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Opinion and Editorial

US Policy is Not Working

Dr Nazir Khaja && Father Raymond G. Helmick, S.j.
Filed on March 7, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is asking for the Israeli-Palestinian Peace talks to resume. She is back after her recent trip to the region where she spoke to many audiences and met with several government officials. While her visit to the Arab nations raised some hope, there remains a high degree of skepticism based on US blind &support of Israel.

President Obama’s pronouncements regarding the Israeli Settlements earlier had given some hope that under the new administration there would be a change in US foreign policy. He had declared boldly that Israeli settlements were not acceptable to US. Despite this clear enunciation, the Israeli government remained undeterred and continued with its expansionist agenda. Settlement build-out continued.

By its seemingly blind support for the Israeli position on key issues of Arab-Israeli peacemaking, the US lets its credibility remain at its lowest ebb, not only for its many Arab friends but for its European allies as well, for whom the Obama meekness before the demands of Israel and its American lobby have become a joke. This is not only because Obama has stuck with his country’s historically flawed attitude of not-so-benign negligence with regard to the Palestinians, favouring each and every claim on the Israeli side including its continuous expansion of settlements even now.

Israel’s indecent behaviour in Gaza, which drew international condemnation, hardly raised an eyebrow with US policy makers. The report of Judge Goldstone of the International Court of Justice holding Israel responsible for criminal action was easily tossed aside as unfair criticism of Israel.

These perverse exercises, all over the West Bank as well as in Gaza, in which Israel engages in the name of security, are in fact critically detrimental to Israel’s own interest, but American administrations are too timid, in the face of the famous Israel lobby, to mention such inconvenient facts.

It is a widely held belief that US Middle East Policy is shaped by those with very close ties to the Israeli lobby. Those who attempt to redirect the policies or draw attention to this are vilified and accused of anti-Semitism. Even former President Carter has not been spared the wrath of this very powerful lobby. The political cost for those who challenge Israel is very high.

US foreign policy toward many other countries and almost all Arab and Muslim countries continues, under Obama, to be largely a mere extension of Israeli foreign policy. The US in the past has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all other Security Council members. The US also refuses to enforce those Security Council resolutions it claims to support. These resolutions call on Israel, among other things, to withdraw from the &occupied territories.

Iran too, which worries the Arabs but is considered its arch-enemy by Israel, was also discussed by Secretary Clinton with the Arab governments. Iran’s ambition for acquisition of nuclear weapons must surely be curtailed by an international consensus and effort. However, the deafening silence all along, in US and the West, about the Israeli stockpile of nuclear arms again which reinforces the prevailing belief throughout Muslim countries that the US and the West are not only partial towards Israel but intimidated.

Raising the issue of Iran as a threat to neighboruing Sunni states will work in selling missile and other weapons to them. This helps US economy. The Arab countries would rank Israel’s threat to the region higher than that of Iran’s. The Arab countries on the issue of Iran and other matters will look to their own genuine interest.  The US, though, should realise that, when Israel brings up the subject of Iran, its purpose is basically to distract attention from its own actions.

Therefore, it is hardly any surprise that Secretary Clinton in her address to the people in Doha has appealed for patience. Patience for what? Is she embarrassed to be there with so little to show? Even as she admits to the disappointment she can feel all around that room, she calls for the Muslims to be all “Give, give,” while the Israeli government is all “Take, take.”  Has President Obama simply quit after receiving the back of the hand from Binyamin Netanyahu? Is he simply frightened off by the din of the Israel lobby in the United States, threatening to throw their weight against all candidates of his party in the approaching elections for Congress?

Unless the US, abandons its prevailing delusion that it has played and is now playing an even-handed role in the Middle East, or the illusion that it has actually been opposing Israel’s policy of occupying Palestinian territory, further progress to achieve peace in the Middle East is not likely. 

The exclusion of Hamas from any role in the pursuit of peace stands out among the illusory premises of US policy, as if an agreement only between Israel and the Fatah governors of the West Bank, could resolve anything. All parties to the conflict, including Hamas, need to be included in the peace process.  The administration has taken the right step in bringing Syria in.  Hamas has signaled frequently that it is prepared to take a positive role in negotiations. President Abbas tells us he has a reconciliation offer out to Hamas. However, the US by maintaining its attitude of rejection of Hamas at every point encourages Prime Minister Netanyahu and his shadow Avigdor Lieberman, to sabotage any such prospects. This is also the reason that any agreement for prisoner exchanges that would involve the young Gilad Shalit and some of the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, all of them guilty or suspect of the grave crime of opposing the occupation has not been reached.  

Secretary Clinton should convey the prevailing sentiment, which the President already knows, that the “Mother of all issues” to this date, at the root of the unrest in the Middle East, is the Arab-Israeli peace issue. This issue is the main artery of hatred for the US throughout the region. All the Jihadists and extremists tap into it to such an extent that, if he ignores it, President Obama faces sure frustration in Iraq, in Afghanistan or wherever else he invests his efforts in the Middle East.

The countries that Clinton visited in the area in the name of peace are fully committed to a ‘Just Peace’ between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And if President Obama is indeed serious about peace he only needs to dust off the Saudi Peace Plan and make it the centerpiece of his argument or discussions with the Israelis.

Dr Nazir Khaja is chairman of Islamic Information Service, Los Angeles and &Fr Raymond G. Helmick, S.J. is instructor in conflict resolution, Department of Theology, Boston College and author of Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed (London, Pluto Press 2004)

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