Awaiting the Final Step

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
The longer the standstill in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority the further both are from a fair settlement and the more complex the terms will be in the future, now as is the case with Israel managing to up the ante almost daily. In the meantime, a war of words has emerged, among former U.S. officials, some known to be sympathetic to Israel, and well-known commentators who regularly echo the Zionist position.
Absent from this melee are any pro-Palestinian analysts or advocates, a deplorable situation that on the other hand exposes for many bystanders the deplorable position of the administration, Obama’s and all others preceding it for failing to be evenhanded. 
As was noted in a recent Washington Post news report, that “in return for Israel accepting a (proposed) 90-day settlement freeze, the Obama team agreed to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and to sell $3 billion worth of fighter jets – essentially, a payment of $33.3 million for each day of the freeze.” More alarmingly, the U.S. has reportedly “agreed never again to ask (Israel) for a settlement freeze (and) to exempt the area surrounding Jerusalem from the freeze” where the east sector of the Holy City is potentially the capital of Palestine.
James L. Jones, the former National Security Advisor of President Obama acknowledged in an appearance at the Aspen Institute that the need for Washington to be more aggressive to promote a Mideast peace “has been advocated certainly, by some of the leaders in the Arab world, and the Europeans, and it’s certainly something that the administration at some point might have to consider.”  He did not suggest a deadline but stressed: “Whatever it is, we have to find a solution to this; failure is not an option here.”

The failure of the Obama administration to be forceful has allowed, by many accounts, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to avoid taking any positive steps. Topping his latest list of negative maneuvers has been the approval by Israel’s right-leaning Parliament of a historic legislation that requires than any peace deal that would compel Israel to cede any annexed Palestinian territory, particularly Arab East Jerusalem or the Syrian Golan Heights, be subjected to a national referendum.

Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition Kadima Party, said that Netanyahu opted for this maneuver because he is “a weak prime minister” who was comfortable with passing on responsibility. But the other logical view, coming on the heels of the proposed “loyalty oath” to be taken henceforth by would-be Israeli citizens recognizing Israel as “a Jewish and democratic state,” is that the approved referendum would kill the two-state solution since it requires a super-majority of the of the 120-member Knesset or parliament. Only 65 members had approved the referendum vote!

The State Department declined to comment on the referendum decision, a spokesman saying this is an “internal Israeli issue.” But, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, had just published an Op-Ed column decrying the Obama administration’s decision for offering Israel what has been described as “a gold-plated menu of incentives” including advanced warplanes, as a reward for its “bad behavior.” Kurtzer, who now teaches Middle East politics at Princeton University, believes that “Washington will almost certainly come to regret bribing Israel, Israel may regret receiving such a bribe even more.”

The former ambassador wondered sarcastically in his Washington Post column: “Will the rewards for Israel be automatically renewable? Meaning, if Israel is willing to continue the settlement freeze after three months, will another set of rewards be the price for that?”
Another Op-Ed written by former Ambassador to Israel, Samuel W. Lewis, and two others called on the U.S. to address the endgame in this conflict. “An American statement of principles would mobilize regional support,” they added in The New York Times, “it would provide for the first time, a public framework for engaging sponsors of the Arab Peace Initiative.”

In other words, they continued: “At a minimum, the American declaration should be based on the 1967 lines, with agreed territorial swaps; support a compromise on Jerusalem that allows for two capitals for two states; include provisions about security limitations and guarantees; reiterate America’s support for an agreed solution to the refugee problem; and reaffirm our long-standing commitment to the state of Israel.”

All this should come in a presidential speech, they suggested. Well and good, but if not, the next step for the Palestinians will be to drop all the negotiations and go to the Untied Nations. After all, it was the UN General Assembly that divided Palestine into two countries in 1947; and after 62 years it is high time for this world body to accept a State of Palestine as a full-fledged member, as it did when it accepted Israel which has never identified its borders. 

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at:

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