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US President Barack Obama has put his finger on the root of the Middle East conflict by saying that Israel does not know what is good for it.
According to Bloomberg, Obama said so when informed of Israel’s decision to expand construction in occupied Arab Jerusalem. He said the American leader “didn’t even bother getting angry” and said Netanyahu is moving Israel towards near-total isolation.
The plan announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to build settlements in the E1 area in occupied Arab East Jerusalem intends to deny the occupied West Bank from direct access to Jerusalem, as well as denying the Palestinians a physically contiguous state even if the Knesset agreed to the two-state solution.
The planned construction in the area which Israel names as E1 will make it impossible for Ramallah to be connected with the northern part of the West Bank.
Netanyahu announced intensified plans for construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank after the United Nations General Assembly voted in late November to upgrade the status of the Palestinian National Authority to that of a non-member state. The plans are meant to be a punishment for the Palestinians for their successful bid for upgraded status for themselves at the UN.
Bloomberg quoted the Atlantic’s national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg as saying that Obama, when informed about the Israeli government’s decision to build settlement units in the area between occupied Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, “didn’t even bother getting angry. He told several people that this sort of behaviour on Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he described that decision as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart.”
Goldberg’s report said that in the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are,” adding that with each new settlement announcement, Netanyahu is moving Israel down a path towards near-total isolation.
Goldberg wrote that “if Israel, a small state in an inhospitable region, becomes more of a pariah — one that alienates even the affections of the US, its last steadfast friend — it won’t survive. Iran poses a short-term threat to Israel’s survival; Israel’s own behaviour poses a long-term one.
“On matters related to the Palestinians, the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise,” according to the Bloomberg reporter.
Goldberg said what Obama wants is recognition by Netanyahu that Israel’s settlement policies are foreclosing on the possibility of a two-state solution, and he wants Netanyahu to acknowledge that a two-state solution represents the best chance of preserving the country as a Jewish-majority democracy.
“Obama wants, in other words, for Netanyahu to act in Israel’s best interests,” he wrote. “So far, though, there has been no sign that the Israeli government is gaining a better understanding of the world in which it lives,” said Goldberg.
During his first term in office, Obama repeatedly tried to convince Netanyahu to accept the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines and to reach a negotiated settlement that would accommodate the major Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was ready for such a compromise provided that the negotiations could start only with an Israeli freeze on further settlement construction in the occupied territories.
Every time, Netanyahu countered Obama by arguing that such a two-solution would undermine the “security” of Israel and asserted that he was ready to resume peace talks with no preconditions.
By insisting on no preconditions, Netanyahu is contradicting himself because it means that he wants to impose Israel’s terms and conditions on the Palestinians by virtue of the reality that Israel is in physical control of their territories and they are the underdogs in any process of negotiations with Israel.
His insistence on no preconditions also means that Israel would not agree to be bound by UN resolutions and international legitimacy that call for a solution that respects the legitimate political and territorial rights of the Palestinian people.
Obama kept reminding Netanyahu that the US remained the guarantor of Israel’s security under any fair and just arrangement the Jewish state works out with the Palestinians. However, the Israeli hawk always squirmed out of the argument as if he was not willing to accept an assurance even from the US president.
Obama’s comments, as reported by Bloomberg, show that he is perfectly aware of the deceptive tactics adopted by Netanyahu that have undermined every effort he made in order to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem which is the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
On the ground, it is a reality that Israel is retaining a fortress mentality and insists that it is vulnerable to Arab military power. Netanyahu and his hawkish camp members maintain the argument despite their country’s massive firepower and possession of nuclear weapons.
Despite his good intentions and pledge to solve the Palestinian problem during his first term in office, Obama is seen to have lost face because of Netanyahu’s deception that countered him at every point.
Obama would not have forgotten that Netanyahu, using the influential Israeli lobby in Washington, even humiliated him like no one else ever did to a US president.
Netanyahu, who is most likely to win re-election in Israel’s polls, is not likely to have forgotten the antagonism he caused with Obama.
With Obama having won a second term in office and assumed office on Jan.20, he is likely to await the outcome of the Israeli elections before he makes any move vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
It is a safe assumption that Obama would try to move in a more assertive way with Israel regardless of Netanyahu and the strong and influential pro-Israeli lobby in Washington.
The result of that confrontation is uncertain. But Obama can go down in history as the US president who called a spade a spade and told Israel to hold its expansionist policy and not to dictate terms to the world’s sole superpower.
The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of Al Urdun weekly in Amman