April 7, 2008
Palestinians Need a Powerful Advocate
The concept of America as an honest broker in the Israel-Palestine conflict is obsolete. The US was never an honest broker but it doesn’t even bother pretending any more. Dick Cheney recently told the Israeli premier, the US commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable and warned the Palestinians that violence against Israel would kill their hopes of a state. And while it’s true that the current administration will shortly be emptying their desks, the three presidential hopefuls sound as though they’re singing from the Bush administration’s hymn sheet.
Democratic front-runner Barack Obama had this to say on peace in the Middle East: “That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel — our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. That will always be my starting point”.
His rival Hillary Clinton, who backs a US Embassy in Jerusalem, has said she would cut off aid to Palestinians should they unilaterally declare an independent state, while Republican nominee John McCain has characterized Israel’s enemies as “evil”.
I could list the candidates’ regular junkets to Tel Aviv and pilgrimages to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) but I won’t bore you. You get the point. Everybody with half a brain gets the point. So, in this case, why are Palestinian leaders relying on the good offices of the US to get them a state?
To give this premise context, say, you had a business partner who embezzled your company and left you with nothing but debts. Would you hire his lawyer, who also happened to be his best buddy, to represent you in court? Of course not! And neither would you enlist your mother-in-law to save your crumbling marriage if you had any sense.
Yet this is exactly what the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is doing. It seems that on Washington’s instructions he manipulated a breach with Hamas — as we know from leaked State Department memos — and he’s now asking Washington to become more proactive as a broker. And, let’s face it: They’ve had little success at the job throughout the past decades. Any firm with their record of failure would surely have been sacked an age ago.
Even if by some miracle the Annapolis meet actually produced the required goods in the long run, a US-brokered Palestinian state would consist of nothing more than crumbs from Israel’s table, which I fear the beleaguered Palestinian leadership would be pressured to accept as a better than nothing option.
Where does all this leave the Palestinian people? Precisely nowhere!
When they fight back, which as an occupied people is their right under international law, they are labeled terrorist. When they organize peaceful demonstrations nobody takes any notice. When they invoke a slew of UN resolutions passed in their favor, all they get are yawns from the international community in return. Israel has killed thousands, imprisoned tens of thousands and is incarcerating 1.5 million Palestinians in the world’s largest open-air jail Gaza yet, as far as Washington is concerned, Israel remains the victim/hero.
If there is ever to be a viable Palestinian state, a new paradigm is needed. Instead of one powerful so-called “honest broker”, each side in the conflict should have its own powerful advocate.
The idea that Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate one-on-one, as George W. Bush has suggested on more than one occasion, won’t work in this case simply because one side has military clout and the other hasn’t. This is akin to a deer negotiating with a leopard over the menu of the day when, of course, the deer will end up as lunch.
So who might be up for the job of Palestinian advocate?
Forget the EU for a start. Its major players talk a good talk but when push comes to shove, they’ll fall in behind the US. China has got the muscle and the independence but the Middle East is traditionally outside its geopolitical sphere of influence. Looks hopeless doesn’t it. But wait, there is one candidate itching for the job. Russia. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been canvassing regional support for his country’s potential role as mediator during his visit, last week, to Israel, Syria and the West Bank. Russia has called for an end to Israel’s settlement expansion and also offered to host a peace conference later this year to reinforce Annapolis.
Naturally, Israel is less than enthusiastic. Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, has publicly welcomed Russia’s involvement. Provided Moscow is seriously committed to finding a solution rather than posturing for effect, President Abbas should consider the following.
First, he should patch up relations with Hamas in the spirit of last week’s Yemeni-brokered reconciliation agreement. A divided Palestine is a weak Palestine.
Second, he should refuse to negotiate directly with Israel or to show up for smiley photo-ops with visiting American politicians.
Third, as with most disputes, he should simply tell the other side, “Talk to my lawyer”.
If Russia is willing to take on the job, then it should be supported and offered incentives by every single member of the Arab League as well as sympathetic OIC members.
Whatever happens, the Palestinians must quit putting their faith in duplicitous Uncle Sam and seek a new plan with a new partner, one that would have their interests rather than those of their enemy’s at heart.