Much-Awaited Crucial Israeli Steps

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington D.C.
So Barrack Obama does not want to use his stick, much as this approach has been effective in the past especially in settling Arab-Israeli disputes. This was clearly pointed out by his special Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell, when he recalled that recent U.S. presidents have done so with notable success.
His adamant refusal carries a high price which may in the end compel him to change his mind.  One obvious reason is the arrogant statement of the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared on Tuesday that Israel would never cede control of united Jerusalem nor retreat to the 1967 armistice lines.  For the record, Israel had pledged to do so under the Roadmap, a peace plan sponsored by the so-called Quartet of nations – – European Union, Russia, the United States, and the United Nations.
Netanyahu was obviously reacting inelegantly to a remark made by Mitchell in an eye-opening television interview which must have touched a raw Israeli nerve and subsequently prompted an official U.S. whitewash.  Mitchell , in response to a question about likely U.S. pressure on Israel, had recalled,  intentionally or unwittingly, that “under American law, the United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel.” 
Moreover, Israel’s loudmouth ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, argued that Mitchell’s vision of peace within two years was “unrealistic and might prove counterproductive.” His point: “We know from our experience that state-making takes a long time.” It sure does if one follows the footsteps of Israel which now occupies 78 percent of Palestine, a large segment since the 1967 Arab-Israeli and still refuses to withdraw despite of many critical U.N. resolutions.
Yet, the Obama administration continues to maintain the special U.S. relationship with Israel. For example, the U.S. is nowadays doubling its military stockpiles in Israel whereby Israel is “allowed to use the U.S. ordnance in the event of a military emergency.” The value of the military gear is estimated at $800 million, according to a report in Defense News, a U.S. weekly. An American defense official explained further that the U.S.-Israel agreement “reflects the Obama administration’s continued commitment to Israel’s security and the understanding that changes in U.S. economic conditions and inflation have limited the weapons available to Israel.”
Total U.S. military and economic aid to Israel, which started in the Kennedy administration,  has to date amounted to about $154 billion. Furthermore, an exemption from Congress allows Israel to spend about 25 percent of U.S. military aid within its own industry, thus helping Israel become one of the largest arms exporters in the world
The other side of the coin is not much easier for Obama since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been adamant about refusing to negotiate with Israel unless the latter freezes all settlement construction in the Palestinian areas including occupied Arab East Jerusalem – a demand initially supported by the Obama administration.  
The carrot that Obama is reportedly offering includes the holding of so-called “proximity talks,” whereby Mitchell would meet with each side separately and then communicate each side’s position to the other.  Another suggestion he has , which some Arab countries have surprisingly supported, is for Abbas to drop his objection and accept an anticipated Israeli counter-offer to lift the siege against Gaza, a step that may be face-saving to the embattled Palestinian leader.  But whether Abbas will go along is not all that certain since occupied East Jerusalem for the Palestinians and the entire Muslim world is a key issue.
Mitchell, now in Europe, and National Security adviser Gen. Jim Jones are heading to the Middle East shortly in a bid to coax the two sides to begin peace negotiations.  The U.S. seems determined, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated last week when she met with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, that the Arabs and Israel ought “to take steps needed to re-launch negotiations as soon as possible and without preconditions, which is in the interests of everyone in the region.”
Her seemingly logical idea, a reflection of the thinking in the White House, is for the two sides to concentrate on the issue of borders because “resolving borders resolves settlements, resolving Jerusalem resolves settlements.” But before one can do that the Obama administration ought to make sure, as Mitchell explained in his interview, that Israel would first need to take “a series of (visible) steps and action that … would encourage President Abbas to enter the discussions.”  This is where Obama may have to use his stick.

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

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