On 2 Sept, 2001, in a newspaper article, I wrote: “America’s strategic and economic interests in the Mideast and Muslim world are being threatened by the agony in Palestine, which inevitably invites terrorist attacks against US citizens and property.”
The 9/11 attacks came nine days later.
President Barack Obama is absolutely right to seek an end to the endless suffering of Palestinians. It is an affront to humanity and gravely undermines America’s values, security and prestige.
In my most recent book, American Raj – America and the Muslim World, I tried to show how the poisonous conflict over Palestine has generated much of what we call “terrorism,” and how it is dragging the United States ever into a deeper but unnecessary conflict with the Muslim world.
For those yearning to see an end to the seven decade Jewish-Palestinian conflict, to see security and tranquility for Israel, and justice for Palestinians, last week’s so-called “peace talks” in Washington were a painful farce.
President Obama convoked Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to meet in Washington with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Egypt’s strongman, Husni Mubarak, and Jordan’s King Abdullah.
The result was the same kind of tired, stale Mideast political kabuki that has dragged on for the past decade: platitudes about peace, cheery handshakes, and talks about talks about talks.
All involved knew that this was political theater designed to beguile American voters into believing progress was being made in the eternal Mideast mess.
These faux peace talks were also supposed to send a message to the angry Arab world that the United States was indeed pushing for a fair peace in Palestine, and to show Israelis that their leader, PM Netanyahu, not long ago in Obama’s doghouse for humiliating visiting VP Joe Biden, was back in Washington’s good books in time for November elections.
Hardly anyone in the Arab or Muslim world took this charade seriously. The only people who don’t seem to really understand what’s going on are poorly informed North Americans.
America’s media dutifully reported the Washington talks with the same unquestioning solemnity and deference that the old Soviet media used to report Communist Party congresses.
In this game, Israel holds all the cards. The ruling right-wing Likud coalition insists it will never tolerate creation of a Palestinian state, the key to resolving this conflict. Never. At best, Likud says it may accept a self-governing Arab entity – in short, an old South African apartheid “Bantustan.”
Making things even grimmer, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the loose-lipped head of Netanyahu’s major coalition partner, the ultra-orthodox Shas Party, proclaimed god should strike dead the hapless Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinian gunmen killed four Israeli settlers on the West Bank.
As the brilliant Israeli writer Uri Avnery points out, Likud even refuses to define Israel’s final borders. According to Avnery, there remains an expansionist impulse within Likud and its hard-right coalition parties that foresees an even larger Jewish state.
Whatever the case, Netanyahu’s ruling Likud holds all the cards in this game. Israel’s strategy is simple: keep talking about peace talks, and make occasional cosmetic concessions to placate Washington, while speeding ahead with colonizing the West Bank and the nearly forgotten Golan Heights.
As a Palestinian diplomat aptly noted, “we are negotiating with Israel over dividing a pizza while Israel is busy eating it up.”
There are now 500,000 Jewish and non-Jewish Russian settlers on the West Bank in 121 settlements connected by special security roads off limits to Arabs. Much of the West Bank’s best farmland and underground water has been expropriated by Israel. Jewish Jerusalem keeps expanding into the West Bank through huge, fortified apartment buildings while Arabs in East Jerusalem are being steadily squeezed out, often with the help of tax-deductible donations by American Zionist groups.
Israeli check points and security controls are in part designed to make life so miserable for Palestinians that they will emigrate. Israel’s expanding security walls are carving away yet more land.
Today, creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state looks hardly possible – and impossible tomorrow. Instead, the West Bank is becoming a patchwork of violent bantustans that are wholly dependent on Israel and surrounded by its security forces. Most Israelis are pleased because they no longer suffer as many bombings and attacks as they once did. But Palestinians and the Muslim world are outraged.
Watching “negotiations” between four American client states – Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority – who receive billions in US payments is beyond even acid Mideast cynicism. Egypt and Jordan, both close allies of Israel, have cooperated in the repression of the Palestinian movement Hamas. Neither wants to see a Palestinian state.
Hamas, penned up in the giant open-air prison camp of Gaza, was not invited to Washington. Hamas rejects peace talks and refuses to recognize Israel until Israel recognizes the claims of five million uprooted, stateless Palestinians.
But Hamas is also the legitimate voice of Palestinians, having been elected in a proper democratic election in 2006, the Arab world’s only honest vote since Algeria’s 1991 election that was subsequently quashed by the military, with French and US backing.
However extreme, Hamas is largely free of the endemic corruption infecting Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which most Arabs regard as a bunch of Israeli and American stooges and yes-men. The Palestinian Authority certainly does not speak for most Palestinians.
Half of Israelis still want to make a land for peace deal with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, Israel’s peace camp has fallen silent and receives no backing from the United States.
The American dialogue on the Holy Land is almost entirely controlled by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is virtually an arm of the Likud Party. Candidate Obama in fact promised AIPAC never to pressure Israel into a peace deal it did not want, a pledge he is keeping.
But no pressure on Israel by Washington to trade land for peace means no real peace, no matter what sweetheart deal Abbas signs. No real peace means more woes for the United States in dealing with the Muslim world. And it likely means more 9/11s.