By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai
Former US president Jimmy Carter is one of those rare birds who have retained their humanity even after four years in the world’s most powerful job. The architect of the first Arab-Israel peace accord was moved to tears when he visited the ruins of Gaza this week, comparing the condition of the Palestinians to “worse than animals.”
Granted, most Americans are not familiar with the Palestinian way of life, I often wonder what the Israelis themselves think of the people living next door in a permanent hell? Are the Israelis ever moved by the Palestinian suffering, as Carter has been and rest of the world often is? If they are, it is yet to be seen.
No matter what happens to the Palestinians and what the rest of the world thinks of their suffering, Israel and its leaders remain as indifferent and as unreasonable as ever.
When Benjamin Netanyahu promised his own roadmap, after President Barack Obama gave him those stony looks in the Oval Office with the world media watching, even the most hardened cynics like me began nursing hopes of peace.
We thought, maybe, Israel, prodded by its faithful ally and biggest backer, finally has had a change of heart. Maybe, we hoped, it’s finally time for the doves of peace to descend on the Holy Land. Perhaps, the time has come for Palestinians to find themselves a home — even if moth eaten — of their own on this big and wide planet.
But Israel is nothing if not consistent. Netanyahu did unveil a ‘roadmap’ in his much-hyped speech but you do not know what to make of it.
Having refused to acknowledge the existence of Palestinians all these years, Netanyahu has finally agreed for ‘peace’ and a Palestinian state, if it can be called one. However, his one hand takes back what the other proffers.
The ‘sovereign and independent’ Palestine envisaged by Israel will have no military or security forces of its own. It is not permitted to possess or import any weapons. It cannot control its own airspace. And, yes, the borders of this Bantustan will be controlled by the able and efficient forces of the great state of Israel. His Imperial Majesty Netanyahu is kind enough though to grant the future Palestinian state the right to have its own flag and currency.
In return, all Israel asks from the Palestinians is the surrender of their rights over their lands and homes in what was once Palestine. They must recognize Israel as the Jewish state and the divine right of Jewish people to the Holy Land.
So what if this means the Palestinians can never dream of returning to their homes and lands from which they were driven out or even hope for recompense? In any case, where’s the land and where are the homes that the Palestinians dream of returning to?
It’s all Israel now – greater Israel, from the river to the sea! When will Palestinians grow out of their dreams? How long will they continue to cling to idle hope, year after wasted year, generation after lost generation? After all, it’s been nearly seven decades since the Nakhba?
And yes, Jerusalem shall remain the capital of Israel, no matter what the Palestinians claim or Muslims and Christians believe. As for the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem, they will continue to grow and multiply by the day like all good neighborhoods should do.
After all, they’ve been growing over the past half-a-century or so. No one has been able to stop them, no matter who is in power in Tel Aviv or Washington. This is why Netanyahu thinks it is not in the “interest of peace and stability” to put a freeze on them now.
Like Israel’s good ol’ friend Bush would argue, they are, after all, ground realities. No one can change them, not even Obama. How dare Barry, hardly four months in the White House, demand a freeze on the settlements when all his predecessors failed to do so! Does he know what he is up against?
No one has taken on Israel and survived to tell the tale. No US president has ever managed to push the Israelis in a direction they do not want to go. Israeli politicians have repeatedly played cat-and-mouse not just with the Palestinians and Arabs but also with successive US presidents, forever buying time even as more and more Palestinian land is eaten away by settlements.
No wonder Netanyahu believes he can play the same games with Obama. This is why he came up with that roadmap to nowhere.
While the White House praised the Netanyahu juggernaut as an ‘important step forward,’ it is seen by the Palestinians, Arabs and rest of the world as a huge setback to Obama’s groundbreaking initiative.
This is not an important step forward, Mr. President, but a clever move to sabotage your peace efforts. This is not a two-state solution but a massacre of the aspirations and hopes of a long persecuted people. In Palestinian leader Mustafa Barghouti’s words, Netanyahu hasn’t endorsed a Palestinian state but a ghetto.
If you call this ‘embracing peace,’ I must be Alexander the Great. For God’s sake, Netanyahu doesn’t even call it a Palestinian state but ‘territory’—whatever that means!
As Palestinian spokesperson Saeb Erekat puts it, Netanyahu’s proposal is a ‘slap in the face’ for Obama. So much so even the Israeli commentators are shocked by the in-your-face belligerence of their leader.
A blogger on the Israeli daily, Haaretz, has to say this on Netanyahu’s offer: "It seemed to be ‘no’ to dividing Jerusalem, no to the return of refugees and no to an independent state and no to a real settlement freeze."
This is not a roadmap to peace but a call for another Intifada. This will not put an end to Palestinian suffering but perpetuate it.
The question is, what does Obama do now? Does he have the courage to call Israel’s bluff? Is he prepared to beat Bibi at his own game?
His courageous and sincere efforts to end the world’s longest running conflict have awakened hope across the Middle East and beyond. He has not only gone against America’s own hallowed traditions of blind support to Israel, but is also prepared to challenge the powerful vested interests and lobbies in Washington to bring peace to the Holy Land.
If people around the world are, for the first time in decades, optimistic about the Middle East peace today, the credit goes to this extraordinary individual with an equally extraordinary history. Would Obama squander all this euphoria and goodwill because of Israel’s continuing obstinacy? Would he allow Netanyahu to undermine this historic opportunity?
As Carter has pointed out, the United States is in this together with Israel. It shares the equal responsibility for the Palestinians’ exploitation and the mess in the region.
The US has to choose between peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis — and the Middle East — or take Israel’s side and perpetuate the cycle of violence and chaos across the region.
– Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.