By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
Considering that the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have shamefully ran out of original ideas and remain deadlocked on the issue of peace negotiations, it may thus be time for all three to do some house cleaning. Whether this will herald a new and successful approach remains to be seen but certainly dependant on their commitment to fairness and peacemaking in the Middle East.
President Barack Obama, who acknowledged that he had received a “shellacking” from the Republicans in the recently concluded mid-term Congressional elections, has invited the Republican leaders to a White House meeting last Tuesday. After this first session, the senior Republican leader announced that they all agree to begin negotiations on the tax cuts, introduced by former President George W. Bush, a sensitive issue, which are due to expire at the end of the year. If Obama continue to reach out to his Republican adversaries, he then can give more attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict
Neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, have so far come up with any bright new ideas or steps that will diminish the chances of serious consequences, regionally and internationally.
Abbas hit the nail on the head in his special message read at the UN Headquarters as it marked Palestinian Solidarity Day, timed to coincide with the anniversary of Resolution 181 which partitioned Palestine. He warned that continued Israel colonial expansion in occupied Palestinian territory has become “a time bomb that could destroy everything we have accomplished on the road to peace at any moment.”
WikiLeaks’ recent publication of secret U.S. diplomatic cables have mudded the water for all except Netanyahu. He mistakenly felt vindicated that some Arab leaders seemed more anxious about Iran’s nuclear ambitions than the long-simmering Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a position he argued unsuccessfully with many western leaders, including Obama.
One noteworthy secret cable that will rub Netanyahu the wrong way covered a trip last February by U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry to the two top leaders of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa, the emir, and Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the prime minister. He was quoted telling them that the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights should be returned to Syria and a Palestinian capital should be established in East Jerusalem as part of the Arab-Israeli peace process.
On a trip to Israel this week, German President Christian Wulff called on the Palestinians and Israelis to show willingness to compromise, and in the same breath urged Israel to adopt a constructive attitude on its colonies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, still facing a stiff Israeli blockade.
Additional criticism of the ultra-right wing Israeli regime came from his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, who lamented that 18 months have been wasted in discussing what he called the marginal issue of Israeli colonialism rather than focusing on “a comprehensive peace plan that can resolve the conflict.”
This is where Netanyahu needs to focus on, if he is sincerely committed to finding a permanent solution to the conflict. He can start by dismissing his cabinet and joining forces with Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party, provided both remain willing to find a final and fair solution.
As far as Abbas is concerned, he, too, needs to mend his relationship with Hamas, led by the Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaal who has recently pledged his movement’s willingness to reconcile with the Palestinian president’s Fatah. His only condition is that his group have full partnership in the political and security establishments of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a first step before they push Israel to lift its deplorable siege of the Gaza Strip.
In turn, all Obama needs to do is to recall his position as enunciated wonderfully at his Cairo address on June 4, 2009. He then must live up to his unequivocal declaration:
“Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.
“And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”
Once all three leaders put their minds to cleaning their houses there should be little difficulty in reaching a final and honorable settlement.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.