Diplomatic Tsunami: Israel’s Next Step?

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.

There has been lots of good news this week for the Arab World, thanks to the successful uprisings against autocratic regimes ushered in by the glorious Arab Spring and the uplifting responses that followed from various world spots.

An “overwhelming majority” or two thirds (65 percent) of Americans, more Democrats than Republicans, believe that “greater democracy in the Middle East would be positive for the United States.” And in the long run, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans say democratization would be mostly positive for the U.S.

Also, a majority of Americans (57 percent) say that they “would want to see a country become more democratic even if this resulted in the country being more likely to oppose U.S. policies.”

These were some of the key findings of a new poll conducted by the respected Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, directed by Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull respectively. The poll was released at the opening of the eighth annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum held in Washington April 12-14.

However, American views of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,, according to the pollsters,  were not affected by the uprisings in the Arab world. Two thirds continued to have a “favorable view” of Israel and for the U.S. not taking sides in the conflict – “unchanged from a Sadat Chair poll conducted last November.” But more than previously (30 percent versus 21 percent) felt the U.S. was not trying hard enough to resolve the conflict.

Another upbeat assessment came from the United Nations which declared in a report that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is ready to run an independent state. This virtually echoed a similar finding last week by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However, the U.N. noted that  the PNA will have to struggle to make further institutional progress due to the restrictions of the Israeli occupation and the breakdown of the Middle East peace talks.

But the U.N. report said deep political divisions between the PNA and the Islamist group Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, added another complication to the drive to Palestinian statehood.  This blunt assessment makes it incumbent on the two feuding Palestinian groups to immediately settle their differences; otherwise they run the risk of losing another major battle in September when the U.N. General Assembly is expected to support Palestinian membership in the world organization. Obviously their picayune quarrels are not worth that price.
Already, the PNA has more than 100 votes to gain full membership in the 192-member U.N. General Assembly, the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations. More significantly, it will give Palestinians the right to challenge Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the Holy Land where in accordance with the 1948 Partition Plan Israel was awarded 55 percent of the former British mandate. After the 1967 war, Israel secured 78 percent of the country, but in the wake of the 1973 war, it gained full military control of the country as well as significant areas of Syria, Egypt and Jordan.
Another significant turnaround has been the Arab League’s call last Sunday on the UN Security Council to consider an embargo on Israeli military flights over Gaza Strip where 19 Palestinians have recently been killed as a result of Israeli air raids. The move, aimed to protect Palestinian civilians, mimics the Arab League’s endorsement of the Atlantic Alliance (NATO) imposing a United Nations no-fly zone over Libya which has been effective in disabling the pro-Qaddafi troops.

On the other hand, these international moves appear to have crippled all Israeli maneuvers championed incoherently by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has recently traveled to Europe in the hope of winning European support against U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state. Likewise, Israeli President Shimon Peres has lately visited the United States for this purpose but it is not yet certain what commitments he has been promised by the Obama administration which has lately seemed maintaining a hands-off approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

This so-called “diplomatic tsunami” that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak forecast  is bound to hit Israel hard should the Palestinians win admission to the United Nations in the wake of the uprisings in the Middle East which are baffling Israeli leaders about the next step which may be revealed if and when he comes to the U.S. next month.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.

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