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Dr Musa A Keilani: Falling on deaf ears
October 11, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

It cannot be an easy job for any American ambassador in an Arab capital to defend their government’s political stand. They see that decision makers in Washington make a point to alienate the Arab masses who used to be friendly to the American people.

One example of the answer to “Why the hate us” was provided when US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and members of Congress went to the extent of threatening the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) with suspension of US funding of the agency’s budget if it considered granting full membership to the Palestinians. The threat followed a decision by the agency’s board to let 193 member states vote on the issue later this month.

Clinton said on Wednesday that the UN agency should “think again” on the move and warned that it could cause the United States to cut funds for the organisation.

Parallel to Clinton’s warning, US legislators also said Unesco stands to lose tens of millions of dollars in funding if it agrees to admit Palestine as a member before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is concluded.

The US Congress has already voted to suspend aid to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) as a punishment for its quest for UN membership.

Having failed in their campaign to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking UN recognition of statehood, the international Quartet, the European Union and the United States are now involved in an effort to come up with a face-saving formula: revived Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

It cannot be said that the two other members of the Quartet, the United Nations and Russia, fully support efforts to bring the Palestinians back into the process without any assurance that negotiations will produce a fair and just outcome on the basis of international legitimacy. Of course, the UN is supposed to be neutral and could not be expected to step outside the framework of its own resolutions, which include one that was endorsed in late 1947 calling for the creation of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state.

Russia, which would also like to see Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations resumed, has said that it would vote in favour of the Palestinian bid for UN membership. Moscow also backs the Palestinian position that peace talks should be based on the 1967 front lines.

It is a positive initiative to welcome the Quartet’s proposal calling on Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations this month, with 2012 as a deadline to end all negotiations and conclude an agreement. However, the plan does not set the terms of reference for the negotiations and avoids any mention of the 1967 lines or the Palestinian demand that Israel freeze settlement construction activities in the occupied territories.

Israel has officially accepted the plan, but the Palestinians have rejected it because they are aware that the terms of reference for the talks will be imposed on them by Israel, which has ruled out negotiations based on the 1967 lines and refuses to halt settlement activities. If anything, the Israeli government recently approved plans to build more housing units in a settlement in West Bank land that the occupation authorities attached to Arab East Jerusalem.

The Quartet is aware that widespread violence and protests will erupt in the occupied territories and elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim worlds when, as expected, the US vetoes the Palestinian bid for UN membership when it comes up in the Security Council.

Therefore, the so-called mediators want to create a background of negotiations with a deadline for a deal as a smokescreen for their failure to persuade Israel to accept fairness as the basis for an agreement. It is very unfortunate that the Quartet is more concerned with appeasing Israel than ensuring that the Palestinian problem is dealt with on the basis of international justice.

The US position cannot be advocated by American ambassadors accredited to this region. The Obama administration says it is committed to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, it is not doing everything in its power to accelerate any progress towards that solution.

The Palestinians are the underdogs in the equation and they are trying to strengthen their position by securing UN membership. Since that bid is certain to be killed, they are seeking entry into various UN agencies that would give them an advantage.

Hillary Clinton is hoping that the Palestinians are denied the required nine votes in the UN Security Council so that it would not have to veto their bid for statehood recognition. It is a sort of face-saving formula for the Obama administration since a Security Council veto would be a public admission of its failure to deliver on its promise of the two-state solution by September this year.

It will be very unfortunate if American pressures prevail on members of the Security Council and deny the Palestinians the nine required number of votes.

However, no matter the outcome of the Palestinian request for UN membership, the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been placed on the front burner of international arena.

The world community now realises that there is little hope of a solution to the problem if the efforts remain waiting in the same purgatoria. At the same time, governments around the world also know that there will be further destabilisation of the Middle East region if the deadlock persists. There will definitely be great anger in the region if the Palestinian request for UN membership is thwarted. Some manifestations of that anger might be violence in the West Bank.

The Middle East region has suffered a lot as a result of Israel’s aggressive policies. It cannot afford yet another surge of violence. The Obama administration should no longer be party to worsening the situation. It should have the courage to listen to its ambassadors in the region and maintain its special friendship with the Arabs. But then the US should let the international community deal with Israel.


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