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Obama has to translate belief into action
By Dr Musa A Keilani March 29, 2010
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IT IS strange, to say the least, that the deadlock in the quest for peace in Palestine is seen as the result of Israel’s refusal to accept a freeze in settlement construction in the occupied eastern part of Jerusalem. It is as if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to accept a freeze, it would be the magic key to open the door to negotiations with the Palestinians leading to Israel agreeing to return all the territories it occupied in the 1967 war, respect the rights of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and accepting the creation of an independent Palestinian state with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital.

Everyone knows compromises and accommodations would have to be made to produce a realistic solution to the Palestinian problem. It is implicitly accepted that most of the major Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank will remain in Israeli hands in some form of a territorial exchange with the Palestinians.

It is also recognised that Jerusalem will have to be shared as the common capital of both Israel and the proposed Palestinian state. As to the rights of the 1948 refugees, it is generally accepted that those who survived till now are over ninety years of age.

Very few of them — mostly now second and third generation — would know their villages or actually want to exercise their right to return. An overwhelming majority would be willing to accept compensation in lieu of the properties they lost when their grand fathers or fathers were forced of their ancestral homeland. Of course, these possible solutions have to be placed on the negotiating table with a view to working out the finer points and technicalities.

That is the way the Palestinians and all those who support their cause view the situation. However, Israel is not willing to come anywhere near the key issues and its refusal not to stop building Jewish settlements in occupied Arab East Jerusalem reflects its determination not to accept an compromise over the status of the Holy City.

As to the actual territory for a Palestinian state, the 700-kilometre separation barrier that Israel has built along the West Bank ensures that there could not be a Palestinian state with contiguity there (not to mention the absence of access between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip).

Israel has ruled out recognising the rights of the Palestinian refugees from 1948 and insists that it is a problem that have to be dealt by the countries currently hosting them. Complicating the situation is the widening gap between the mainstream Palestinian leadership headed by Fatah in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas movement, which is ruling the Gaza Strip. It is known that the mainstream leadership is amenable to accepting compromises along the broad lines outlined here.

That willingness stems from a realisation that the Palestinians might not get even the chance to make those compromises if time were allowed to slip by.

The Hamas leadership maintains that it is not willing to give up the struggle for all of 1948 Palestine, including the land given to Israel under the UN Partition Resolution. Hamas, which calls for the dismantling of Israel, says it is willing only to enter a long-truce with the Jewish state.

However, it is also clear that the “moderates” in Hamas will accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines under conditions that have not yet been spelt out.

And Israel is bent upon not creating an atmosphere that would draw Hamas into any effort for peace so it could always argue that there is no united Palestinian platform for peace negotiations. At this juncture in time, the administration of US President Barack Obama is in a tense showdown with Israel.

The Arabs and all others who support the Palestinian cause have been calling for American pressure on Israel to accept a fair and just peace agreement with the Palestinians.

And Obama seems to be doing just that. A White House meeting between Obama and Netanyahu last week was described as a dressing down for the latter over his firm rejection of calls for suspending construction of settlements in the occupied territories.

The Washington Post accused Obama of treating Netanyahu “as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length.” It was also reported that Obama handed Netanyahu a “blueprint” to relaunch talks with the Palestinians. The “blueprint” is said to include demands for a total freeze in settlement construction, release of Palestinian prisoners, removing some of the Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank and easing the siege of the Gaza Strip.

Obama’s handling of Netanyahu indicates that he has decided to call a spade a spade and take the Israeli bull by the horns. And Netanayhu is putting up stiff resistance, with a conviction that Israel’s powerful friends in the US Congress and outside would not allow Obama to pressure Israel into doing anything that it does not want to do.

They are already doing so by accusing Obama of shifting attention from what they describe as the growing Iranian threat to Israel and by demanding that the White House end the dispute with Israel immediately.

Well, Netanyahu has given no reason for anyone to see him any different from “an unsavory Third World statesman.” The description fits him like a glove. Many say Obama’s political career is at stake, given the political and economic clout of the Israeli lobby in Washington and the bipartisan support that Israel enjoys in the US Congress.

However, Obama’s success in pushing the landmark health reform bill through Congress against all odds shows that he would try to stand firm and resist all pressures to spare Israel.

For the first time, the US is said to be formulating in detail the framework of a peace agreement addressing all major issues dividing Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel will fight the framework saying that it will predetermine the outcome of negotiations with the Palestinians and constitutes a total US domination of the peace process.

Israel will also argue that it will be shackled to the framework and will have to deal with an Arab World determined not to make any compromises. Notwithstanding all media suggestions and speculation, the next few days should determine the fate of the quest for fair and just peace in Palestine.

And it depends largely on Obama, who has to decide whether to uphold US national interests or to allow others to bully him into protecting and serving Israeli interests first.

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