Should the Bubble of Obama’s Expectations Burst

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Upon his return from the much anticipated talks with President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost no time stating his government’s uncompromising positions on Palestinians’ statehood: There will be no return to the 1967 borders, no end to the settlements’ expansion, no right of return for the Palestinian refugees and no sovereignty for a Palestinian entity in the yet-to-be-hammered-out-final-status settlement.

Netanyahu in effect, rejected the Arab League peace initiative, repudiated the essence of President Bush “Roadmap” and disregarded the urgent international passion for peace.

An insight into Netanyahu’s agenda could be gleaned by his deference to the hard-line nationalist [read Fascist], Avigdor Lieberman, whom he brought into his cabinet as foreign minister. Should Netanyahu, who was elected on an explicitly anti-two-state program, hold his ground and the US, as usual, being unwilling to intervene, do the Palestinian Authority and the moderate Arab states have a plan B? This is not a hypothetical question. 

Like his election in 2009, Netanyahu, a Revisionist Zionist who embraces the extreme Zionist ideology of Valdimir Jabotinsky, ascended to the premiership in 1996 on an anti-peace platform. He opposed the return of the Golan Heights, or the division of Jerusalem, or the establishment of a Palestinian state, or the return of any Palestinian refugees. His campaign was orchestrated by the American neoconservative future Bush Deputy Secretary of Defense and a strong proponent of 2003 Iraq invasion, Paul Wolfowitz.

Once elected, Netanyahu gave his like-minded ex-general anti-peace and pro-settlement Ariel Sharon, the portfolio of a newly created ministry of “national infrastructure”. Sharon new job encompassed authority for building roads, planning water and land allocation for the Jewish settlers. With a budget of a half-billion dollars, Sharon promptly launched the construction of road networks to connect the Jewish settlements and disrupt the daily lives of the Palestinians. Later on Sharon was named foreign minister. Upon his departure for the Wye River negotiations with the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Sharon announced he would not even shake Yasser Arafat’s hand, an action described by Israeli observers as childish. Netanyahu and Sharon took steps to freeze the withdrawal from the occupied lands entirely. They reshaped the geography of the occupied lands and created an elaborate program to spur the economy of the Jewish settlements and rejuvenate their development.

Netanyahu’s three years government wreaked havoc on the implementation of redeployment schedules outlined in previous interim agreements, adopting unilateral decisions and exploiting the Palestinians’ weakness and the Oslo agreements loopholes. Under his government, the occupation was reasserted in the most brutal form, more aggressive settlement expansion began, more Jewish only roads were built and demolition of Palestinian homes was intensified.

President Clinton could not sway Prime Minister Netanyahu in the 1998 Wye River negotiations with Yasser Arafat to accept less than 20 percent of the Hebron City to be completely under the control of 400 violent and fanatical Jewish settlers, leaving only 80 percent for the city 120,000 Palestinian residents. The Jewish allocated area includes the city’s historic quarter and the Ibrahimi Mosque. At Clinton personal request, the late King Hussein of Jordan was flown from Rochester, Minnesota where he was undergoing medical treatment at Mayo Clinic. The King was asked to intervene and press both sides to trim their demands. Netanyahu did not budge on the subject of the Jewish presence in Hebron, and finally he got what he wanted for the settlers in Hebron in exchange for troop withdrawal from 13 percent of the West Bank, which never materialized. The violent daily provocations of the armed Jewish settlers in the heart of Hebron have led many Hebronites to close their businesses and abandon the area.

In September of 1996, Netanyahu provided the spark that triggered Palestinians’ mass demonstrations and violence and confrontations with the Israelis when he approved the excavation of the Hasmonean Tunnel beneath al-Haram al-Sharif and the demolition of retaining buttress under a Christian Convent in Jerusalem. Israeli military fired live ammunition at the demonstrators killing and wounding hundreds of Palestinians. He could have felt satisfaction that his aims of derailing the peace process were achieved. After less than three years of no progress in the peace process under Netanyahu in office, the Israelis rejected his confrontational approach with the Palestinians and elected Ehud Barak in a landslide.

Prime Minister Barak, a former military chief of staff who voted against Oslo agreements as a Labor member in the Knesset used the line, “we have no partner for peace” because Arafat did not accept his final offer that would have formalized Israel’s control over the occupied lands. But Barak and his supporters described it as “the generous offer”. With the outbreak of the second intifada and the Israelis’ belief that peace was unattainable under Barak by his own admission, the Israelis elected the militaristic Ariel Sharon. Sharon’s message was blunt, “This is our land. It is our prerogative to decide if we will relinquish any parts of it, how much, to whom and under what conditions”. It was bad luck for the Palestinians that Sharon rise to power coincided with that of his personal friend, the US President George W. Bush who praised Sharon, a war criminal according to a 1983 Israeli commission, as “a man of peace”.

What ran as a common policy for Labor, Likud and Kadima of where the so called “peace process” should be heading was best articulated by non-other than Yitzhak Rabin. According to Jeff Halper, Prime Minister Rabin told the Knesset on October 5, 1995 only one month before he was assassinated, “We view the permanent solution in the framework of State of Israel, which will include most of the area of the land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity that will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in Gaza Strip and the West Bank. We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority”.

Many Palestinians are counting on President Obama to redress their grievances, but on matters that involve Israel, the US policy does not change much with the change of the administration. Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected Obama’s demand for a freeze on West Bank Jewish settlement construction; his foreign minister warned Obama not to interfere in Israeli affairs. And when Netanyahu moved to dismantle some squatter camps, that are called by Israel “illegal settler outposts”, in an apparent symbolic gesture to Obama, the Jewish settlers started a wave of violent rampage against Palestinian civilians and farms. Given the power of the Israeli lobby, IPAC, and the bipartisan support for Israel in the US Congress, Obama the politician cannot appear supporting the Palestinians and take on the Israeli challenge. Two months ago, his ambassador to the UN blocked a resolution to inquire into Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ human rights. 

The only time US pressure brought to bear upon Israel to observe the international norms was when President Eisenhower sent a letter to Ben-Gurion demanding Israeli withdrawal from conquered Sinai in 1956 war. The international conditions were different then; it was the Cold War era and the Soviet Union was expanding its military and diplomatic support for Egypt. The Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin threatened with military intervention if Israel, Britain and France did not withdraw their military forces from the Egyptian lands.

Israel’s partners in the war, Britain and France, decided to back away under the threat and advised Israel to withdraw. Even then, Israel withdrew only in return for a treaty with the Egyptians that gave it significant strategic and economic gains including freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba and the Suez Canal. France felt obliged to help Israel in some way as a payback for its support in the war campaign which explains in part the reason for providing Israel with the nuclear reactor immediately after the war.

President Obama may force Netanyahu to utter the magic words “two-state solution” and even resume negotiations with the Palestinians, but negotiations for the sake of negotiations will not lead to peace. If the Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders failed to make any progress toward peace while negotiating with Olmert who had been promoting his vision of the two-state solution, it is hard to believe they will have better outcome negotiating with Netanyahu’s team. Netanyahu who pandered skillfully to the Israelis fear and hatred of the Palestinians as the basis for his political programs during his 1996-1999 premiership and in his books, “A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World”, “A Durable Peace” and “Fighting Terrorism”,  will not conclude an accepted permanent-status settlement. He, in effect, repudiated the very essence of just peace with the Palestinians.

The PA leaders have to recognize the death of the so called “peace process” if the bubble of Obama’s expectations bursts. I would propose actions to be included in a post-peace-process plan: The leaders of the PA should resign after declaring their failure to provide the Palestinians all over the world with a liberated state that they can call a homeland, and their failure to provide the Palestinians in the occupied lands with a minimum of national or political rights or even a normal daily life. They should apologize for the abuse by their officials who used their positions to reap illegitimate economic gains for themselves and their families from the flow of international aid and economic ties with Israel. They should transform the different security forces into cities’ police controlled by the municipal councils only to protect the population against criminals and enforce the laws.

Finally the PA leaders should surrender the political management of the Palestinian conflict to the PLO leadership outside the occupied lands; and the PA leaders should support inviting Hamas and other Palestinian factions to join the PLO and mend the rift among the Palestinian groups. 

– Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D., is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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