By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
It has been impossible to read the agenda for the Oval Office summit between Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas without laughing out loud at the absurdity of its pretensions. The American plan was that President Obama would inform Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, representing the Palestinian Authority, that this is make-or -break time for a peaceful settlement. The US wants an agreement within a year, with the stipulations in this agreement to be phased in over a decade.
At issue: the illegal Jewish settlements, the status of East Jerusalem, the treatment of Palestinian refugees and final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state.
The man greeting Netanyahu and Abbas was no longer the icon of change who aroused the world with his address to Muslims in Cairo and who tasked former US Senator George Mitchell with setting the stage for a just settlement of issues that have remained unsettled for more than half a century.
Obama is now in poor political shape. The economy is spiraling down. The midterm elections loom as a possible bloodbath for Democrats in which they may lose at least one, if not both, houses in Congress. As the Israel lobby knows well, the Democrats crave Jewish money and Jewish votes. When it comes to Israel ‘s interests the US Congress jumps to the Lobby’s commands. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech , laden with honorifics for Netanyahu, could be construed as a fund-raising appeal for her next lunge at the Democratic presidential nomination.
Gone was any notion of twisting Netanyahu’s arm, or trying to, as when the Administration criticized one illegal Jewish settlement four months ago and when vice president Biden relayed in Tel Aviv Gen. Petraeus’ concerns that Israel’s obduracy was imperiling US security interests in the region.
The lobby struck back, with political threats. By July, Dana Milbanke of the Washington Post described with unusual frankness Netanyahu’s next visit to Washington:
“A blue-and-white Israeli flag hung from Blair House. Across Pennsylvania Avenue, the Stars and Stripes was in its usual place atop the White House. But to capture the real significance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit with President Obama, White House officials might have instead flown the white flag of surrender.”
And with the September summit Israeli delightedly pointed to Obama's withdrawal of a demand that Israel freeze Jewish colonies on Palestinian land. Instead he urged "restraint". "The prime minister is satisfied because his main position that negotiations should be without preconditions was accepted," Netanyahu's spokesman Nir Hefetz told Army Radio from New York. Netanyahu himself, who has rejected demands for a settlement freeze, was quoted telling a newspaper: "I understand English -- 'restraint' and 'freeze' are two different words." As for the status of Jerusalem, and the issue of Palestiniamn refugees, Netanyahu adamantly refuses to discuss them.
Simultaneously, hours before the handshakes, Jewish settlers said they were forthwith starting work on buildings in at least 80 settlements, breaking the partial government freeze that ends on September 26.
The tenor of Israeli politics today is one of fanatic rejectionism of any halt to settlements, any serious concession on borders, beyond a Palestinian “state” in small chunks, hemmed in by Israel’s highways and fences, with water diverted and communication between the various fragments of Palestinian territory under rigorous Israeli control and constant harassment. East Jerusalem as the proposed capital of a Palestinisan state is under incessant invasion of new Jewish housing projects.
The Israeli press reports that Netanyahu has yet to evolve a negotiating position. His foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman refused to attend the summit and thinks Netanyahu should have simply told Obama that construction will continue without any restrictions at all after the present official moratorium ends on September 26.
For his part, Abbas is no longer president of the Palestinian Authority, which has no democratic mandate among the vast majority of Palestinians. They voted for Hamas and regard Abbas as a quisling, who exists solely by the favor of US money, Pentagon security advisors and Israeli support. Hamas expressed its opinion of the meeting by killing four Israeli settlers. (Half a million illegal Jewish settlers have been the most conspicuous consequence of the “peace process.”)
Tactically, Netanyahu has an easy hand to play. He can proclaim Israel’s hopes for peace, yet warn that Israel’s security interests are paramount. He can lecture Obama on Israel’s primal fears of obliteration, yet not be too reticent in indicating that Israel can obliterate its enemies and is quite prepared to do so. Israel’s nuclear arsenal hover spectrally over the proceedings.
When the moratorium expires in three weeks he will allow settlements to go forward, which in turn will prompt Abbas to threaten to act upon his commitment to abandon the talks if this occurs, a scheduled duty, as Jeffrey Blankfort predicted here on our site last week. Israel will continue its rightward lunge, with dissent increasingly purged in an increasingly vicious political environment. The Obama Plan will join all the other diplomatic ruins in the desert of dry bones -- the most conspicuous feature of all maps attempting to depict the search for a “just solution” in the Middle East.
Why is Obama even making the effort? As Blankfort says,
“Every US president since Nixon has made an effort to end Israel's occupation for US strategic reasons, and every one of them has run up against the Lobby and, in the end, proved unable or unwilling to spend the political capital that would be required to enforce their will on Israel. In every instance Congress has stood on Israel's side and never more so than during the Obama administration. The three presidents that did challenge Israel, Ford, Carter, and Bush Sr., were eventually forced to retreat and were turned out at the polls.”
Now why, given this history, did Obama try his hand? Blankfort suspects that there was pressure from the US's European allies to do so because
“the continuance of the I-P conflict jeopardizes their security and society far more than it does that of the US and there have long been calls for the EU to activate its own ‘peace initiative’ and it would be likely to do so if the US withdrew from the field. This is the last thing that either Israel or the Lobby wants so that is why we see the Lobby elements in every administration, currently Ross, Emanuel, et al, making the push for Obama's involvement even though they know it is bound to fail.”
Obama’s recent remodel of the Oval Office features a very cheesy carpet featuring uplifting quotations around its edge : F.D.R.’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”; Lincoln’s “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” and so forth. When Palestinians are scheduled for a rare visit, they should roll the carpet up, and bring out one with the Star of David right in the middle, and stitched round the edge, “Attention Palestinians! Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”