Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu came to Washington this week still glowing from the praise he received from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Secretary Clinton told a joint press conference in Jerusalem, on October 31, “What the prime minister has offered in specifics on restraints on a policy of settlements … is unprecedented.”
That moment of pro-Israel flag-waving by the US Secretary of State came after two earlier blows to the political standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
First, there was Bibi’s defiant refusal to accept a US minimal request to freeze settlement building. Then came that humiliating US-Israel pressure forcing Abbas to withhold support for the Goldstone Report. The Palestinian public was outraged; Abbas scrambled back, belatedly endorsing the Report.
That was followed by Clinton’s public praise for Bibi’s defiance of the President of the United States. This was too much for Abbas, who announced last week that he would not run for another term on the Fatah ticket for president of the Palestinian Authority.
Abdullah Iskandar, wrote in Dar Al Hayat, an Arab newspaper published in London:
When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would not run for a new term . . . he justified his decision by focusing on his frustration with the stance by the US and the Arabs on the Israeli settlement issue. . . .
[H]is justification reveals the depth of the predicament that the peace process is now in, along with the plan to establish a Palestinian state. It also reveals the depth of the predicament of Palestinian political action. . . .
Most likely, the Palestinian president is honest when it comes to this announcement. He is known for staying away from responsibility when he sees himself as unable to deliver. He said this, implicitly, in his meetings with Central Committee members of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Central Committee of Fatah.
We can infer that the current situation prevents the establishment of a Palestinian state, which he set as a goal, due to Israeli policies and US policy stances.
Abbas’ dream of creating and leading an independent secure Palestinian state, side by side with a secure Israeli state, cannot be a possibility without strong US backing.
Bibi Netanyahu has demonstrated no authentic interest in “two states, living side by side in peace”. His goal is the continuation of a secure Israel next door to a collection of weak Palestinian bantustans.
Netanyahu traveled to Washington this week to speak to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, leaders of the American Jewish community which is such a significant political base for Netanyahu.
In his address Monday afternoon, he reminded the Assembly of the importance of the US-Israel alliance, starting with this rousing version of the creation of the state:
In 1948, some 600,000 Jews, their backs against the sea, fended off the assault of much larger enemies sworn to our destruction. We were aided by many of our fellow American Jews. You gave money, arms, and most important, tremendous moral support. You helped Israel absorb waves of immigrants, you spearheaded the historic struggle to free Soviet Jewry and you have tirelessly worked to strengthen the American-Israeli alliance which is a cornerstone of Israel’s security.
Were there any gestures in the speech toward his Palestinian neighbors? Of course not, this was a man on a victory lap who had just won the Big Settlements Race, going away. The Wall Street Journal‘s Jay Solomon reported:
Mr. Netanyahu didn’t offer any new commitment about Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — which the Palestinians have demanded be fully stopped as a precondition for peace talks — or list any specific terms for holding new negotiations.
An important part of Netanyahu’s American political base is lodged in the US Congress.
The Prime Minister was reminded of just how strong that base is when last week, by a margin of 344-36, the US House of Representatives voted to protect Israel from the Goldstone UN Report which had concluded that Israel may have committed war crimes in its recent invasion of Gaza.
After four years of nothing but broken promises from the US and Israel, why would Palestinian president Abbas run for another term of office?
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, told the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner, that [President Abbas] realizes “he came all this way with the peace process in order to create a Palestinian state, but he sees no state coming, So he really doesn’t think there is a need to be president or to have an Authority.”
Without a unified Palestinian government, there is no two state solution. Israel’s long pretense of wanting a “partner for peace” is over. The hope vested in President Obama has been dashed against an iron wall of Israeli intransigence.
Don’t expect the New York Times or the Washington Post to notice, but the truth behind Bibi’s victory lap is out there, and it is a dark truth.
Tony Karon wrote in the National, that Obama’s “quiescence on Israel is far more devastating politically, both to Mr Abbas and to US interests in the wider Middle East, than Mr Bush’s war in Iraq.”
That is because Mr Obama had very publicly raised expectations that the US would finally balance Israel’s security concerns against the pursuit of justice for the Palestinians.
Mr Obama was seen as the Palestinians’ last hope of redress for their suffering. By refusing to hold Mr Netanyahu’s feet to the fire, Mr Obama has dashed that hope. .
London’s Financial Times was equally blunt:
. . . If Mr Netanyahu believes that he has achieved a victory by refusing to halt the settlements, he is wrong. It is more like a project of national suicide.. . .
Veteran Israeli peace activist, Avi Avenery, who has known, and worked with, President Abbas for decades, is confident that Abbas means it when he says he will give up the presidency.
If Israel thinks a few ‘political crumbs’ tossed his way will persuade Abbas to change his mind, they do not know this man.
Abbas’ self-respect will not allow him to go back, unless Obama awards him a serious political achievement. From Abbas’ point of view, the announcement of his retirement is the doomsday weapon.
Ali Jarbawi, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Planning and Administrative Development, and a former professor at Bir Zeit University, provided a final note of political realism for Western political powers. He posed two questions to the New York Times‘ Bronner:
“Why do we need anybody to take [Abbas’] place if the whole process is failing? If the authority is going to go on forever, who needs it?”
Do Israel and the US really understand that Abbas’ departure will signal the final act in the Two State Drama? They do not. Instead they will do what empires always do, look for a new Palestinian leader who will join them in their dance of deception. Will they find such a leader? Probably. Will that leader be a true “peace partner”? Of course not.
The only peaceful alternative is the single state solution.
Ali Abunimah, editor of the Electronic Intafada, and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, has long argued for a single state solution.
In his current essay Abunimah, offers a democratic alternative to the present stalemate:
[W]ith the total collapse of the Obama Administration’s peace efforts, and relentless Israeli colonization of the occupied West Bank, the reality is dawning rapidly that the two-state solution is no more than a slogan that has no chance of being implemented or altering the reality of a de facto binational state in Palestine/Israel.
This places an obligation on all who care about the future of Palestine/Israel to seriously consider the democratic alternatives. I have long argued that the systems in post-apartheid South Africa (a unitary democratic state), and Northern Ireland (consociational democracy) — offer hopeful, real-life models.
American tax payers take note: this would be a cheaper and more moral alternative.
The picture above, of Mahmoud Abbas, is by Rina Castelnuovo of The New York Times. It was taken at the Arafat Memorial, in Ramallah, November 11, at a rally on the 5th Anniversary of the death of Yasir Arafat.