Mar 11 2010

Americans have themselves to blame for the Biden slap in the face

Published by at 1:03 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics

The embarrassment the US vice president faced this week when, during his visit to Israel, the creation of a new settlement was announced should not have surprised him. The list of Israeli slaps in the face of US officials is endless.
The situation has become such that many believe calls for a freeze of settlement activities should stop because they resulted in a frenzy to build even more Jewish settlements.

While for Israelis the settlement issue is ideological, at times a side show, for Palestinians the settlement is an existential issue. Every settlement unit built in lands that are to become part of the independent state of Palestine is like a dagger in the Palestinian heart.

Many see the settlement issue as part of Israel’s long-term attempts to prevent the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Palestinians often refer to the folkloric tale character Joha as a way to explain why they are so adamant in rejecting settlements. In the tale, Joha sells his house with one condition: that a nail in one of the rooms remains his property.

The new owners, not seeing a problem with a tiny nail, agree, only to realise that Joha would come at all times of day and night to hang on the nail wet and sometimes smelly clothes. The problem reaches the stage where the frustrated owners finally give up the house because of the nail.

While Palestinians would love to see a reversal of the illegal settlement process, the suggestion of a freeze was seen as a compromise, as mentioned in roadmap, which stipulated that the settlement freeze include all areas occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and the so called “natural growth” of settlements.

The settlement problem between Palestinians and Israelis seems intractable. When Barack Obama was elected president of the US and when George Mitchell was appointed his peace envoy, Palestinians were hopeful that finally this issue would be dealt with decisively. But, again, the Americans didn’t have the stomach for a confrontation with Israel.

The disappointment with the Americans was much greater precisely because of the high expectations from Obama and the rhetoric of his administration in its first few months.

Sometimes, in a difficult relationship, something occurs that establishes its parameters. This is exactly what happened between Obama and Israeli right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two had climbed their respective opposing trees on the issue of a total settlement freeze as a prerequisite for beginning of peace talks. When they met in New York on September 20, Obama blinked first, leaving an embarrassed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In his public statement, the US president scaled down from his, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s, previous calls for a settlement “freeze” to accepting Israel’s offer of a settlement “restraint”. Once it became clear that the Americans will not stand up to Israel on settlements, everyone knew their place in this relationship.

For the embarrassment meted out to Biden, the Obama administration has only itself to blame. Israel’s announcement, on March 9, that it will build another 1,600 units in East Jerusalem, to be added to 112 units approved for a settlement outside Bethlehem a few days earlier, as well as other announcements made since the September standoff, are a result of the US president’s weakness.

The sliding slope that began that day in September has continued and will ultimately derail America’s goals of bringing peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinian leadership’s refusal to have direct talks until there is a true settlement freeze in all areas occupied in 1967 shows that the authors of UN Security Council Resolution 242 were right when stating in the preamble of that resolution the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”.

Appeasing and rewarding Israel for its acquisition of Palestinian territory by war resulted in pushing peace away. If what presidents George W. Bush and Obama truly believe – as they have publicly stated – that an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state is in the “national interest” of the United States, Washington must resolve once and for all that any Jewish settlement building on Palestinian territory taken by force in 1967 will not be tolerated. Once America shows resolve in this area, the peace train can proceed to its destination.

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