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A new year with renewed hope

Jan 03,2017 - Last updated at Jan 03,2017

The new year will soon bring a new US president, and possibly a drastically different American approach to Palestine, and the region more generally, hopefully one that heeds the lessons and the failings of a troubling past.

First, let us consider the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama.

He came to office in 2009, raising hopes sky high that at last the US would end the devastating bias in favour of Israel, revive the peace process and finally bring pressure to bear that would force Israel to respect Palestinian rights.

Those hopes were quickly dashed. Obama’s efforts to secure an end to Israel’s settlement enterprise in the occupied West Bank were short lived, and were never backed up by any meaningful pressure.

On the contrary, the outgoing administration boasts — accurately — that it boosted aid to Israel to unprecedented levels.

In September, it signed a record-breaking $38 billion deal to finance Israel’s military for the next 10 years.

Yet, in its final weeks, Obama won some applause by abstaining on UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirms, in strong language, the illegality of all Israeli settlements as well as any demographic or other changes to any of the territories occupied in 1967.

Israel is furious, not because the resolution is strong: the resolution demands that Israel halt settlements, but threatens no consequences if Israel fails to comply. Rather, Israel’s anger stems from the fact that it grew so used to total impunity, it could not believe that it would be subjected to even a verbal rebuke.

It is important here to stress that the impunity given Israel came not just from the US, but also from the European Union, and from others: the so-called international community.

On their part, the Arab states, including the Palestinian Authority, offered major concessions to Israel too, in the hope that Israel would be encouraged to engage.

The remarkably flexible 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which has been continuously reaffirmed since, despite Israeli intransigence and rejection, has only generated adverse consequences.

Israel responded in the only way it knows: pocketing all the concessions and signs of weakness and demanding and taking ever more.

The passage of the UN resolution perhaps marks a change.

The fact that it was adopted by 14 votes for, none against and one abstention shows that the world, including even Israel’s European protectors, is fed up.

It no longer buys, or is no longer willing to pretend to buy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that Israel is still committed to a two-state solution or the peace process.

But the sudden “courage” of the outgoing Obama administration and the Europeans comes very late. Probably too late.

President-elect Donald Trump, who will be sworn in on January 20, had already signalled that he is going to shift the US into the most extreme pro-Israel camp.

During the campaign, Trump claimed several times that he wanted to be “even-handed”. But the first clear signal of what he will actually do came with his nomination of his long-time lawyer David Friedman as the US’ ambassador to Tel Aviv.

Friedman is a fanatical extremist, president of an organisation that has raised millions of dollars in recent years to finance Israeli settlements.

He also believes that Israel should annex the West Bank, abolishing any grounds for the two-state solution. 

He is described in the Israeli and the American media as more extremist than the ultra radical Israeli elements.

The president elect has also vowed that Friedman will work from a US embassy moved to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a highly sensitive issue; any change in the status quo, pending a final settlement, is going to cause severe, far-reaching consequences, not only because that will violate UN resolutions and international law, but because it will also violate the terms of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty, which recognised Jordanian Hashemite custodianship of the city’s holy places.

And yet, in the hours before the UN vote, Trump increased his efforts to try to halt the Security Council resolution, which only came to a vote 24 hours later, after New Zealand, Venezuela, Senegal and Malaysia decided to bring it forward themselves.

So there is concern that the new US president could be even less forthcoming with regard to the prospects for peace between the Arabs and the Israelis than his predecessor who only made empty promises and gave unconditional support to Israel’s military. 

Let us hope that that will not be the case.

Indeed, that does not have to be the case. For too long, the Europeans, as well as the so-called international community, followed quietly in the footsteps of the US.

They went along with the pretence of a peace process, tempered any criticism of Israel and put maximum pressure on the Palestinians to keep offering compromises to their occupiers.

That was also true of the United Nations under former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. 

The beginning of 2017 poses many challenges to Palestinians, as well as to all those who truly want peace.

But it also offers an opportunity to break with the failed policies of the past.

It is time to finally understand that appeasement of Israel and its belligerent lobbies does not bring peace closer, but only fuels conflict in Palestine and further afield.

 

So let us begin this new year by hoping that the words embodied in UN Security Council Resolution 2334 will be translated into strong action and accountability.

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