Stanley's blog

EU foreign policy supremo, Cathy Ashton, visited Gaza last Thursday During her visit, rockets were fired into Israel, killing a Thai worker. Israel retaliated with air strikes on Gaza. Yesterday, the Quartet, meeting in Moscow, condemned Israel’s recent announcement that 1 600 new housing units for Jews would be built in East Jerusalem. Next Thursday and Friday, the European Council meets and surely must discuss the Middle East.

It is therefore timely to give some thought to the perennial Israeli-Palestinian dispute. At first sight, no progress in peace negotiations seems possible. But if no progress is made towards a settlement, a multifaceted disaster could be just round the corner. What action should be taken by the US, the EU and the Arab World?

United States

President Obama’s action has not matched his rhetoric. His Cairo speech gave hope. His insistence that Israel stop building settlements was to be welcomed. His inaction since reveals either weakness or misreading of the situation. Despite his healthcare success, he will have to remain embroiled in domestic politics. He needs all the friends he can get. This is not therefore an opportune time to face down AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, which has wide support also among evangelical Christians.

An 2010 is mid-term election year. AIPAC has considerable influence on individual elections. Hilary Clinton will give a keynote speech at its annual meeting next week.

Hours after Israel’s Interior Ministry announced 1 600 new housing units for Jews in Ramat Shlomo, East Jerusalem. US Vice-President Joe Biden, in Israel at the time, condemned the move as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.”

Statements by Obama and Clinton were tougher than I remember. But I suspect they were made in anger and not as heralding any change in policy. The timing of the announcement was, according to Hilary Clinton, an insult to the Vice-President and to the United States.

Some believe that the objective of Israel and AIPAC is to prevent the re-election of Obama. Some believe that the President will only focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue after November’s elections. I fear that we’ll only see real action by the US if Obama wins a second term;

What should the US do?

Secretary Clinton has demanded that Israel: first, withdraw the plan for the 1600, second, provide serious gestures to the Palestinians such as a prisoner release and checkpoint removals; and third announce that all permanent status issues would be on the table during the negotiations. Washington should insist on these demands being met.
Failure will be interpreted as seriously weakening Obama’ standing.

A more difficult question to answer is why Netanyahu has taken such an uncompromising position. There are no doubt several influencing factors including: his ideological belief; coalition pressure from Foreign Minister Lieberman and the ultra-orthodox; a rising Israeli assertiveness; and his lust for power.

There is talk about the possibility of bringing Kadima into the coalition. This might improve the rhetoric and improve the image but is unlikely to change much else.

One suggestion is that the US should lay down the necessary parameters for a fair and practical peace settlement. This should include two viable states; Palestine’s territory being based on the 1949 armistice green-line with equal exchanges of territory; a very limited right of return for refugees; the internationalization of the Holy sites; Jerusalem being the capital of both states; and an international force guaranteeing security.

European Union

Europe’s influence is limited, despite it being the largest donor in the West Bank and Gaza. It should urge the US to act as recommended above and support it. An alternative is for the Quartet (EU, Russia, UN & US) to issue the proposal.

The Union should re-assess the effectiveness of the billions of euro spent in Palestine, an incredibly difficult task, given the ongoing fight between Fatah and Hamas. Alongside the US, and of course Israel, the EU made the monumental error of ignoring the results of democratic elections bringing Hamas to power. We should be dealing with elected government ministers qua ministers, whatever their party.

This means that all EU funding for the West Bank and Gaza passes through Fatah, whose writ does not extend to Gaza. It’s hard to believe that all the funds are appropriately distributed by Fatah. Most of the money is channelled into short-term aid to keep the basic institutions, schools and hospitals running, and not long term governance. Lady Ashton should set up a group to advise how to use EU funding more effectively. Good Palestinian governance is vital for any long-term peace agreement.

Arab World

Arab support for the Palestinians is frequently not what they need. The Arab nations should be active and constructive partners with the Quartet. Unfortunately, the divisions among the Palestinians are mirrored in the Arab countries, and the attitudes of their governments towards the Palestinians are ambivalent and frequently out of kilter with their citizens.

Prognosis

Regrettably, no real progress seems likely in the forseeable future. Unless progress is made soon, I fear that the two state solution will be dead, which means the disappearance of a democratic, Jewish state or ongoing violence.

The most likely occurrence is a third violent intifada. There is a movement in the West Bank to instigate a “white intifada” of non-violent civil disobedience. However, this would inevitably become violent, despite the original intentions. The extremists in Palestine and Israel will be the winners.

Conclusion

Doing nothing is not an option. Otherwise, we will face increased violence, terrorism, anti-Americanism and anti-semitism, not confined to the immediate region.

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