By George S. Hishmeh – Washington
Why has the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, accepted an invitation to come to Washington shortly to discuss ways to overcome the hurdle placed by Israel before Palestinian-Israeli negotiations can resume?
The impression here is that the U.S. and Palestinian positions are not far apart on the steps that ought to be adopted by the hawkish government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before serious peace negotiations can begin. It is mind boggling, certainly for the Palestinians, to believe that if Israel is really sincere about its desire for a final settlement then why does it continue to come up with obstacles like starting new housing projects in Arab-owned areas of Jerusalem or insists that a sovereign Palestinian state should be demilitarized and accept an Israeli military base alongside the River Jordan which separates Palestine from Jordan with which Israel has a peace treaty?
A key member of the Obama administration, U.S. Ambassador Susan E. Rice, has recently underlined the American position before a large audience of U.S. officials, Congressmen and diplomats attending the annual gala marking the 25th anniversary of the Arab American Institute.
High on the administration’s agenda, she underlined, is an Arab-Israeli peace and the “determination to reach a comprehensive peace in the Middle East – — central to which is a two-state solution.” This goal, she stressed, is of “vital interest” to the United States.
“Through good faith negotiations,” she went on, “the parties can mutually agree to an outcome that ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and Israel’s goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel’s security requirements.”
Her punch line followed:
“Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot be allowed to prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community. Our position remains clear: We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israel settlement activity. Israel should also halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.”
What more can Obama and Abbas come up with? Israelis, and some of their key friends in the U.S., have lately been urging, somewhat childishly, the American president to visit Israel as a goodwill gesture, just as he did when he went to Cairo where he delivered a pace-setting speech shortly after his inauguration addressing the Arab and Muslim world.
But Obama, being the father of two children, must recognize that undertaking such a risk may precipitate some requests from the other side. The Palestinians may then want him to visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
Moreover, such a gesture some fear may contribute to Israel’s waywardness and continued flouting of international obligations as has been recently, to cite one example, in denying Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories the freedom of expression. Four out of 10 Palestinian males have reportedly spent some time in Israeli prisons. “That’s about 40 percent of all Palestinian males,” writes Jonathan Ben-Artzi, a close relative of the Israeli prime minister, in The Christian Science Monitor.
Most importantly it is hoped that Obama will not twist Abbas’s arm to make additional gestures lest the Palestinian president lose face among his beleaguered people. Of deep concern is the view that the Palestinians should accept the establishment of their state within temporary borders. If anything, Abbas should be rewarded for tolerating the Israeli intransigence by a warm welcome, recorded by the White House media.
Although press reports have indicated that the Israeli government has now accepted to freeze settlement activity in the Jerusalem area, it is incumbent upon Obama to insist that Netanyahu should level with his people and the world about his intentions there. After all some 180,000 Israelis have illegally moved since the 1967 war into new Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, which is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews. And about 2,000 more have moved into East Jerusalem where the Palestinians plan to establish their capital.
This Israeli stalling should not be tolerated any longer and here the American president ought to seriously consider tougher language and action against the hawkish regime there. Obama, unlike his predecessors should not be concerned by any hostility from within the American Jewish community since 78 percent of American Jewish voters have voted for him in the presidential election in 2008.
Netanyahu is obviously afraid of losing his office should he live up to international expectations, now unanimously calling for peace in the Middle East. It is time for the Israelis need to weigh in the price they are paying for the continued turbulence in the region.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.