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Dr Musa A Keilani: Blow to aspirations
November 09, 2010
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The outcome of the US elections has hit the most severe blow to many Arab aspirations in the Middle Eastern context. Many American diplomats continue to assert that the setback that the Democrats suffered in last week’s mid-term congressional elections would have no impact on the quest for peace in the Middle East.

But we know it differently because it has left US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in a much weakened position that would reflect negatively on the Palestinian and Arab hopes for fair and just peace with Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his party supporters should be toasting themselves over the result of the elections.

The Democrats have lost their majority in the House of Representatives and saw their majority reduced in the Senate. This means a scaling down of the legislative clout of the Democratic administration headed by President Barack Obama. Effectively, the number of committed pro-Israeli members of Congress has gone up.

While the US Congress support of Israel has always been bipartisan, the conservative Republicans have always had an edge over the relatively moderate Democrats in favouring the Jewish state. We have seen how Obama, despite having Democrat majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate, found himself unable to apply any realistic pressure on Israel over the crisis posed by its stubborn refusal to freeze settlement construction in the occupied territories, including Arab East Jerusalem.

Against that backdrop, we could easily imagine how tough it would be for Obama now to convince Israel to meet its obligations under international law and make peace with the Palestinians.

There is little doubt that Israel’s powerful friends and allies in Washington had managed to play an effective role in the bitter anti-Obama campaign that preceded the Nov.2nd elections. Of course, foreign policy considerations were never an issue in any US elections. The pro-Israeli camp used the economic and other domestic shortcomings of the Obama administration as election considerations. That is the way US political game works.

However, the actual damage to hopes of peace in Palestine extends far beyond. Netanyahu has said that is time for both sides to broach key issues such as borders, the status of Jerusalem and even the fate of refugees from the 1948 war. It is not that Netanyahu could be expected to climb down from his positions, but he wants to lay Israel’s rejectionist bottom lines and let it be known to the Palestinians that they should expect to get only what the Jewish state wants to give them. Nothing more, nothing less.

In the meantime, Netanyahu is also trying to hoodwink his own people by continuing to insist that the Palestinians are not ready for peace. His latest such comment came during a special Knesset debate titled “The world against Israel — how the Netanyahu administration isolated the State of Israel in the international arena.” The debate came upon a request signed by 40 members of the Israeli parliament (Knesset).

During the debate, Netanyahu had to hear highly critical comments, according to Israeli media. Ronnie Bar-On of Kadima reportedly told him: “Before you go off to a visit in the US, you should sit down and read Thomas Friedman, the most prominent US commentator. Maybe this time the sound of danger suggested in his articles will sound clearer. In the first round he called our leadership ‘drunk drivers.’

In the second round, he claimed the cabinet was inhabited by lunatics. Friedman’s words point to bad times of changes in Israel’s relations with the US and it’s not because of any particular president.”

Yohanan Plesner, also of Kadima, told the prime minister: “You’ve been running the country for a year and eight months, what decision have you made except create one committee after the other. Shunning responsibility is not leadership; it’s a weak, indulgent and irresponsible government.” It was probably because of that sharp criticism that Netanyahu sought to hit back by saying the Palestinians were not ready for peace and referring to agreements that failed because of Israel’s lack of commitment to respecting them.

He is quoted “Rejecting Israel’s right to exist certainly doesn’t advance reconciliation between the nations and our desire to bring about a peace agreement with the Palestinians is a must,” he said. “The Palestinians made an official commitment in this regard — as part of the Wye agreement and other agreements. I promise to discuss this commitment during the process, but for now I want the process to move forward without preconditions. “End of Netanyahu’s quote.

Well, as far as the world remembers, the mainstream Palestinian movement recognised the state of Israel in the 1993 interim Oslo agreement. The Wye agreement came in 1997 and it is puzzling why Netanyahu appears to have forgotten that. According to Netanyahu if the process fails in the way he saw it to proceed, “it will be because the Palestinian (National) Authority is trying to bypass the negotiations and move the process to the international track.”

Let us opt to accept that Netanyahu is right and the Palestinians want an international dimension to peace negotiations with Israel. It is because the solution that they seek is based on mandatory UN Security Council resolutions, international law and conventions that Israel is not willing to respect. They are aware that Israel wants only to impose its version of a peace agreement on them in strictly bilateral environment without pressure from any quarters.

And that is where the outcome of the US elections has hit the most severe blow in the Middle Eastern context. It has not only deprived Obama of whatever little leverage he had for use in the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace but also opened the way for Israel to use the new found Republican clout to add to the conditions that negate the chances of it being forced to give the Palestinians anything more than what it wants to give them.

We cannot expect Obama to acknowledge it in public. On the other hand, if he genuinely believes that he would be able to deliver on his pledge for two-state solution by September 2011, then it would only establish that he is a politician far less of a sophisticated statesman or a perceptive strategist than what many in the world considered him to be.

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