If the past three months have proved one thing it is that the present Israeli government is not ready or willing to take the minimum steps needed for peace. By rejecting international consensus on the need for a temporary freeze of the illegal settlement activities in occupied territories, the ultra-rightwing Israeli government has shown it is unwilling or unable to comply with the requirements needed for a successful peace process. The Americans will make yet another mistake if they fail to accept this fact and attempt to move the peace process forward as if nothing has happened. This would be nothing short of appeasement and a reward to intransigence and therefore will not bode well for the future of the talks. While Palestinians have very few viable alternatives at the present, they certainly can’t continue with this charade.
Contrary to Israeli claims that the settlement freeze is a Palestinian precondition, the quartet – made up of the US, the EU, the UN and Russia – set out the roadmap for peace, which included requirements from both parties. The Palestinians were asked to provide security and the rule of law, while Israel was asked to dismantle the outposts (Jewish-only housing units built even without permission from the Israeli government itself) and suspend any further settlement activities. Settlements built by an occupying power in occupied areas constitute a violation of the Geneva conventions and has been reconfirmed by a ruling of the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
Palestinians have, to the best of their abilities and with the recognition of international as well as Israeli military officials, complied with their requirements on the security front. Furthermore Palestinians have made major in roads in reducing incitement on Palestinians media, removed controversial items in their text books and are actively pursuing an education of tolerance and mutual respect in their schools and on the airwaves (some of it with US funding.)
The Israelis were asked to suspend their illegal settlement activities in order to allow for direct talks. Item one on the talks was the need to reach agreement on borders and security. Security was dealt with easily but the Israelis baulked on the issue of borders. Resolving the border issue would have allowed Israelis to continue building in areas that would not be part of the Palestinian state.
The problem with the American thinking is that they trust Benjamin Netanyahu when he talks about peace, even when his actions are contrary to peace. In this vein, the US – led by Israel’s old new darling in Washington, Dennis Ross – tried to bribe the Israelis with $3 billion worth of fighter jets and other incentives to extend the settlement freeze for three months. The Israelis rejected the bribe and celebrated the fact that the Americans accepted this insult by trying a new way that takes into consideration the Israeli position, irrespective of their own position, the world position, international law or even the Palestinian position.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to blame the guilty party and began a new round that is now based on the idea that Washington will present bridging proposals between the two parties. The question remains, what will the Americans do if the Israelis reject US bridging proposals? Will they bite the bullet again and come back with yet another revision of the process that takes the Israeli intransigence into consideration?
What the Americans need to understand is that the present Israeli settler-friendly government is incapable of making peace. If public opinion polls say that the majority of Israelis want genuine peace and reject settlements, then anyone interested in peace must find ways to have the opinions of this majority reflected in Israeli officials’ positions.
As the remaining solid ally of Israel, the US has to act to help Israelis out. It must take concrete steps that will hasten the change of the composition of this government or lead to new elections that will, hopefully, bring about a government that is more representative of the people of Israel on the core issues of peace with the Palestinians.
America has many tools that can hasten such a change. It must send a clear message to the Israeli people that what their government is doing in the peace process is contrary to America’s national interest. If an independent Palestinian state is in fact in the US’ national interest, as both presidents Bush and Obama have publicly said, then clearly the continuation of settlement activities in areas destined to be part of this state are contrary to American national interest. The one message that America should not send is that Israel’s arrogant rejection of the will of the international community will be accepted and that the state of Israel will not be held responsible publicly and privately for its anti-peace positions. Going back to the talks as if nothing happened will only embolden an intransigent Netanyahu government and will further deteriorate America’s credibility in the region and in the world.