by Alan Hart
He did it with seven words. “Ultimately the U.S. cannot impose a solution.”
He was speaking at the White House the day before the start of the new round of direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, after he had met with them and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. (In my last post I anticipated Obama saying at the point of his complete surrender that “America can’t want peace more than the parties.” He also said that – ahead of schedule!)
Today there is a growing number of seriously well informed people of all faiths and none (including me) who believe there will only be peace if it is imposed.
Among those who have dared to say so in public is one of the most eminent Jewish gentlemen of our time, Henry Siegman. A former national director of the American Jewish Congress, he is president of the U.S./Middle East Project, which was part of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 until 2006 when it was established as an independent policy institute. He is also a research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Programme of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. During his more than 30 years of involvement in the Middle East peace process, he has published extensively on the subject and has been consulted by governments, international agencies and non-governmental organizations involved in the peace process. In a comment piece for the Financial Times on 23 February 2010, (quoted in Conflict Without End? the Epilogue to Volume 3 of the American edition of my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews), he wrote this:
“The Middle East peace process and its quest for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict that got under way nearly 20 years ago with the Oslo accords has undergone two fundamental transformations. It is now on the brink of a third.
“The first was the crossing of a threshold by Israel’s settlement project in the West Bank; there is no longer any prospect of its removal by this or any future Israeli government, which was the precise goal of the settlements’ relentless expansion all along. The previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who declared that a peace accord requires Israel to withdraw ‘from most, if not all’ of the occupied territories, ‘including East Jerusalem,’ was unable even to remove any of the 20 hilltop outposts Israel had solemnly promised to dismantle.
“A two-state solution could therefore come about only if Israel were compelled to withdraw to the pre-1967 border by an outside power whose wishes an Israeli government could not defy – the US. The assumption has always been that at the point where Israel’s colonial ambitions collide with critical US national interests, an American president would draw on the massive credit the US has accumulated with Israel to insist it dismantle its illegal settlements, which successive US administrations held to be the main obstacle to a peace accord.
“The second transformation resulted from the shattering of that assumption when President Barack Obama – who took a more forceful stand against Israel’s settlements than any of his predecessors, and did so at a time when the damage this unending conflict was causing American interests could not have been more obvious – backed off ignominiously in the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of his demand. This left prospects for a two-state accord dead in the water.”
On 16 August in a piece for the Huffington Post which was originally published by Ha’aretz in Hebrew, Siegman added this:
“Most Israelis, particularly the present government, have been blithely indifferent to repeated international condemnations of Israel’s systematic theft of Palestinian territory on which it has been settling its own Jewish population in blatant violation of international law. Yet their reaction to what they see as an attack on the “legitimacy” of the State of Israel, a concept foreign to international law, seems to bring them to the edge of hysteria.
“In fact, Israel’s legitimacy within its 1967 borders has never been challenged by the international community. It is its behavior on territory beyond its own borders to which the international community – including every U.S. administration – has objected. To construe the condemnation of violations of international law as anti-Semitism is absurd.
“It was not an anti-Semite seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state, but Theodore Meron, an internationally respected jurist and the legal advisor to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, who following the war of 1967 conveyed the following legal opinion to Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban: ‘Civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention,’ to which Israel is a signatory. That Convention’s ban on population transfer is ‘categorical and not conditional upon the motives for the transfer or its objectives. The Convention’s purpose is to prevent settlement in occupied territory of citizens of the occupying state.’”
So yes, Israel’s leaders knew that settlements on Arab land occupied in 1967 are illegal. They simply didn’t give (and still today don’t give) a damn about international law. But this attitude, a mixture of extreme arrogance and insufferable self-righteousness, does not make them the main villains in the story of what happened after June 1967. The main villains were (and still are) the governments of the major powers and the one in Washington DC above all.
What they should have said to Israel in the immediate aftermarth of the 1967 war is: “You are not to build any settlements on occupied Arab land. If you do, you’ll be demonstrating your contempt for international law. In this event the international community will declare Israel to be an outlaw state and subject it to sanctions.”
If something like that riot act had been read to Israel there would have been peace many, many years ago. The pragmatic Arafat was reluctantly reconciled to the reality of Israel’s existence inside its pre-1967 borders as far back as 1968. In his gun and olive branch address to the UN General Assembly on 13 November 1974 he said so by obvious implication. Thereafter he put his credibility with his leadership colleagues and his people, and his life, on the line to get a mandate for unthinkable compromise with Israel. He got it at the end of 1979 when the Palestine National Council voted by 296 votes to 4 to endorse his two-state policy. What he needed thereafter was an Israeli partner for peace. He eventually got a probable one, Yitzhak Rabin, but he was assassinated by a Zionist fanatic. The more it became clear that Israel’s leaders were not interested in a genuine two-state solution for which Arafat had prepared the ground on his side, the more his credibility with his own people suffered.
It is in the context briefly sketched above that Obama’s seven words have their real meaning.
At the time of writing it seems reasonably clear that Obama is hoping that Abbas and his equally discredited Fatah leadership colleagues can be bribed and bullied into accepting what Netanyahu will eventually offer – crumbs from Zionism’s table. (My guess is that Abbas at a point will resign rather than trigger a Palestinian civil war). THE question is what will Obama do when Israel refuses to give enough to satisfy the demands and needs of the Palestinian people for a just about acceptable measure of justice?
We already know the answer. “Ultimately the U.S. cannot impose a solution.”
Effectively those seven words tell Israel’s leaders that they can go on imposing their will on the occupied and oppressed Palestinians with the comfort of knowing that Obama is not going to use the leverage he has, and every American president has had, to cause them, or try to cause them, to be serious about peace on terms virtually all Palestinians and most other Arabs and Muslims everywhere could accept, and which a rational Israeli government and people would accept with relief.
Put another way, those seven words are effectively a green light for Zionism alone to determine the future of the Palestinians, a future which at some point will most likely see the final ethnic cleansing of Palestine, followed by another great turning against the Jews (provoked by the Zionist state’s behaviour) and a Clash of Civilizations, Judeo-Christian v Islamic.
In his analysis on the day Obama delivered his seven words, Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s admirable Middle East Editor, offered this thought. “There might not be room for many more failures. The conflict is changing. A religious war is now being grafted on what used to be fundamentally a competition for territory between two national movements. You can make deals with nationalists. It’s much harder with people who believe they’re doing God’s work.”
The next question asks itself. Why won’t Obama be the president to call and hold the Zionist state to account for its crimes, even when doing so is necessary for the best protection of America’s own interests?
Part of the answer is, of course, that he is no more willing than any of his predecessors to have a showdown with the Zionist lobby and its stooges in Congress and the mainstream media.
But there might be more to it.
In the privacy of his own mind Obama probably understands better than any of his predecessors how the conflict was created and what has sustained it. If that is the case, he will also know there’s no guarantee that real American-led pressure on Israel to be serious about peace would work and that it could be counter-productive.
I am a supporter in principle of the case and the need for the Zionist state of Israel to be totally isolated, boycotted and sanctioned as Apartheid South Africa was, eventually. But… The danger is that even the credible threat of a real boycott and sanctions could play into the hands of those Israeli leaders – Netanyahu has long been their standard bearer – who have brainwashed Israelis, most if not quite all, into believing that the world hates Jews, always has and always will, and that Israeli Jews have no choice but to tell the world to go to hell. In this context (and as I note in the Epilogue of the American edition of my book), I think it could and should be said that Zionism succeeded, probably beyond its own best expectations, in transforming the obscenity of the Nazi holocaust from a lesson against racism and fascism and all the evils associated with them into an ideology that seeks to justify anything and everything the Zionist state does. War crimes and all.
So it could be that in the privacy of his own mind, Obama knows it is already too late (not to mention too dangerous) to try to push Israel’s leaders much further than they are willing to go.
What, I wonder, will honest historians of the future make of what is happening right now? My guess is that they will conclude that when Obama launched his push for peace, the Zionist state was already a monster beyond control.
Alan Hart is a former ITN and BBC Panorama foreign correspondent who covered wars and conflicts wherever they were taking place in the world and specialized in the Middle East.
His Latest book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, is a three-volume epic in its American edition. He blogs on www.alanhart.net and tweets on www.twitter.com/alanauthor.