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Musa Keilani: US opposition to Palestine
April 24, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

THE debate over the Palestinians’ quest for international recognition of their statehood got into high gear last week when the US reiterated its opposition to the idea. The administration of US President Barack Obama played the same old tune saying it did not think that it was a “good idea” for the Palestinians to seek recognition for independent statehood unilaterally from the United Nations without reaching a peace agreement with Israel.

Washington also blocked an initiative launched by Britain, France and Germany for the international Quartet to outline the basis for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The proposal calls for an immediate halt to Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied territories, a solution to the question of Palestinian refugees, and agreement on the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both countries and on borders before the 1967 war, with approved territorial exchanges.

The plan also called for security arrangements that respect Palestinian sovereignty and protect Israel’s security and prevent a resurgence of Palestinian armed resistance. The US thwarted the initiative saying the administration did not think a Quartet meeting would produce anything useful in terms of getting the talks restarted. But Washington very conveniently sidestepped the reality that the very process of laying out the basis for a peace accord would have encouraged the Palestinians to resume negotiations since they would have known what to expect.

The US also blocked the endorsement of a resolution by the Security Council that would have condemned Israel’s colonialisation of the occupied territories.

These actions are not compatible with the declared commitment by the US to international principles, but then we have become used to the reality that Washington applies such commitment very selectively, particularly when it comes to Israel. We are tempted to ask the US: What will indeed be a “good idea” for the Palestinians to follow?

In simple terms, Washington would like to have the Palestinians re-enter direct negotiations with Israel, go through the motions without being able to secure their territorial and political rights, accept the Israeli version of a “peace” agreement, settle down to whatever is given to them and hold their peace for ever. During the negotiations, the US could be expected to twist the Palestinians’ arm whenever they balk at accepting Israel’s conditions.

We have seen it happening since the days of the 1993 Oslo agreement: Israel promises something, offers something far less than its promise and the US steps in to pressure the Palestinians into accepting even less than what Israel is offering.

One could argue that these occurred during previous US administrations and that Obama is different. That is a laugh because Obama is one of the US presidents who had no option but to back down in a confrontation with Israel over the peace process. And he found out the hard way that Israel had powerful friends in the US political establishment who could make life difficult for any American head of state.

Obama might not have much liking lost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he has no choice but to put up a smiling face and host him at the White House. And that also means that the US president better uphold Israel’s needs, demands and conditions without question. Therefore, it is no mystery that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected Israel’s offer of a state with “temporary” borders since he could not count on the US supporting the legitimate rights of the Palestinians in the negotiations in the interim period.

Abbas knows that the Palestinians would be stuck with whatever “temporary” borders are offered by Israel and that would be the end of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and independent statehood in the true international meaning of that term. He and his diplomatic envoys reiterated last week that the Palestinians would like to have a peace treaty with Israel by September as proposed by the Quartet and, short of that, they would go to the UN Security Council for recognition of their independent statehood.

A sweeping and major turning point would indeed by a recognition of a notional Palestinian state by the Quartet itself. According to American and European diplomats quoted by the Los Angeles Times said last that if peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are not renewed, the Quartet formally recognise a Palestinian state. Is it a possibility? At best, it is doubtful since the US is too bound by its “strategic” relationship with Israel to take any decision that is not endorsed by the Jewish state. Therefore, the best bet that the Palestinians have is to follow the course towards UN recognition of their statehood. Of course, without a recommendation by the Security Council, they would not be given recognition by the General Assembly.

According to Abbas, the Palestinians would have the support of more than 140 countries by September compared with the 128 they require in order to qualify for UN membership. He also says that Britain and France would accept such a state. Therefore, his best option is to go the Security Council with such strong support that the big powers would not be in a position to reject their request outright.

Attention has also shifted a speech that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to make at a joint session of the US Congress. He is planning to unveil a new peace initiative, but we fail to see what he could introduce as new since the Israeli position has already been made

clear. He could indeed dust off his offer of a temporary state, but that has already been rejected by the Palestinians.

One thing is clear: Something has to happen by September, the timeline set by Obama and accepted by both Israel and the Palestinians for a peace agreement. If nothing happens and if the US vetoes UN membership for the State of Palestine, then the world could expect a resurgence of armed resistance by the Palestinians, with Abbas unable to do anything about it even if he wanted to.

That would definitely mean a threat to world peace and security. Under the so-called “Uniting for Peace” resolution, the General Assembly can take action if it believes the Security Council has failed to pre-empt a threat to world peace and security. And that could mean Palestinian membership in the UN.

The author
a formmer jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman.

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