‘No, you can’t’, President Obama, you can’t magic up Israeli-Palestinian peace. But you tried

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 30, 2016

barack-hopeAre you thinking that President Obama is up to a lot of pointless posturing?

That the outgoing US administration’s principled display on behalf of the Palestinians is all to the good, but really, too late in the day to be meaningful?

That US secretary of state’s John Kerry outline of a US framework for a Palestinian-Israeli agreement is similarly a waste of time?

That even the expected January 15 international endorsement for the parameters outlined by Mr Kerry may prove too little too late?

That Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will ignore the pressure to seriously reviving stalled negotiations with the Palestinians?

That the Obama administration spent eight years doing little about the suffering of the Palestinian people and can’t really get away with this sort of last-minute attempt to look as if it cared?

That the December 28 restatement by Mr Kerry of his administration’s belief in a two-state solution is yet again, posturing of the very worst sort?

All this, because within three weeks, US president-elect Donald Trump will blow in to the Oval Office, all orange make-up and bluster and with plans to bolster Israel above and beyond anything any US administration has done.

One might be excused wondering what does tough talk on Israel matter any more?

For, come June, President Trump will probably move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It will be a powerfully symbolic move and will embolden Israel in an unprecedented way. And it will inflame the region.

Even true-believers are regretful that the Obama team is speaking up about the Israeli-Palestinian issue so late in the day.

President Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes admitted to Israel’s Channel 2 television that while Mr Kerry’s speech would lay “out a comprehensive vision for how we see the conflict being resolved – where we see things in 2016″, but he ended the sentence as follows: “…as we unfortunately conclude our term in office without there being significant progress toward peace”.

The only way in which the Obama team can seriously influence the course of peace or war in the Middle East in its concluding weeks in power is through another UN resolution. It would have to work hard and single-mindedly with like-minded partners to turn guidelines agreed in Paris into another UN resolution before Mr Trump’s inauguration. But there’s no indication that is on the cards. A French official has denied another resolution is in prospect.

If true, again, one might ask, what’s the point of the Obama administration coming over all principled on the Palestinian issue this late in the day? Republican Senator John McCain has called Mr Kerry’s speech a “pointless tirade”.

Perhaps. But there is always some value in speaking up for the vulnerable and the oppressed and for calling out injustice. There is always value in the US pointing out the facts to Israel:

As Mr Kerry said:

  • “The 60% of the West Bank known as Area C – much of which was supposed to be transferred to Palestinian control long ago under the Oslo accords – is effectively off limits to Palestinian development…”
  • That the “Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements…”
  • “…the United States has done more to support Israel than any other country, this friend that has blocked countless efforts to delegitimize Israel, cannot be true to our own values – or even the stated democratic values of Israel – and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel – if we allow a viable two state solution to be destroyed before our eyes.”
  • “the vote in the UN was about preserving the two state solution.”
  • “here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both –and it won’t ever really be at peace.”
  • “There is absolutely no justification for terrorism, and there never will be. The most recent wave of Palestinian violence has included hundreds of terrorist attacks in the past year, including stabbings, shootings, vehicular attacks and bombings, many by individuals who have been radicalized by social media. Yet the murderers of innocents are still glorified on Fatah web sites…”
  • “Most troubling of all, Hamas continues to pursue an extremist agenda: they refuse to accept Israel’s very right to exist.”

And finally, Mr Kerry’s graphic word picture of a one-state Israel of the future:

“There are currently about 2.75 million Palestinians living under military occupation in the West Bank, most of them in Areas A and B where they have limited autonomy. They are restricted in their daily movements by a web of checkpoints, and unable to travel into or out of the West Bank without a permit from the Israelis. So if there is only one state, you would have millions of Palestinians permanently living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank, with no real political rights, separate legal, education and transportation systems, vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives of them of the most basic freedoms – separate but unequal. Nobody can explain how that works. Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American? Will the world accept it?

These are hard truths. They needed to be said. One might wish they had been said earlier, but better late than never.

Some say the Obama administration’s late engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is symbolic and therefore, real, a striking paradox that needs some figuring out. European politicians have spoken up for the likely good from Mr Kerry’s tough talk. “The more there are settlements, the less it is likely there will be a two-state solution,” said French Foreign Affairs Committee vice president Nathalie Goulet.

And in Israel, there is some cheering too. Amir Oren, a liberal commentator, wrote in Haaretz that President Obama’s unprecedented decision to abstain when the UN resolution came up, could save the Israeli government from itself.

He meant that an end to settlement construction would help Israel recover its moral compass. As a former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, once warned, Israel endangers itself profoundly by entrenching “a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict”.

Ultimately, as Mr Kerry said, “it will be up to the Israeli people to decide”.

They must either go along with “the unusually heated attacks that Israeli officials have directed toward this (the Obama) administration” or look hard at the reality of the Israeli state’s actions.

That is true.

Mr Oren praised “Santa Obama” and his “wonderful Christmas present to Israel”. Unfortunately, so far, Israel seems disinclined to accept and more likely to put the gift in the bin, unopened.