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Missing the point once more

Jan 30,2018 - Last updated at Jan 30,2018

Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), says he has terminated the role of the United States as the patron for the so-called peace process. This followed the Trump administration's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move the US embassy to the occupied city. That move was condemned by the world as a gross violation of international law and dozens of UN resolutions, some of which the US had itself backed. The move was seen as dashing any slim hopes that Trump could make good on his promise to broker the "ultimate deal" for peace in the region.

The Palestinian Authority is therefore absolutely right to reject Trump's move in the strongest terms. It was right to head to the UN Security Council and then the General Assembly to demonstrate in both places that Palestinians have the backing of an overwhelming majority of states in rejecting Trump's announcement. What is less understandable is how the PA is acting as if it is a new and shocking discovery that Washington is not an honest broker, and completely identifies with the most extreme Israeli positions.

There was no time since 1967 when Washington was not totally on the side of Israel, and that includes since the start of the current endless — but also non-existent — peace process that began with the Madrid conference in 1991.

As Aaron David Miller, a commentator who served as a State Department diplomat for a quarter of a century, wrote in The Washington Post in 2005: "For far too long, many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel's attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations."

That has never changed, and since then the US position has only become more pro-Israel, not least under President Barack Obama, who before leaving office awarded Israel the biggest package of military aid in history: at least $38 billion over the next decade. And actually it is this open American bias towards Israel that gave rise to the Palestinian and Arab conviction that Washington holds the keys for resolving this conflict.

It is worth recalling that no one ever officially appointed the Americans to this role. Both Russia and the US were equal sponsors of the Madrid conference, but following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its own internal crisis, Russia retreated from the world stage for many years. Then, the so-called Quartet — comprising representatives of the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN — was established in 2002. It was designed to give the impression of international legitimacy and involvement in the peace process, but it actually did the opposite.

For example, the UN, which should be the overarching forum for dealing with the question of Palestine, was reduced to one member of an informal committee. The role of the European Union's two dozen members was similarly minimised. In reality, the Quartet was nothing more than a fig leaf for American diktats. It may be reality that the US leaders are the only ones who can directly influence Israel. But paradoxically that is only because America is 100 per cent on Israel's side. The moment US leaders start to assume a neutral role, no matter how mild, or to demand justice for the Palestinians, or call for implementation of UN resolutions, they lose all influence and immediately become targets of attack and vilification by Israel and its lobby.

Only when the US — and other countries — decide to confront, rather than appease Israel, will the situation change. At the official level, there are no signs that such a radical change in the American attitude will happen soon.

However, at the societal level in the US as well as Europe there are indeed shifts in public opinion that show a desire for a firmer stance, including sanctions on Israel. But in any case, these changes will take time to filter up to the political level.

In the meantime, turning against the US patronage role is beside the point. If the US is a mediator it does not mean it is an arbiter where the Palestinians would be bound by the ruling of the arbiter. The American administration could come up with as many ideas as it wants and the Palestinians could refuse, as they did many times previously.

Trump's Jerusalem declaration may have torpedoed his "ultimate deal". But even if there was no Jerusalem declaration, the terms being discussed for such a deal were known to be far below the minimum even Abbas could accept. What has already leaked out about the American ideas is that they recycle failed formulas that give the Palestinians a state in name only, on fractions of the West Bank, with no real presence in Jerusalem, no removal of most Israeli settlements and no right of return for refugees.

These are all the essential elements of Ehud Barak's "generous offer" from the 2000 Camp David summit, the Clinton Parameters and George W. Bush's "roadmap". Recall that in 2004, Bush gave then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a letter pledging that demographic and territorial changes on the ground should be taken into consideration in any future deal. That gave a blessing not only to all of Israel's existing illegal settlements, but a licence to continue stealing and colonising Palestinian land that Bush's successors never revoked. And the American position on Jerusalem was sealed in 1995, long before Trump's election, when the US Congress passed legislation recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Also, in the same year, Abbas himself helped author the "Yossi Beilin-Abu Mazen Agreement" — an informal outline for a peace deal that mentions Abu Dis as an alternative to Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

Palestinian leaders have themselves been diluting their rights in the hope of softening the hearts of the so-called international community towards their cause and enticing Israel to settle with them even on very bad terms. They tailored their positions to suit Israel but in the end only encouraged Israel and its supporters to demand more concessions.

Rather than declare war on Trump, the PA should redefine its strategy and reaffirm Palestinian rights as defined by international law. Vague formulas such as a "land swap", while the PA acts as an agent for the occupier, remains silent and complicit in Israel's siege on Gaza, and coordinates with Israeli forces in the West Bank, are more urgent matters to address than boycotting Washington.

 

The harsh reality is that the PA is financed by the US and other donors specifically to play the role it has been playing since Oslo: An auxiliary occupation administration. So long as that continues the PA is in no position to break with Washington.

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