Apr 22 2010

Trying to effect change in Israel

Published by at 12:24 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

 By Daoud Kuttab

An analysis of the most recent ABC TV interview with former US president Bill Clinton reveals a fascinating development in Washington, DC. The Obama administration has concluded who the culprit is in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and it is not the Arab side.

When asked by reporter Jack Tapper about US plans for the Middle East conflict, the former US president stated that Washington plans to “do something to deprive both sides of any excuse not to engage in serious negotiations”.

This statement seems to deal equally with both sides of the conflict, but it is clear that the blame for the current deadlock falls squarely on the Israelis. The argument against the administration putting forward a peace plan, Clinton said, is that the current Israeli government “almost certainly would reject it”.

Clinton, whose second-term administration is said to have forced Netanyahu, in his first term, out of power, clearly understands the risks of trying to influence the internal dynamics of a country like Israel. Reflecting on that risk, Clinton said on ABC News that it could “make us look weak”. But the Obama administration, Clinton said, “may decide it’s more important to have clarity and to do something that will be an action-forcing event to put them [Arabs and Israelis] back to the table.”

Translation: it is time to announce to the world what is required for peace in the Middle East, no matter who ends up looking like the obstructionist party to the conflict.

A US peace plan that is fair and reasonable would certainly have many ordinary Israelis and Palestinians cheering. It could cause some major damage to right-wing Israeli political forces that came to power as a result of eight years of former US president George Bush’s so-called war on terror. Hiding behind that anti-Islamic façade, the Israelis have had no problem in stonewalling all reasonable peace efforts, including the 2002 Arab peace plan, according to which Arab states and countries with Muslim majorities agreed to have normal relationship with Israel if it withdraws from areas occupied in 1967. The plan also gives Israel a role equal to that of the Palestinians in solving the refugee issue. It called for the “achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

Clinton is among former US leaders who is being consulted by the White House. The former president also shares his life with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and is certainly providing advice to her about the best way forward.

One of the ideas that is being considered by Washington is that the ideas offered by former president Clinton at Camp David and, more importantly, at the Taba meetings thereafter might be the basis of an Obama-sponsored peace plan.

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were quoted as saying that their sides have never been closer to each other than then.

Following the failure of the Camp David summit and of the Taba meetings, a number of Palestinian and Israeli initiatives were publicised. The most interesting was the Geneva Agreement, led by former Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin and Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabo. The Geneva agreement details every aspect that a peace agreement would contain. Palestinian leaders have since accepted that plan, while mainstream Israelis have rejected it.

If the Israelis are clearly the obstacle to bringing about peace, and if Washington has the courage to put up a plan that the Israelis are likely to reject, this will show once and for all who the true obstacle to peace is. While Washington might want such a move to force change in Israel, Palestinian peace groups will undoubtedly use such exposure of Israeli intransigence to push for more international action against Israel, including divestment, protests and boycott of Israelis.

American presidents did, in the past, wait until they were in their second term before moving towards a more proactive and courageous push for peace in the Middle East. This time things seem to be different. The combination of a different kind of leader in the White House and a more aggressive US military, wanting to protect its soldiers, might produce the kind of political environment that will make rejecting peace very costly. The US needs to join the world community in sending an unambiguous message that the continuation of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people is not acceptable.

22 April 2010

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