The near term outlook for the Middle East

As the Israel lobby uses its power over the US government to keep stalling while the Israeli government and its settlers encroach on Palestinian land, we should try and see where this process might lead. Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, says that Israel’s lack of interest in arriving at a two-state solution is obvious:

In many respects, Obama’s speech, aside from the soaring rhetoric, might have been crafted in Tel Aviv rather than the White House. It is a tribute to Israel’s extraordinary influence upon the US media that has been able to shift the focus of assessment to the supposed Israeli anger about affirming Palestinian statehood within 1967 borders. It is hardly a secret that the Netanyahu leadership, aside from its shrewd propaganda, is opposed to the establishment of any Palestinian state, whether symbolic or substantive.

This was much was confirmed by the release of the Palestine Papers that showed that, behind closed doors – even when the Palestinian Authority made concession after concession in response to Israeli demands – the Israeli negotiating partners seemed totally unresponsive, and appeared disinterested in negotiating a genuine solution to the conflict.

Obama’s speech in which he spoke of negotiations for a Palestinian state “based on 1967 borders with mutually-agreed swaps’, rather that being a sell-out of Israel is actually a huge concession to them and encourages even further Israel in the expansion of its illegal settlements policies in the West Bank and means that Israel can demand even more land from the Palestinians in return for removal of some settlements. As Falk says, “If anything this is a step back from the 1967 canonical and unanimous Security Council Resolution 242 that looked unconditionally toward “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territory occupied in the recent conflict””

Falk adds that once you take away his rhetorical skills, Obama’s failures on the Middle East become transparent.

With these considerations in mind, it is not at all surprising that Obama’s approach to the Israel/Palestine conflict remains one-sided, deeply flawed, and a barrier rather than a gateway to a just and sustainable peace. The underlying pressures that produce the distortion is the one-sided allegiance to Israel, saying: “Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempt to single it out for criticism in international forums.”

This leads to the totally unwarranted assessment that failure to achieve peace in recent years is equally attributable to Israelis and the Palestinians, thereby equating what is certainly not equivalent. Consider Obama’s words of comparison: “Israeli settlement activity continues, Palestinians have walked away from the talks.” How many times is it necessary to point out that Israeli settlement activity is unlawful, and used to be viewed as such – even by the United States government – and that the Palestinian refusal to negotiate comes while their promised homeland is being despoiled not only by settlement expansion and settler violence, but by the continued construction of an unlawful barrier wall well beyond the 1967 borders. Obama never finds it appropriate to mention Israel’s reliance on excessive and lethal force, most recently in its response to the Nakba demonstrations along its borders, or its blatant disregard of international law, whether by continuing to blockade the entrapped 1.5 million Palestinians locked inside Gaza or by violently attacking the Freedom Flotilla a year ago in international waters – while it was carrying much needed humanitarian aid to the Gazans – or by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

Falk suggests that the events of the so-called Arab spring might have the effect of bypassing the weak and ineffectual Obama government in favor of more direct action.

In a profound sense, whatever Obama says at this point is just adding more words which are beside the point. He has neither the will nor the capacity to exert any material leverage on Israel that might make it more amenable to respecting Palestinian rights under international law, or to strike a genuine compromise based on mutuality of claims. Palestinians should not look to sovereign states, or even the United Nations, and certainly not the United States, in their long and tormented journey to realise a just and sustainable destiny for themselves.

Their future will depend on the outcome of their struggle, abetted and supported by people of good will around the world, and increasingly assuming the character of a nonviolent legitimacy war that mobilises moral and political pressures that assert Palestinian rights from below. In this regard, it remains politically significant to make use of the UN and friendly governments to gain visibility and legitimacy for their claims of right. It is Palestinian populism, not great power diplomacy, that offers the best current hope of achieving a sustainable and just peace on behalf of the Palestinian people.

There are moves for the Palestinians to request the UN General Assembly that meets in September to vote on Palestinian statehood, most likely based on the 1967 borders. Israel is fiercely opposed to this move and its lobby in the US will make sure that the US does all it can to thwart it. But unlike the Security Council, there is no veto power in the General Assembly so the US will have to strong-arm as many countries as it can to try and reject the move.

But this is not going to be easy. Most of the rest of the world has seen through the US-Israeli ‘peace process’ charade a long time ago and realize that Israel has no intention of voluntarily allowing a Palestinian state and has to be forced into accepting one. Only those countries that desperately need the US for whatever reason will oppose this move.

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