Friends of the conflict

BY DAN-CHYI CHUA
Jun 15, 2011
*Special to asia!

Even if you don't agree with Israel, you can probably understand why it insists on perpetuating its internationally-unpopular occupation of the Palestinian people. But what about the United States?

In football, it would be akin to match fixing, but this is the Middle East peace process. Here, intransigence in favour of Israel is like the pesky relative the whole family tolerates, and learns to beat a path of least resistance around.

For the past weeks, Europe has been trying to revive the moribund peace process. France offered to host a Mideast peace conference, only to meet with cool reception from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She said it would not be “productive”.

Without "any assurance from either party that they would return to negotiations", Washington, she added,  was taking in a “wait-and-see” attitude.

Recent developments in Washington have left those (still) pining for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a bit of a dismay. In a response to President Obama's speech in May, Gideon Levy, a commentator in Israel's left-leaning Haaretz newspaper wrote:

"Yesterday, the U.S. president demolished the Palestinian's only accomplishment so far - the wave of international support for recognition of statehood in September. September died last night. After America, Europe too will have to withdraw its support; hopes have ended for a historically significant declaration at the United Nations."

After the usual commiseration with the Palestinians on how they were “suffering the humiliation of occupation”, Obama had referred the Palestinian's planned UN move as “efforts to delegitimize Israel.”

He added that it would “ end in failure.”

“ Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.  And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.”

Right out of the Israeli prime minister office's playbook. Just four days before Obama's speech, Netanyahu had declared in Jerusalem,

“Those who wish to obliterate us are no partners for peace.  A Palestinian government with half its members declaring daily that they plan to annihilate the Jewish state is not a partner for peace."

By choosing to focus on Hamas, both leaders are deliberately ignoring how the Palestinian Authority under Fatah had cooperated on various fronts with Israel in the West Bank; and that Hamas remain democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Obama and Israel's unrelenting refusal to engage Hamas was rebuked in an open letter signed by 24 former world leaders, foreign ministers and negotiators, that included Israel's former top diplomat Shlomo ben-Ami and ex-Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi.

They pointed out that :“Palestinian unity is a fruit of the "Arab Spring, " and that

“... achieving a durable peace requires an inclusive approach. We consider it of vital importance that the international community supports Palestinian unity and avoids any steps that could jeopardise the fragile reconciliation process.”

In a rebuttal of Netanyahu's earlier remarks, they wrote:

“Asking Fatah to choose between making peace with Hamas and making peace with Israel presents a false choice: a lasting peace with Israel is only possible if Hamas is on board.”

(See full letter and list of signatories here)

Public Opinion does not a just broker make

Days after Obama's speech, Netanyahu made “Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967” the catchphrase of his subsequent address to the US Congress.

One can see how Israeli border issues threaten Israel's national security, but US national security?

[Not that Obama had called on Israel to do that. The president's precise words had been :“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” (emphasis added)]

But never mind the inconvenient details. 

Netanyahu knew all the right notes to sing to a Republican congress opposed to the Democratic president, and an American leadership - ideologically sensitive to issues like national security and Israel, which also happens to be facing elections next year.

This would be the same congress from which more than 30 bipartisan senators signed up to support a resolution stating that:

“It is contrary to United States policy and national security to have the borders of Israel return to the armistice lines that existed on June 4, 1967."

One can see how Israeli border issues threaten Israel's national security, but US national security?

Dubious would be one way to look at it. Pandering to the pro-Israel lobby among their consituents and campaign supporters would be another, but consider this opinion poll published last week by the Pew Research Center .

48% said they sympathised more than Israel, compared to 11% for the Palestinians.

50% of those surveyed believe that the US has struck the right balance in its handling of the conflict, while 21% feel they were favouring the Palestinians too much.

The same survey also showed that 48% said they sympathised more than Israel, compared to 11% for the Palestinians.

So is the American leadership merely reflecting a pro-Israel bias among the people it represents?

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi