Sunday, January 2, 2011

Defining moment for Obama

US can defend Israel in Security Council and lose credibility or revive peace process by doing the right thing.

By Adel Safty,

The Obama administration's commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Palestinian conflict, arguably unique in the history of American conflict mediation in the region, is rapidly heading towards a fate common to all previous American peace plans for the region: failure.

Direct American involvement as an intermediary in the Arab-Israeli conflict goes back to the 1950s. But it was not until 1969 that the first US peace plan was formulated and presented to the parties. Then US secretary of state William Rogers presented a peace plan designed to facilitate the implementation of UN

Security Council resolution 242 through negotiations between Israel, Egypt and Jordan.
Then Egyptian president Jamal Abdul Nasser surprised the Israelis by accepting the Rogers plan; Israel still rejected it. The Rogers plan was eventually torpedoed by Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser in the Nixon White House and Rogers' arch-rival.

Nevertheless, the Rogers peace plan set a precedent for all subsequent American peace plans to resolve the Palestinian conflict. They all came to follow the same format: They are usually presented to the parties following a war or the eruption of violent confrontations.

The Rogers plan followed the 1967 war and the 1969 war of attrition. This had the advantage of heightened interest on the part of the protagonists — anxious to avoid the violent intensification of the conflict. But this feature also had some drawbacks, including hasty improvisation and absence of well-thought out sanctions the need for which was subordinated to the urgency of conflict management.

American peace plans usually promote negotiations between the parties. This is laudable except that the negotiations promoted by American initiatives are not framed by the principles of international law and legitimacy, but rather founded on the prevailing balance of power that favours Israel — the occupier and the dominant military power in the region. In fact, all American peace plans contain guarantees for Israel's security and provide advanced military hardware to ensure its uncontested military superiority.

This last point is of crucial importance. It basically implies that negotiations are inherently positive factors in what has come to be known as the peace process. The fallacy of this logic was exposed when Israeli-Palestinian negotiations throughout the 1990s were used by Israeli leaders to carry on the dispossession of the Palestinian people and accelerate the construction of Jewish colonies in the occupied territories.
We now know from a recent Israeli television broadcast that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prided himself in deceiving the Americans about his intentions and boasted about his success in sabotaging the Oslo agreement.

The reliance on the prevailing balance of power as the arbiter of negotiations suffers from another flaw. In allowing Israel the benefit of acquiring more land, albeit through negotiations, it flagrantly contradicts the international law principle reiterated in the preamble to Security Council resolution 242 about the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territories by force.
A settlement based on the prevailing balance of power is likely to encourage the weaker party to challenge it and the stronger party to perpetuate it.

Mistaken assumption
Another common feature of American peace plans for the Palestinian conflict is the shared assumption of all parties that only Washington has enough leverage with all parties to bring about a negotiated settlement. This reality was dramatically illustrated when then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat expelled in 1972 all Soviet military advisers from Egypt and openly invited Washington to include Egypt in its zone of influence.
The problem with this feature of American peace initiatives is that the special relationship between Israel and the US is exploited by Israel to neutralise American pressure rather than by America to induce Israeli cooperation.

The Obama administration's quest for peace in the Middle East follows the precedent set by the Rogers' peace plan and all the other initiatives. It follows major violent confrontations, from the Iraq war, the war on terror, to the Israeli war against Lebanon, and the Israeli assault on Gaza.
Therefore, it is not surprising to see it doomed to failure. What is surprising, however, is how the lofty rhetoric of the Obama administration has been matched, so far, with inept handling followed by public humiliation, twice; once when Obama's public demands that Israel stop all colony construction activities were largely ignored by Netanyahu; and the second time when the latter rebuffed Obama's astonishing offer of military, economic, and diplomatic ‘incentives' to secure a mere ninety day-extension of the expired moratorium on colony construction activities.

Further, Obama's approach focused on negotiations almost as an end in itself rather than the means for achieving the defined objective of a two-state solution based on commonly agreed perimeters.
Finally, it allowed the US-Israel special relationship to be used by Israel to evade pressure and accountability rather than to secure Israeli cooperation.

What is even more surprising is that in admitting failure when it announced that it was abandoning the goal of securing a modest extension of the moratorium on colony construction, the Obama administration announced that it was pursuing, not a new strategy, but the same failed strategy.
In the next few days, the Obama administration faces a defining moment. The Palestinians and the Arab bloc at the UN will present a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that declares colonies in the occupied territories to be illegal and to represent a major obstacle to peace.

The draft resolution does not call for any sanctions against Israel but simply seeks to intensify the international community's pressure on Israel. There is nothing in the resolution that contradicts established American policy and Obama's own statements that the American people do not accept the legitimacy of colonies.
For Washington to veto the resolution will undoubtedly mean loss of credibility with the Palestinians and with much of the international community. To abstain or support it will send a message to Israel and breathe new life into the moribund peace process.

Adel Safty is Distinguished Professor Adjunct at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky, and published in England by Garnet, 2009.


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