< HOME  Friday, October 08, 2010

Obama’s Balfour Declaration

By Hasan Abu Nimah

Those who invested again in the so-called peace process apparently believed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ready for historic decisions, and that US President Barack Obama's support for the talks represented a unique and serious opportunity.

Netanyahu allowed Israel's mostly fictitious 10-month "settlement freeze" to expire on September 26, setting off a desperate scramble among peace process sponsors to find a formula to "save the peace talks" - as if simply having such talks is the ultimate prize.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US envoy George Mitchell and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton all rushed in not with the goal of stopping Israel's criminal settlement expansion but to find a formula for Israel to continue building settlements while pretending it is not.

This allows Israel to feed its insatiable appetite for Palestinian land undisturbed, and provides cover for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to continue the talks that virtually all Palestinians oppose.

As Netanyahu showed he was true to his word and would not extend the "freeze", the Americans became desperate. The Obama administration apparently offered Israel unprecedented promises and guarantees in exchange for virtually nothing. The Americans reinforced their promises to support Israel in its adamant opposition to guaranteeing Palestinians rights; supported Israel's desire to occupy and effectively annex the Jordan Valley indefinitely even after a Palestinian "state" is declared; and more military go?dies, money and diplomatic cover. Obama's offer included a series of guarantees to prevent the smuggling of weapons and missiles into a Palestinian state and a comprehensive regional defence pact, for protection from Iran, to follow the establishment of this state.

All Israel would have to do is extend the freeze by just 60 days, with a guarantee that this would be the last time ever that the Americans would ask Israel to stop settlements. After that, Israel could presumably build without even the pretense of American opposition.

It is as if Obama delivered a second Balfour Declaration.

The White House denied that the said offers were included in a letter from Obama to Netanyahu, but there were no denials that the offers were made. Apparently the alleged letter, or the draft that was meant to be presented to Netanyahu to agree, was leaked to pro-Israel activist David Makovsky by one of its two authors, Dennis Ross, Obama's chief adviser on the Middle East and a lifetime operative of the Israeli lobby, and Israeli chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, as reported by Barak Ravid in Israeli Haare?z newspaper (September 30).

Makovsky published the article on the website of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, most likely to embarrass Netanyahu for rejecting so much for so little. The offered terms were described as unprecedented and so critical to Israel's strategic security needs that Netanyahu himself has been demanding them for years.

Other reports spoke of additional offers, such as the recognition of Israel as a state for the "Jewish nation", the abolition of the right of return for Palestinian refugees and speedy normalisation by Arab states.

Washington's response to Netanyahu's disruptiveness is truly shocking. Why should he, once faced with such appeasement, ever mind Washington's advice? Not only is Israel never punished, but every time it impertinently disobeys its American sponsors, it gets generously rewarded.

The offers, even if they are a fraction of what is reported, are so dangerous for the shaky Middle East situation that their harm far outweighs the meagre benefit they were set to achieve.

It is outrageous for Palestinian national rights to be offered away so cheaply to apparently serve such petty causes as improving Obama's Democratic Party's chances in the upcoming American elections.

Because there is so little reality in the discussion, let us remind ourselves of what is really happening. Even under the just expired "freeze", building never stopped. Villagers from Beit Nattif, near Hebron in the West Bank, told the BBC that during the freeze they witnessed new construction rising every day.

"The story can be called many things but 'freeze' is certainly not one of them," Dror Etkes, a noted settlement monitor, wrote in Haaretz on September 28.

Quoting official Israeli government statistics in detail, Etkes calculated that what actually occurred was "in the best case scenario, not more than a negligible decrease in the number of housing units that were built in settlements". Roughly 2,500 units had been under construction during the "freeze", representing a drop of a mere 16 per cent of the comparable previous period.

Etkes added: "The truth is that the settlers know better than anyone else that not only did construction in settlements continue over the last 10 months, and vigorously, but also that a relatively large part of the houses were built on settlements that lie east of the separation fence [Israel's illegal West Bank apartheid wall], such as Bracha, Itamar, Eli, Shilo, Maaleh Mikhmas, Maon, Carmel, Beit Haggai, Kiryat Arba, Mitzpeh Yeriho and others."

Most certainly, the PA leadership was aware of this too. But it was convenient for it to close its eyes to this reality and pretend reality was something different, just like everyone else involved in the peace process charade.

Israel may or may not now extend the freeze, but even if it does, it will be as fake as the earlier one, and a total victory for its intransigence.

One can expect Washington to continue its directionless, unwise and unrealistic policies. The antics involved in the "peace process" would be comical if the consequences were not so dangerous and tragic.

As I write, Mitchell continues to tour the region searching for the magic wand. If not found, there is always the fallback position: back to indirect talks. That is not a silly joke. He said that both sides asked him to continue with his efforts shuttling between them. The "historic" PLO decision last Saturday was not to end the talks, now that settlement building will continue unchecked. It was only to refrain from engaging in "direct talks" if settlement building resumed. Indirect talks are therefore exc?uded from the ban.

Actually what is happening on the ground is more than direct talks, with close security cooperation between Israel and the PA at its best. Do the PA security forces not protect the settlers from their helpless Palestinian victims? Did the PA forces intervene to prevent the settlers from burning mosques and holy Korans, as they did in their latest raid, two days ago, on the Mosque of Prophets in the village of Beit Fajjar, south of Bethlehem? But that is not why the PA forces were created for to start with,?Dayton made clear repeatedly. They are created to curb Palestinian "terror" against the occupation and the colonisation of their land, of which the building of Jewish settlements is an integral part.

Abbas himself boasted proudly in the US how his security forces instantly tracked down and arrested the Palestinians who attacked settlers in the Hebron area a month ago.

I have argued repeatedly - and at the risk of sounding immodest, with unfailing accuracy - that such policies promise no hope. The whole approach is futile, catastrophic and without principle.


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