Nov 25 2010

America’s latest bribe to Israel

Published by at 11:35 am under Articles,Palestinian politics,US-Middle East

By Daoud Kuttab

The secret talks between US and Israeli officials, aiming at convincing the Israelis to change their position regarding the settlement freeze, started to smell more and more like a bribe, with some media reports calling it the $3 billion bribe.

The amount is in reference to the cost of the 20 advanced US fighter planes that the Obama administration is promising to give Israel in return for the Netanyahu government’s agreeing to a mere three-month freeze of illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

If anyone thinks that this is a mere sweetener to support Israel’s security, one needs to ask why this issue did not come up but after the rightwing Israeli government declare its total rejection of the extension of the 10-month moratorium on settlement activities in the occupied territories, excepting Jerusalem and a few other places.

Anyone involved in a bribe is always afraid that the actual exchange of money or goods is documented. Funny enough, the current problem with this particular “bribe” has been the issue of documentation. The Israelis want it in writing, while the Americans, suffering a major economic crisis, appear ashamed to put in writing a promise that they have made in secret to the Israelis.

What the Americans are obviously worried about is the quid pro quo issue, that is the Israeli change of behaviour. The danger in this latest American bribe is that it comes not as a reward for progress in talks, but as an incentive to the Netanyahu government to agree to stop carrying out actions that are considered illegal by the entire international community, including the US.

The Americans’ insistence on rewarding the party that puts obstacles in the way of peace only encourages that party to come up with even more obstacles as the talks enter more difficult stages. So if the cost of suspending settlements will cost the US taxpayer in an economically challenged season $3 billion, what will removing settlers cost?

East Jerusalem being an exception in the deal presents yet another problem. If the Israelis are not willing to stop their illegal building in occupied East Jerusalem, how will they agree to quit East Jerusalem and allow it to become the capital of the Palestinian state?

Israel is acting in an unusually arrogant manner, haggling with Washington as if it were one of America’s 50 states rather than a foreign country. Perhaps Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feels emboldened by the recent victories of like-minded ultra-rightwing candidates, and therefore he chose to challenge Barack Obama to say no to the tea party’s favourite, Israel.

It is ironic that the term bribery, used to describe what was happening between Washington and Tel Aviv, was first introduced by a former American official who happens to be a devout Jew.

The term bribery was first used by former American ambassador to Israel and senior Obama adviser during his presidential campaign Dan Kurtzer, who is now affiliated with Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for International Studies. Kurtzer, who was a senior adviser to Obama during his presidential run and who stated his opposition to Washington’s haggling with the Israelis, sharply criticised what he called the US rewarding Israel’s bad behaviour with the settlement freeze deal. “Washington will ?lmost certainly come to regret bribing Israel; Israel may regret receiving such bribe even more,” he says.

While the price of the bribe is very high, the expected result is minor. If the cost of this bribe is a 90-day extension to the settlement freeze, what will happen on the 91st day?

For Israelis, the answer came in the form of a statement by the racist leader of the rightwing Land of Israel party. Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the foreign ministry (that doesn’t always represent the government of Israel) said that the resumption of the peace talks is in the interest of Israel and of the Palestinians.

Peace, and not peace talks, is certainly in the Palestinians’ interest. But for the Israelis, the number one priority is to project a semblance of a process of peace rather than pay the price of peace. And if this process can be renewed with a nice $3 billion bribe, why not?

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