There is mounting pressure on the Obama administration amid concerns at its effectiveness as a peace broker in the Middle East conflict. Senator George Mitchell, US envoy to the Middle East, is currently involved in proximity talks with Israeli, Palestinian and Arab officials in an attempt to revive negotiations after the most recent set of peace talks failed yet again.
Historically the US has always seen itself, and to be fair has been regarded by others, as the "alpha-dog" and more experienced "advocate of democracy" in the global community. The popular quote "with great power comes great responsibility" springs to mind when analysing the US administration's role in foreign affairs; indeed America has had "great power" for around 100 years but more often than not it has been blinded by its own greed and its imperialist mindset for it to act responsibly for the benefit of all. This is especially true of its role in the Middle East. If the US continues in this ineffective manner over Israel-Palestine, and continues to bow to Israeli pressure, then the Zionist state will be its undoing.
Since recognising the nascent state in 1948, the US has capitulated to Israel on all fronts – financially, diplomatically, politically and militarily – and today is no different. Yet again, the US has failed to apply any real pressure on the Israeli government over the illegal colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the territories proposed for a supposedly "viable Palestinian state". The ten-month Israeli moratorium on illegal settlements ended in September 2010 just as the peace negotiations resumed in Washington. Instead of renewing the partial freeze as requested by all parties, including US and Palestinian leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused and the talks were brought to an unceremonious halt three weeks later. Since then, the US administration has tried to coax, and bribe (the word used by Thomas L Friedman in the New York Times recently) the Israeli government into discontinuing settlement building with a 'bargain package'; namely $3 billion worth of F-35 fighter planes and a commitment to "fighting [the] delegitimisation of Israel" via the power of the US veto in international governing bodies (eg the UN Security Council). What was America to get for this bribe? A 3-month moratorium on settlement building, which did not even apply to construction in occupied East Jerusalem. Never one to go against the grain, Netanyahu has once again snubbed America's weak attempt to pacifying the apartheid state and has rejected any deal. Obama's administration can surely no longer be under any illusion that Israel is genuinely interested in reaching a peace settlement and must realise what others have known for a very, very long time: Israel is expert at using the rhetoric of peace in return for financial and diplomatic assurances from its allies, with no real determination or interest in establishing peace in the region.
With its habitual submission to Israel and the Israeli lobby (another NYT columnist, Roger Cohen, says that the "Israel right-or-wrong mantra" puts US politics into a "straitjacket"), the US is fast losing credibility in the international political arena. The Obama administration's (and previous US administrations') usual platitude is becoming more exhausting: "our commitment to Israel's security remains steadfast". As one American commentator scathingly has written in an article entitled "Obama's embarrassing gift to Israel", this mantra is nonsensical: "The question is not whether we are committed to Israel's security, but whether they're committed to ours." Once a country that could instil awe in friend and foe alike, today the United States is like a dog being wagged by its tail; the tail in this case being Israel.
The status quo is no longer sustainable for any of the players involved, including and especially the Palestinians. The US has been defeated and made to look a complete fool by its "closest ally", and in recent months we have seen other political players racing to take charge. Already there have been suggestions of countries such as Russia taking the lead and challenging "the US monopoly of the Arab-Israeli peace process" to become a more active partner within the Quartet and broker peace in the region. Latin America has initiated this challenge, with the likes of Brazil, which has stated that it would like a role in mediating the peace talks, and Argentina both formally recognising the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. This move was followed closely by the European Union which sent a formal letter calling for Israel to face tougher sanctions in the light its illegal settlement construction. The letter was signed by 26 former EU leaders and, according to the EU Observer website, called on the EU to:
- Have a pro-active and more involved approach to resolve the conflict, together with the US, UN, Russia and Arab League.
- Ensure that the 1967 borders are respected and that the Palestinian territory is under 100% Palestinian sovereignty that includes East Jerusalem.
- Set a deadline of April 2011 for "Israel to fall into line" or else the EU will push for a UN solution rather than the current "US-led" peace talks that are not going anywhere.
- Refuse to upgrade EU-Israel diplomatic relations until there has been a complete settlement freeze.
- Block all imports of settlement-produced goods.
- "Make Israel pay the lion's share of aid to Palestine."
- Send a high-level delegation, including Lady Ashton, to East Jerusalem.
- To reclassify EU support for Palestine as "nation building" rather than "institution building".
It appears that the US is also changing its diplomatic strategy by engaging more robustly with the Arab states, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, with EU sources suggesting that the negotiations are heading towards a "return of the Madrid process (1991)… and the Arab peace initiative of March 2002".
Obama's initial promise has waned and become diluted since assuming office, with the Israeli lobby showing how far it has become entrenched within America's political system. As one commentator suggests, instead of using as leverage the "billions in annual no-strings aid the fiscally-bankrupt United States provides to Israel", which would force the Zionist state to enter negotiations with some degree of earnestness, the Obama administration continues to give "unwavering" support to the regime and acquiesces over continued illegal settlement construction. Even a top-aide to the US-sponsored PA has suggested that his side is losing faith in the US: "How can the one who couldn't make Israel limit its settlement activities in order to conduct serious negotiations be able to make Israel accept a fair solution?… This is the big question now."
The US is losing credibility and can no longer be considered the alpha-dog in the global community today. Perhaps it can save face by listening to those who would like to support its efforts at finding a resolution for all parties involved and who are themselves somewhat more prudent when it comes to choosing their allies. The Arab states and the EU will provide much needed support for the US to finally stand up to its "closest ally" and greatest thorn in the side, before that thorn bursts the US bubble.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.