Palestinian leaders are talking tough these days. And who can blame them! For decades they’ve been listening to empty Israeli promises and put their future in the hands of a succession of US presidents duplicitously claiming to be impartial peace brokers.
While all that blah-blah has been ongoing, Israel has been demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, expanding Jewish colonies on the West Bank, destroying olive groves and orchards and carving up Palestinian towns with a snaking apartheid “fence.” The Israeli government may boast that it forced Israeli settlers out of Gaza and withdrew its army, but ever since the 1.5 million residents of the tiny Strip have been imprisoned and subjected to Israeli attack.
In recent times, the US has shown its true colors by vetoing UN Security Council resolutions mildly condemning Israel and refusing to support any unilateral Palestinian declaration of a state. I still remember with a shudder how George W. Bush and his sidekick Condoleezza Rice refused to call for a cease-fire during Israel’s 2008/9 “Operation Cast Lead’ resulting in the death of 1,400 Gazans, including women and children.
Bush paid mere lip service to the concept of a Palestinian state in order to get America’s allies on board the invasion of Iraq. However, behind the scenes, Rice did her best to drive a wedge between Palestinian factions. It was little wonder the Palestinian people were relieved when Barack Obama arrived on the scene.
In the early days of his presidency, he was gung-ho to work toward a Palestinian state. During his Sept. 23, 2010, speech in Cairo he received a standing ovation for saying, “This time we should reach for what’s best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations—an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”
Fine sentiments, indeed, but for all his uplifting oratory, he did virtually nothing toward that end. On the contrary, in September 2011, he actually urged the United Nations not to recognize a Palestinian state!! It’s not hard to analyze why. When he’s hoping for a second term in office, he can’t afford to upset Congress that invariably does Israel’s bidding and neither can he alienate his country’s powerful pro-Israel lobby. Leaning on Netanyahu would be tantamount to Obama’s political suicide. His stance toward a people who have lived under occupation for over 60 years makes a mockery of his expressed empathy for Syrians battling for their freedom.
As evidenced by the leaked Palestinian Papers, senior Palestinian negotiators did their utmost to compromise with Israeli demands, conceding just about all of them. Yet Netanyahu is clearly unable to accept ‘yes’ for an answer. Netanyahu is more interested in land grab than peace. Washington has pressurized him to sit at the peace table but the only Palestinian state he’s willing to contemplate is a postage-sized, non-contiguous, demilitarized entity without sovereignty over its own borders, airspace or shoreline. In other words, he would put up with a toothless enclave dependent on Israel for its economy and vulnerable to IDF military incursions. Now, he says he will not talk with any Palestinian unity government that involves Hamas.
So what is left for the Palestinians to do when faced with an unwilling peace partner who’s merely going through the motions and a cowardly interlocutory ready to sacrifice his principles in order to hang onto privilege and position? Their two uprisings weren’t successful. How could they be when Israeli authorities have sophisticated weapons and the ruthlessness to use them against an unarmed population? There are those who’ve proposed that they should emulate Mahatma Gandhi who used peaceful protest to oust the British from India. But that won’t work when the IDF uses rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition to break up demonstrations—and puts participants in prison.
It’s taken a long time for the penny to drop, but, President Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues have finally accepted that they’re being toyed with and are taking control of their destiny. They have now laid down a few rules of their own, the most important being no return to the table until Israel quits settlement expansion.
Earlier this year, Abbas warned Israel that it is straining his people’s patience, causing growing calls for a third intifada. According to the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Abbas will forward a letter to the Israeli prime minister accusing Israel of breaching its agreed obligations and setting out steps Israel needs to take before negotiations can resume.
Abbas is no longer in the mood to pull his punches. While visiting Qatar last month, he likened Israel’s grip on Jerusalem to the Roman and Crusader occupations, asserted Israel sought to damage the Al-Aqsa mosque to excavate below hoping to find relics of a Jewish temple and besought Muslims everywhere to head to Islam’s third holiest city. Israel is “trying to erase the Arab, Muslim and Christian nature of Jerusalem,” he said. In turn, Netanyahu accused him of “severe incitement coming from the mouth of someone who supposedly claims that he seeks peace.”
As we witnessed in Egypt, suppressed fury is like a simmering cauldron that one day or another will inevitably boil over. Unless Netanyahu or his successor start to see beyond their nose, it’s a given that frustrations will result in violence. The Israeli PM must be extremely shortsighted not to see the new paradigm forming all around him. He can no longer count on his buddy Hosni Mubarak to contain Egypt and the country’s new Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Parliament may well decide to renegotiate or even quash Camp David. Likewise, if the regime topples in Syria, it may be replaced by leaders more virulently anti-Israel than Assad. Moreover, Israel can no longer count on its longstanding friendship with Turkey.
As Gideon Levy outlines in his column, titled “It’s just a matter of time before US tires of Israel,” published in Ha’aretz, the day will come when Israel won’t be able to count on its lone real friend, America, either. “One day the rope could snap and the whole thing could blow up in the face of power-drunk Israel,” he writes. “Israel doesn’t know when to stop, and it could pay dearly as a result.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.