Obama Should Lay the Parameters Down

By George S. Hishmeh

The inconclusive meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, has confused rather than assuaged their audiences in the US and overseas.

The interpretations have been varied, ranging from one end of the political spectrum to the other.

It was surprising, but probably intentional, that the meeting which lasted two-and-a-half hours, more than double the originally allotted time and a good part of it limited to the two leaders, had no joint statement.

This, in part, contributed to the varied, and sometimes contradictory, assessments because of the pointed exchanges between the two leaders that the media witnessed.

This led to one seemingly frustrated American Jewish publication, Forward, to conclude, "Let’s hope that the message was relayed behind closed doors," namely that "keeping a focus on Iran should not and cannot prevent the Netanyahu government from moving forward on genuine negotiations with the Palestinians."

It is generally understood that Israel would not undertake any military action without prior US approval, although it is not yet certain that was the case in the suspected Israeli air raid on alleged Gaza-bound arms smugglers near the Sudanese-Egyptian border where 119 people were killed.

This Israeli stance, according to Haaretz, "has underpinned every fateful decision" taken by Israel on matters of war and peace.

"Israel embarked on the Six-Day War only after it was convinced that the US would not oppose [its action]," the newspaper reported.

"In the hours leading up to the Yom Kippur [October 1973] War, Israel refrained from launching a pre-emptive strike for fear that Washington would blame it for starting the war. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 only after then defense minister Ariel Sharon came under the impression that the US would view the move with understanding. During the first Gulf War in 1991, the US did not permit Israel to respond to Iraq’s scud missiles, and Israel obliged."

So when Israeli leaders nowadays say "all options are open" with regards to Iran’s nuclear program, the newspaper’s Yossi Melman feels, "this is nothing but a dog’s bark being louder than his bite".

After his return from his US trip last week, Netanyahu has maintained a verbal tirade, often full of contradictory statements, against Iran. There also has been several worthless Israeli ideas on illegal colonies, the so-called "outposts", in occupied West Bank which Israel has been under obligation to dismantle under the "Roadmap" agreement.

At a state ceremony marking the annual Jerusalem Day on May 21, Netanyahu said "united [Occupied] Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. [Occupied] Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided."

He overlooked the fact that the Palestinians expect to establish their capital in East Jerusalem, which is predominantly inhabited by Palestinian Arabs.

No wonder a US Congressional delegation currently in Occupied Jerusalem, following a visit to the West Bank, was reported "skeptical" that the Netanyahu government would be able to move the peace process forward.

The five-member Congressional delegation headed by Representative Gary Ackerman of New York, who is considered one of Israel’s greatest friends on Capitol Hill, was said to have engaged in "tough questions" on continued Israeli construction in the West Bank colonies to accommodate "natural growth", a position the US State Department rejected once again last week.

Today, Obama is scheduled to receive Palestinian National President Mahmoud Abbas, who will be expected to stress once again that he will not resume negotiations with Israel unless the Israeli government halts its illegal expansion of colonies. Another key requirement has been continued Israeli adherence to a two-state solution, as was the position of previous Israeli governments, something Netanyahu had refused to do.

But it is feared that Obama may feel he needs to lean further on the Palestinians and Arab governments to entice reluctant Israelis. In his public remarks with Netanyahu earlier this month he declared: "The Palestinians are going to have to do a better job of providing the kind of security assurances that Israelis would need to achieve a two-state solution."

As far as the Arab states, he continued, they "have to be more supportive and be bolder in seeking potential normalization with Israel."

What Obama has exactly in mind remains unclear but he ought to know better than Israel should no longer be treated with kid gloves and that the Arab side cannot make any further concessions. They all have committed themselves to establish ties with Israel once Israel subscribes to a "just and comprehensive Middle East peace deal".

This position was voiced once again on Monday by the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference at a meeting in Damascus. As far as Abbas is concerned he is not in a position to make any more concessions since the Hamas faction, now in control of the Gaza Strip, argues that his negotiations with the Israelis have to date proved fruitless.

It is probably time for Obama to lay the parameters of a final settlement for the decades old conflict because Netanyahu has come to a dead end.

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com.

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