Where there is no will, there is no way


When Palestinian deputy minister of information Mutwakil Taha decided to offer his two bits on the origins of the Western Wall last month, quipping that Jews had no historical claim to the site, not only Israelis were up in arms but the United States too. "We strongly condemn these comments and fully reject them as factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative," a U.S. State Department spokesman said, one comment among many from other US officials.

However, when it comes down to Israel’s illegitimate, illegal settlement building, for example, the US’s language suddenly becomes a gelatinous litany of mumbo jumbo. Recently, the Palestinians are livid with how the United States has handled the breakdown (again) of talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Quite miraculously, the US seems to have lost its ability to use the strong words we all know they possess when it comes to criticizing Israel.

During her speech before the Sabon Forum on December 10 addressing the US’s "new" approach to Middle East peace, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton peeved the Palestinians by casting blame on both sides for the failure to return to talks.

"It is no secret that the parties have a long way to go and that they have not yet made the difficult decisions that peace requires,” Clinton said. "Palestinians must appreciate Israel’s legitimate security concerns. And Israelis must accept the legitimate territorial aspirations of the Palestinian people."

Of course, the Palestinians felt the US should put the blame for the breakdown squarely on Israel, given the fact that the US had been pushing for months for Israel to renew its settlement freeze in the West Bank. The US’s pleading on that account was ludicrous in itself, what with the Obama administration offering 20 fighter planes and a veto of any "anti-Israel" vote in the UN in exchange for a mere 90 days of halting construction.

Alas, even that was shunned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which could only have been perceived as a slap in the face to the Americans. However, instead of castigating the Israelis and using some of those stiff words the Americans reserve only for Palestinians, the Obama Administration decided it better to cower and retreat, like a scared little puppy. "After a considerable effort, we have concluded that this does not create a firm basis to work towards our shared goal of a framework agreement," said State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley. "There is not a change in strategy, there may well be a change in tactics," he said.

Instead, Clinton outlined in her December 10 speech, the US would help mediate a discussion of final status issues, saying it is time to "grapple" with matters such as borders, security, Jerusalem, and settlements." More likely than not, the two sides will reengage in so-called proximity talks or something to that effect. In other words, back to square one. Netanyahu is thrilled, of course with this new proposal. His main goal of forcing the US to drop its demand that it halt settlement construction has been met. The demand has been laid to rest if not permanently, at least for a very long time. For Netanyahu, this is crucial. If settlements continue to grow unhindered, that means there is more land over which the parties will have to negotiate. And by negotiate, this means there is more land that Israel will claim as its own (are there not real people living in these settlements that need to be accounted for?) and less for the future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu can also "grapple" with the issue of borders and Jerusalem until everyone else at the table is blue in the face. These are not new issues and ones that Israel has systematically delayed for years, irrespective of the governments in office. We all know where these types of talks lead? Pretty much nowhere.

That is why the Palestinians –” to take the words right out of Hillary’s mouth –” are so "frustrated." The US cannot continue to kowtow to Israel’s disregard, not only for international law but for its own demands, with such blatant impunity. If nothing else, it severely undermines the US’s claim of honest broker and its credibility with the parties.

But the US already knows this as do the Palestinians and the Israelis. The only winner in this situation is Israel and here is why: even if this "change of tactics" is against the Americans’ better judgment, the United States has yet to demonstrate a political will that would put its relationship with Israel at risk for the sake of doing what is right. Hence, it will continue to bend to Israel’s demands no matter how outrageous and how embarrassing it might be for them, all while allowing this bullying to erode its stance as an earnest mediator seeking a just solution.

As for the Palestinians, it is obvious why they will not come out victorious. Israel outlined its principles on these core issues long ago and so far they have not changed. As long as the US is the primary catalyst for formulating a solution, this cycle of starting and restarting talks that are doomed to fail in the first place will never be broken.

Alas, for Israel, this scenario is perfect because it gives more time to stall a final solution while creating even more facts on the ground. The US may chastise Israel for not heeding its warnings but in the end, it will always buckle under its pressure.

Hence, the only way off of this vicious merry-go-round is to take the power back from the US and Israel and put it in the hands of the international community. Twenty-six former European leaders seem to understand what has to be done –” impose sanctions on Israel for its illegal settlement activity. Brazil and Argentina understand what has to be done –” recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Even the US knows what needs to be done, but since it doesn’t have the guts to do it, we simply need to move on to greener pastures.