By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
When President Barack Obama described the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections last month as a “shellacking,” he was praised for his outright admission of his shocking defeat. But when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave him (and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) an unprecedented slap in the face by refusing to freeze his colonial expansion into occupied Palestinian territory, which now houses some 500,000 Israelis, the American head of state remained speechless, seemingly bowing his head down.
This second setback, which has denied the Obama administration a resounding achievement in the Middle East, prompted Secretary Clinton to take the lead in introducing an ill-defined counter-plan to bring peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. She withdrew Obama’s hefty bribe to Israel – about $30 million a day for three months – that the administration had hoped Israel would resume the moratorium on colonial building and pave the way for serious resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. All now concede that it was very doubtful that the negotiators would have reached, in this short period, any significant achievement that would have pacified the region, once and for all.
Yet to her credit, the secretary did underline some noteworthy specifics that would make it hopefully difficult for the Israelis to beat around the bush as they have been doing so far. She repeated the administration’s position that Israeli settlement construction was a threat to the peace process. She declared: “It is time to grapple with the core issues of the conflict: on borders and security, settlements, water and refugees, and on Jerusalem itself.”
Clinton underlined, “The Palestinian leaders must be able to show their people that the occupation will be over,” explaining further that the hope for agreement would call for “a single line drawn on a map that divides Israel from Palestine.”
But regrettably she failed to insist on an immediate freeze on Israeli colonial expansion, as mandated by international law. This is an issue that the Palestinians feel strongly about as U.S. Mideast emissary George J. Mitchell found out during his visit to Ramallah last weekend. Her reluctance to delve into this thorny issue does not necessarily stem from Obama’s low popularity, as some may point out. According to the just-released Zogby Interactive poll 63 percent of likely voters see him as a weak leader, compared to 19 percent who label him strong. Much of the slippage, however, is from the ranks of Democrats and independents and their views are mainly affected by domestic issues and not foreign affairs.
This is evident in the analyses in the media which have been supportive of the Obama administration proceeding unresistantly forward on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Here, Martin Indyk, who served twice as U.S. ambassador in Israel, wrote recently that since Israel’s “demographic clock has not stopped ticking, and continuing the occupation is eroding its international legitimacy,” the Obama administration’s “objective should be unchanged – a two-state solution.” He emphasized, “That cannot be achieved without defining the borders that separate the two states,” and proceeding with “ a negotiation (that) will have to be predicated on the principle of UN Security council Resolution 242, the original peace process resolution.”
Indyk continued in the Financial Times, “Focusing on the borders leads naturally back to the original idea in the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution that sought to deal with the conflict over Palestine – partition of the land into two states, one Jewish, the other Arab, with a special regime for Jerusalem, and equal rights and equal protection under the law for citizens of the two states.”
Robert Wright, a columnist for nytimes.com, pointed out that the current path the U.S. president is taking, “involves Obama taking political heat every time he tried to move Netanyahu a few inches toward the goal line. And there are 97 yards to go.”
So, he argued, “if the United Nations does take the initiative (to find a solution), domestic resistance will be largely confined to the right wing of the American Jewish opinion. Vast numbers of American (and Israeli) Jews will rally to the (UN-sponsored) plan, because lasting peace will finally be within reach.”
Otherwise, as indicated last week, three South American countries have proceeded on their own. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have recognized the State of Palestine based on the 1967 borders – a path the Palestine Authority could pursue unhesitatingly. So far, more than 100 countries have done so, the Palestinian mission at the United Nations has revealed.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.