By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
While all the world was watching, silently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has by all measures managed to sabotage the U.S. – sponsored ‘peace talks’ with the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.
Although most governments and many international organizations, particularly the United Nations, seemed handcuffed, the right-wing Israeli government has meanwhile lost significant support at home and abroad for its extremist views and subsequent shortsightedness.
This disappointing turnaround coincides with another noteworthy milestone, the 15th anniversary of the assassination by an Israeli extremist of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the first Israeli leader to sign a peace agreement, known as the Oslo Peace Accords, with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. (Rabin, the late PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, and Israeli President Shimon Peretz have all received the Nobel Peace Prize for their achievement.)
Whatever led the Israeli leader to seemingly quash the negotiations, shepherded by the Obama administration, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the Israeli intransigence must have come as a shock to the White House which had regrettably tried to cajole the Netanyahu government with military and economic rewards.
The Palestinians leadership has meanwhile notified Washington that it will hold off on any action until the end of October, the undeclared understanding being that once the mid-term election is over, President Obama may feel ready to take stiffer actions against Israeli intransigence.
The uncompromising Israeli tone has clearly been evident here in the public views of the American-born Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, and other Israeli apologists, who all attempted to put the blame on the Palestinians, who like the White House, wanted an extension of the moratorium on colonial expansion in the Israeli-occupied territories. After all, their reasonable expectation is that Israel will recognize that their settlers on illegally occupied Palestinian territories will have to leave once a settlement is reached.
Ambassador Oren, born Michael Bornstein in upstate New York, and as the only Jewish boy in a Catholic neighborhood in New Jersey, says he had experienced anti-Semitism on a daily basis. This may explain his confrontational attitude as was the case when he told reporters this week in Washington that Israel would not allow anyone to dictate its borders. "Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations."
In an Op Ed in The New York Times, Oren argued earlier that “affirmation of Israel’s Jewishness … is the very foundation of peace, is DNA.” But he did not explain how a fifth of the Israeli people, who are Palestinian Arabs, can then be assured of equal rights with their Jewish neighbors, something they are still denied till this very day.
In turn, Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post maintained, mistakenly, that the “settlement impasse originated not with Netanyahu or Abbas but with President Obama – who by insisting on an Israeli freeze has created a near-insuperable obstacle to the peace process he is trying to promote.” He does not understand that construction in occupied lands is illegal under international law. Moreover, the Arab world has always protested the encroachment of Israeli colonialists into the occupied Palestinian territories – the West Bank and Gaza Strip – a little over one-fifth of pre-1948 Palestine.
The illegal Israeli expansion has been condemned by the United Nations, several international bodies and many nations. This explains why Obama repeated the settlement issue at the U.N. General Assembly session last month, much to Diehl’s chagrin who saw it as “misguided rhetoric.”
But Netanyahu’s arrogance continues to have no boundaries as was his decision last week to approve the construction of 240 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem – a step the liberal Israeli daily, Haaretz, saw as “an attempt to sabotage the efforts to renew direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.” May be the Israeli leader needs to be reminded that even the United States does not recognize Jerusalem as an integral part of Israel since it still has its own consulate in the Arab sector of the Holy City.
Last but not least, Israel now wants to amend its citizenship law whereby newly naturalized Israeli citizens must pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state,” a step seen as “unapologetically racist.” Lately, apparently after a second thought, Netanyahu now wants all citizens to take the oath – a point that has divided the Knesset to the extent that it may not pass in any version. Interestingly, more than a year ago the Israeli government had rejected a similar proposal.
But can we be sure that Netanyahu has no additional tricks in his bag that may kill any chances of resuming the negotiations with the Palestinians.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.