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Time to recognise the state of Palestine

May 12,2016 - Last updated at May 12,2016

This time around, presidential candidates from both parties in the US seem to attach as much importance to foreign policy as to local.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees respectively, have demonstrated their discredited positions on the Middle East.

As Israel announced a new illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank, near Shiloh, that will accommodate 40 families that are being evacuated from the illegal settlement of Amona, a few kilometres to the south, Clinton came out with a letter condemning the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) as a form of anti-Semitism.

This surprise response occurred on the eve of a Methodist General Conference that will consider measures to divest from three companies that do business in the occupied West Bank, namely Motorola, Hewlett Packard and Caterpillar.

Philip Weiss, co-editor of Mondoweiss, quoted the former US secretary of state who described Israel as “a modern day miracle — a vibrant bloom in the middle of a desert — and we must nurture and protect it”.

In a letter addressed to the Israel Action Network and the Jewish Federations of North America, she continued: “Fighting for Israel isn’t just about policy; it is a personal commitment to the friendship between our peoples and our vision for peace and security…. We must never tire in defending Israel’s legitimacy, expanding security and economic ties, and taking our alliance to the next level.”

The illegal Israeli settlements are now home to more than 570,000 Israelis, according to the Israeli watchdog Peace Now, 370,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in occupied East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish their capital.

Weiss said that “settlements range from small wildcat outposts on the West Bank hilltops to developed towns with shopping malls, schools and suburban homes”.

Similarly, and unashamedly, Trump told the British Daily Mail that there should be no pause in Israeli settlement construction. 

According to the Times of Israel website, Trump was asked if there should be a pause in illegal Israeli settlement building.

Trump replied: “No, I don’t think it is, because I think Israel should have — they really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward. I don’ think there should be a pause…. Look: Missiles were launched into Israel, and Israel, I think, never was properly treated by our country. I mean, do you know what that is, how devastating that is?”

Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said he was a “very good guy” whom he did not know that well. 

“I think I’d have a very good relationship with him.”

He also said that he thinks “Obama has been extremely bad to Israel”.

No wonder Paul Krugman, a leading columnist with The New York Times, had the following opening paragraph in his column last Monday: “Truly, Donald Trump knows nothing. He is more ignorant about policy that you can possibly imagine, even when you take into account the fact that he is more ignorant than you can possibly imagine. But his ignorance isn’t as unique as it may seem: In many ways, he’s just doing a clumsy job of channelling nonsense widely popular in his party, and to some extent in the chattering classes more generally.”

The expectations nowadays is that the Obama administration might use a tougher tone with Israel in an upcoming international report over settlements, demolitions and property seizure on land the Palestinians claim for a future state, unidentified diplomats told The Associated Press.

An approval of harder language would mark a shift in US stance. Washington has traditionally tempered settlements by the so-called “Quartet” of mediators with careful diplomatic language, but the diplomats said the US in this case will align itself closer to the positions of the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, who emphasise Israel’s role in the Mideast impasse.

The report’s release is sure to infuriate Israel, where officials are already bracing for expected criticism.

On the other side, The Associated Press said that although the mediators will endorse some long-standing Palestinian complaints, the Palestinians are likely to protest that the report does not go far enough.

Since the Obama administration will be involved this time, it would be appropriate that it takes the overdue step of recognising the state of Palestine.

If he does, Obama will hugely crown his legacy in his last months at the White House, something none of his predecessors did.

 

The writer is a Washington-based columnist.

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