Is Abbas in a Corner?

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington

Inch by inch, the Palestinian president has apparently once again succumbed to American pressure.  He is about to allow his junior officials to start so-called “proximity talks” with their Israeli counterparts to pave the ground for the resumption of peace negotiations, which broke down after Israel’s invasion of Gaza in December 2008.

On the other hand, Israel, which has stubbornly refused an earlier Israeli commitment to freeze all illegal settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories during peace talks, has meanwhile managed to escape scot free, thanks to its new protector, Barack Obama, who keeps “heap(ing) sticky-sweet praise on Israel.”

Israeli columnist Gideon Levy of Haaretz did not hold back his feelings about U.S. policy in the Middle East, a position that is undoubtedly shared by many, particularly in the Arab world, when he wrote that the American president and his key aides should “stop sucking up to Israel.” He underlined:

“Now is the time to say to the United States: Enough flattery. If you don’t change the tone, nothing will change. As long as Israel feels the United States is in its pocket, and that America’s automatic veto will save it from condemnation and sanctions, that it will receive massive aid unconditionally, and that it can continue waging punitive, lethal campaign without a word from Washington, killing, destroying and imprisoning without the world’s policeman making a sound, it will continue in its way.”

Interestingly, Levy’s column was written last December, weeks before Israeli troops invaded the Gaza Strip where “war crimes” have been committed in the opinion of the U.N. investigator. Yet Washington has remained inexplicably silent while, in contrast, several Israeli critiques of the Netanyahu government have been published in the Israeli press and elsewhere.

For one, Akiva Eldar, a respected Israeli columnist,  has written that Netanyahu’s failed policies since he took over the premiership a year ago “is making us miss (the former prime Minister Ehud) Olmert,” who waged both the lackluster invasion of Lebanon and the bloody assault on Gaza. Olmert was compelled to resign after he was indicted on corruption charges.

Neve Gordon, a tenured professor at Ben Gurion University, wrote what has been described as “an impassioned plea” in an Op-Ed published in The Los Angeles Times to implement a boycott of Israel. He believed that “outside pressure is the only answer” to achieve a two-state solution and “stop the apartheid state.” He said he is “convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.”

Another Israeli commentator challenged Netanyahu. If he “really wants to be the one who brings peace, he must set an unequivocal policy and end the suspicion” that the anti-Arab statements of his far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, represent the prime minister. He went on to urge the expulsion of Lieberman and his party from the coalition government.

Judith Miller, a veteran New York Times reporter and now an adjunct fellow at the right-wing think tank, the Manhattan Institute, noted that there was “precious little” about Israel’s actual strategic thinking and plans”discussed at the annual Herzliya conference, a pace-setting national security conclave, last week. Netanyahu , she wrote, delivered “a rambling ode to the joys of rediscovering one’s Jewish roots and heritage,” revealing very little about his true thinking or plans  — a point that had prompted many to mistrust the Israeli prime minister, whose archival record is replete with contradictory positions. “Netanyahu’s limp performance and sophomoric lecture on the need for Jewish patriotism,” she wrote, was particular resented.

Best remembered for her role in revealing an undercover CIA agency, Valerie Plame, Miller noted that a keynote panel at the much-watched conference was titled “U.S.-Israeli Relations: Still Special?” Her observation: “The panelists agreed that the ties between the two states and U.S. support for Israel remain strong, despite Israel’s refusal to yield to President Barack Obama’s demand that it suspend expanding settlements on occupied Palestinian land.”

But, she pointed out, it was “only Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt now at Princeton, (who) warned that it was unreasonable and self-defeating for Israel to insist that the Palestinians come to the negotiating table to discuss the fate of land that Israel continued to seize.”

The other side of the coin is likewise critical especially that a new Israeli poll, conducted by Tel Aviv University,  has indicated that the popularity of both Netanyahu and Lieberman is plummeting. This turnaround must give Abbas more time to do some serious thinking as he must not wish to repeat the same mistake as when he chose to delay a U.N. indictment of the Israeli invasion of Gaza in response to American pressure. Why would he want to test Israel’s intention during the “proximity talks” when the Israeli leadership cannot or may not deliver without effective and public American arms-twisting. After all, if this fails Abbas find himself in a defenseless corner.

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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