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Hichem Karoui: Doha Conference on Palestine
September 10, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (Doha Institute) holds a conference under the title: “The Palestinian September: Between the Path to Oslo and the Return to International Bodies” on Thursday. This is to my knowledge a unique event organised by a think tank about an issue that has grown to be almost as complicated as the conflict itself: have the Palestinians the right to apply for full UN membership? This is what experts from different horizons are expected to debate.

The Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations have broken down in September 2010 shortly after their resumption, following Israel’s refusal to extend the decision regarding the partial freeze of the settlements in the West Bank.

Since then, the Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table, as long as settlement activity continues in the territories intended to be part of the state they are striving to establish. Thus, the decision to go to the United Nations in September came over a background of an overall political crisis, which is in my eyes a trust crisis between Palestinians and Israelis on the one hand, and Americans and Palestinians on the other.

As we know, the Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu rejected the notion of returning to pre-1967 on the grounds that those borders are impossible to defend for Israel; and President Obama had clearly stated during a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron that going to the United Nations “will not lead to a Palestinian state.”

The Arabs consider that the Israeli and US positions are negative and do not encourage the prospect of peaceful negotiation. Therefore, the move toward the United Nations aims at obtaining a resolution from the majority of the international community in favour of a Palestinian state, despite the expected Israeli and American opposition. Such opposition changed the sense of the initiative.

The objective is to get international support rather than a full Palestinian UN membership (impossible without the backing of the Security Council). Such a move would go on the records as a positive step to the benefit of an independent Palestine, while unveiling the double game played by the United States. This actually shows that:

1) The conflicting view overcame the cooperative relations between the three parties (i.e. Israel, PLO, and USA); and

 2) It may lead to a new stage of Arab rejection and resistance to the methods of the occupation, over a background of a continuous popular turmoil in the entire region, which is neither favourable to Israel nor to the USA.

Clearly, the decision to go to the United Nations came in a situation largely conditioned by the Arab spring, which is quite a new event crossing the minefield of older conflicts, adding to an already gloomy picture of the region the unscrutinised factor of the unknown.

It is utterly naive to believe that the revolution that is shaking the Arab world will have no effects on the Palestinian issue and the conflict with Israel. It is understandable that the current situation could only get the Palestinian attention, as it encloses the possibility of shrewdly pressuring the United States and Israel, at least because it reminds them of two previous Palestinian uprisings, not to forget that its effects on the Arab-US relations are still unpredictable.

Although the Palestinian Authority (PA) is fully aware of the US ability to block its project of accession to the United Nations membership, it is no less aware of the need for the Obama administration to burnish its image in the Arab world, which faded a lot since the famous speech of Cairo (June 2009).

As the PA stuck to its decision despite the US and Israeli threats, its assessment of the situation has likely considered previous US vetoes on similar issues, which contributed unequivocally to deepen the gap between the United States and the Arab peoples.

From this perspective, another veto in the current circumstances blocking the recognition of a Palestinian state might be considered as a big political mistake. — A mistake that would result in isolating the United States in the new Arab world whose main characteristics have become the demand of freedom: How could the US support this tide while excluding the Palestinians from it?

However, such a question is grounded on the assumption that the US foreign policy is based on ethical principles agreed upon by all human beings.

Yet, Nations’ are less governed by such principles than by interests as the power elite define them at a certain time.

If the United States feels that her interests in the medium and long terms consist in improving her image in the Arab world to win the new rulers over, indubitably she will take the initiative in this respect. But where are the new rulers? They have not shown up yet. This stage is characterised by uncertainty and transition in spite of its “revolutionarism.”

Moreover, the Americans tend to believe that they can still ride the train with “their old bags,” before it speeds away.  Will they have at a certain time to make the choice of: either sacrifice their “old bags” to catch the train, or risk to be left behind? Not sure.

As a superpower with many interests in the Middle East, the United States cannot afford to be left in the station while the Arab train gains power and speed. In each locomotive, the US interests have to be looked after. Therefore, the only trick that Washington would probably use to catch the speeding Arab train without giving up all her “old bags” is to find a way to reduce its speed, if not to stop it.

To put it bluntly: if the Arab revolution could not be controlled, hijacking its train would not seem a bad option to the CIA.

This brings us back to the fact that the US Empire has a major influence on the Arab regional subsystem (PLO included), largely infiltrated since many decades. Despite the recent events, this fact has not yet changed. However, we do not know whether it will change any soon or never.

Thus, although the Palestinians have nothing to lose anyway, their stated goal (full UN membership) may not be feasible in the near future.

Moreover, an electoral period is a bad timing, because we never heard of a candidate for the presidency or the US Congress who would sacrifice the relationship with AIPAC and Israel just to improve (his or) the US image in the Arab world, or to announce a dramatic shift in the official position in the Middle East.
The author, an expert on US-Middle EAst relations, is based in Paris

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