Opinion | Columnists

Israel’s only sensible choice

The safest option for Tel Aviv is to open dialogue with 22 Arab governments that had declared 12 years ago their readiness to negotiate a peace deal

  • By George S. Hishmeh | Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 July 9, 2014
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: REUTERS
  • Palestinians run following what police said was an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza city.

Most current or former American officials dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict are bent on refusing to call a spade a spade when Israel is at fault, as has been the case in recent times.

Israel’s record, as documented by the US-based Institute for Middle East Understanding is appalling, covering the period from July 2013, when Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations started under the leadership of US Secretary of State John Kerry, until last April, when they reached the current impasse. An IMEU document, however, exposes Israel’s reprehensible actions during the same period, assumedly aimed at reaching a fair peace agreement. The Israeli record speaks louder than words: “Approved or advanced plans for 13,851 new settlement [colony] units to be built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of both international law and official US government policy.

“Killed approximately 50 Palestinians, including a number of minors, an 85-year-old man and a mentally ill woman.

“Destroyed approximately 500 Palestinian structures, including more than 300 homes, displacing almost people.”

Despite these shocking statistics, US support for Israel remains steadfast. Widely believed to be a presidential aspirant, Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state in the Obama administration and wife of former president Bill Clinton, was cited in a column published in the New York Times last Sunday for having “voted for the Iraq war, supported sending arms to Syrian rebels ... (and) wholeheartedly backs Israel” — a stance that will undoubtedly raise serious concerns everywhere in the Arab world. Two prominent former US State Department officials — who had long dealt with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, despite their close links with the pro-Israel lobby — have only offered muted explanations about what went wrong during the nine-month secret negotiations. Neither blamed Israel outright as has been the growing impression in Washington. Their post-mortems hardly quenched the eagerness of their readers.

Martin S. Indyk had served on the staff of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), a diehard pro-Israel lobbying group, and was also the founding executive director of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (Winep), an influential research institute. Although Indyk agreed with Kerry that “the Israeli decision to approve new settlement [colony] construction (in the Israeli-occupied areas) was the triggering event”, wrote Mark Landler in his �Diplomatic Memo’ column in the Times, he nevertheless offered “other complicating factors”. But none of these included Israel’s initial blunder, namely its refusal to release the last batch of Palestinian prisoners, as had been agreed upon in secret negotiations.

On the same day as Indyk’s views were published, Dennis Ross, who was a special assistant to President Barack Obama from 2009-2011 and is now back at Winep as a counsellor, said that nowadays, unlike the case previously, “neither Israelis nor Palestinians believe the other is committed to a two-state solution”. In other words, the previous support is “eroding”. The alternative that he recommended was the promotion of “parallel steps that would not require formal agreements, but would improve the situation”. He suggested: “The Israelis could start by opening Area C — 60 per cent of the (occupied) West Bank — to Palestinian industrial projects and housing construction, something that meets an acute Palestinian need and would resonate. Palestinians could forgo further to join international organisations or to try to prosecute Israeli officials in the International Criminal Court — actions the Israelis see as part of an effort to delegitimise Israel.”

But why should the Palestinians follow these self-defeating steps since these organisations are internationally approved and many states are members. Most importantly, what about Israel withdrawing from all the Occupied Territories, since this illegal step that Israeli has adopted had been castigated internationally. After all, the United Nations had previously divided (unsatisfactorily) Palestine into two states — Israel receiving 55 per cent of the former British mandate, while Palestinians merely controlling the remaining 45 per cent. It is time that the international community, particularly the US, steps forward and twists the arms of Israel to pull back. Additionally, the Palestinians should also resort to the international institutions for serious action in this respect. Or else, the only remaining solution will be the establishment of a state that includes both peoples, as seems the target of many in an ill-divided country.

However, the safest approach will be for Israel to instantly open talks with 22 Arab governments, all members of the Arab League, which had declared 12 years ago their readiness to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel on the basis of the 1967 armistice lines. That remains the region’s most viable approach for a final settlement. Or else, all eyes will be turned to a one-state solution that will embody Israelis and Palestinians. This is Israel’s only choice at present.

George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com

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