By Omar Radwan
Last Saturday, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority called on the United States to impose unilaterally a solution on the Israel-Palestine conflict. US President Barack Obama and his envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, have been attempting somewhat fruitlessly to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority for over a year now. It is quite clear, however, that Israel's right-wing government has no interest in peace and the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and its Muslim holy places are under threat. Israel is continuing with its policies of house demolition and eviction, while Jewish extremists proclaim quite openly their plans to demolish Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the Temple of Solomon in its place; last month Israel constructed a synagogue in the vicinity of the mosque regarded as the third holiest site in the Islamic world. The construction of settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank is proceeding apace. Last month, the Israeli government deliberately announced the construction of 1,600 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem to coincide with the visit of US Vice-President Joe Biden. The purpose of Biden's visit was to kick-start indirect negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but these were called off in the wake of the Israeli announcement. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says that any future Palestinian state (which would consist of a series of non-contiguous enclaves in the West Bank) cannot have any control of its airspace and its borders, thus making a mockery of the word "state". The prospects for any peaceful settlement are thus looking increasingly dim. Under these circumstances, it would seem natural for President Abbas to turn to the United States to impose a peace settlement. However, Abbas has made a serious error of judgement and it seems that he has not taken into account what a unilateral American settlement would look like and whether the United States is willing or able to impose anything on its Israeli ally.
There has been much talk recently about a worsening of relations between Israel and the United States. Netanyahu recently cancelled a trip to Washington, where he was due to attend a summit on nuclear weapons, and Biden condemned the Israeli construction of housing units in Jerusalem while he was visiting Israel. However, the Obama administration is unwilling to pressurise Israel into giving concessions to the Palestinians. Biden's visit to Israel was followed by a visit by Netanyahu to Washington, where he met with President Obama. The meeting took place behind closed doors and by all accounts it was a failure. However, it was announced soon afterwards that the United States is going to supply Israel with $250 million worth of military aircraft. There is no sign whatsoever that the US will reduce aid to Israel, or impose a full or partial arms embargo, or any form of trade sanctions. Indeed, Biden rather bizarrely accompanied his condemnation with lavish praise of Israel while he was there.
Last September, the Obama administration lost a battle with the Netanyahu government when it was forced to climb down from its demand that Israel freeze fully settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Instead, to allow the Obama administration to save face, Israel agreed to a partial and temporary "freeze" which in practice is no freeze at all, as the new construction in East Jerusalem makes plain. It seems obvious that Obama is indeed unwilling and unable to impose anything on Israel. The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has already announced that Israel will reject a US-imposed solution, and the previous record suggests that there is nothing that Obama can or will do in the face of such Israeli intransigence.
Moreover, even if the US was so inclined and could impose a solution on Israel, Abbas is deeply mistaken if he believes that such a solution would be favourable to the Palestinians. Previous American proposals for peace have always favoured Israel. Perhaps the most well known is the peace plan offered in 2000 by President Bill Clinton during the Camp David negotiations. Palestinian negotiators said at the time that they felt they were negotiating with two Israeli teams, one displaying an Israeli flag and the other displaying an American flag. This offered the Palestinians four non-contiguous blocks of land in the West Bank, completely surrounded by Israeli territory. The Palestinians would also not have had sovereignty over the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. Such a Palestinian "state" would be demilitarized and Israel would have a presence on all its borders. This is in addition to the fact that there would be no right of return for refugees. The late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat had no choice but to reject the plan, which was falsely portrayed as offering 94% of the West Bank to the Palestinians, and was subsequently blamed for "walking away from peace".
Four years later, George W. Bush gave Israel a guarantee, which Obama has not retracted, that it would not have to return to the 1967 boundaries, and that there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees. It is believed that this guarantee allows for Israel to keep six huge settlement blocs in the West Bank in the event of any peace agreement. Given Obama's unwillingness to confront the current Israeli government, which is much more extreme than the one in power during the Camp David talks, any settlement the US tries to impose is likely to be even more unfavourable to the Palestinians than Camp David and will deny them most of their legitimate rights, such as their right of return and their rights to Jerusalem. Any resulting Palestinian state will have so many limitations on its sovereignty that its statehood will be meaningless. The Palestinians will once again have no choice but to reject such a solution, and once again they will be blamed for the failure of "peace negotiations". Abbas is playing with fire and the Palestinian Authority should, after seventeen years of US-sponsored negotiations that have achieved absolutely nothing for the Palestinian people, realise the folly of counting on America to achieve a just peace in the region that will give the Palestinians their legitimate rights.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.