israeli/Jewish control of the US government which, quite frankly, in the light of the past couple of weeks are now looking even more ridiculous than ever. Another hefty proportion of the comments were by the Shlomo Sands groupies so common at CiF. Let’s take a look this time however at some of the deleted comments.
17 Mar 2010, 11:35PM
@Alam, how brave of you, being so willing to fight to the last Palestinian.
And as for Israeli aggression, would that be restoring Hurva Synagogue, which had been around for a century before being blown up by the Transjordanian Arab Legion? Oooh, how terribly non-supine.
18 Mar 2010, 3:57AM
I remain optimistic he will go good things also, it’s just so far, his foreign policy accomplishiments are pretty limited to the fact he’s not Bush. I pretty much agree with all you’ve said. For a liberal, you’re not half bad.
I’m sorry, but have you noticed that Israel is surrounded by religious zealots who take their direction in life from the ramblings of a 7th centry caravan raider? This also goes for their Iranian backers, a country I used to live in. Where is your condemnation for a country that supports blowing up cafes and busses? Iran should be sending Israel funds to pay for the cost of human life it has caused.
18 Mar 2010, 5:59AM
bette a divorce that a shot gun marirage
a one state would be
1. demografically mostly jewish
2. the basis of the police and army would be idf
3. jewish (settlements) would incease drastically in the west bank
4. if gaza is included then the jewish settlements in gaza would return em masse ( after all aq state for all includes teh right to live and build even for the jewish population
5. due to lack of trust in the body politic and official armed forces you would get a lebonisation of the police and army with a general lack of power in teh central government
6. due to the risk of war with the neighbours ( most wars take place between countries that were a t peace) there would be a formation of both jewsih and arab militias
in short a probable return to the basis of the 1948 war of course if the jews lose as usual there will be 100% ethnic cleansing or death as (ALWAYS HAPPENED ..for those who doubt .GIVE NAME DATE AND PLACE OF EXCEPTION)
if the arabs lose they will call it nakba 2
We already know that the Guardian does not like to see such views on its virtual pages and so deletes them, but apparently the current US administration is also doing some ‘moderation’ of its own when it comes to defining exactly where the interests of the people it represents lie. The appeasement of thugs and terrorists (even if they are disguised as leaders or statesmen) prepared to use violence against a civilian population to get what they want can never end well, and the results of that will not be felt only in the Middle East.