By Rami G. Khouri
Mar. 21, 2015
We should keep our eyes on one arena and two actors in any serious assessment of the repercussions of the national election in Israel this week that resulted in a strong victory by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and a consolidation of right-wing sentiments: The critical arena is Israeli-American relations, and the European and Palestinian leaderships are the two pivotal actors to watch. The American-Israeli relationship has defined almost all other developments in Arab-Israeli diplomacy since the late 1960s, when American policy structurally and decisively tilted to a pro-Israeli position. Other than the occasional, momentary and superficial rap on Israel’s knuckles by Secretary of State James Baker or President Ronald Reagan, or an unsuccessful push by President Barack Obama to freeze Israeli settlements, the United States has supported or acquiesced in all major Israeli positions on relations with Palestine. The posture of “no daylight between the U.S. and Israel” has covered all fields, including military, technical and economic aid, diplomacy at the United Nations, warfare and initiatives in international forums.
Obama-Netanyahu tensions in recent years finally exploded this week, capped with a declaration by unnamed U.S. officials that Washington would now reassess or re-evaluate its positions on Palestinian-Israeli issues in international forums, such as the U.N. Security Council. Reportedly this could include American support for a Security Council resolution outlining the broad contours of a two-state resolution, which Israel adamantly opposes.
We will know soon if these are momentous structural shifts in the American position, or passing emotional irritations more linked to personalities than to policies. If the U.S. does support a Security Council resolution affirming a two-state resolution, that would be an important sign of real change. It would open the door to new dynamics in which the United States for the first time differentiates, in its actions rather than just its words, between its ironclad support for Israel’s security and its objections to Israel’s occupation and settlements policies. A shift in the U.S. position would dramatically open doors to substantive political developments in several arenas, emphasizing the un-tenability of the occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands since 1967.
This ties in with the two political actors we should now watch – the European Union and the Palestinian leadership – to see if meaningful diplomatic change will occur. The EU was a global pioneer in affirming Palestinian national rights in the 1980 Venice Declaration that backed legitimate Palestinian rights and self-determination. Then Europe more or less took a leave of absence from Palestine-Israel diplomacy for some 35 years, before returning to action last year and imposing sanctions on relations with Israeli entities that operate in the occupied territories.
It will be important now to see if the EU persists in this direction and more tangibly asserts its support for Israel’s security within its 1948 borders, while punishing Israel for its colonial policies in the territories occupied in 1967. A European lead here, including possibly formal recognition of the state of Palestine in the occupied territories, would spark important similar follow-up measures by governments, civil society and the private sector.
The Palestinian leadership is the weakest link in this diplomatic chain of actors and issues, due to three related factors: the impact of Israeli occupation-colonization; American, European and Arab policies that perpetuate the status quo; and, the internal incompetence and autocratic nature of Palestinian politics. The Palestinian leadership must now exploit the new landscapes of opportunity and possibility that have been opened up by the small breach in U.S.-Israeli ties and the initial stirrings of reinvigorated European activism.
The Palestinians should take action to achieve several goals simultaneously. First, they must rehabilitate the Palestinian leadership itself by reconstituting the institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization as a legitimate, active representative of all Palestinians.
Second, they must push hard on several international fronts to challenge and delegitimize Israeli actions in the occupied territories. This includes the International Criminal Court, the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, and other forums, using nuanced diplomatic engagements to elicit American and European support for measures criticizing Israel’s criminal colonial behaviour.
Third, the Palestinians must work with governments and civil society groups around the world to exert serious pressure to end Israel’s colonization-occupation practices, in the same manner that the world mobilized against Apartheid South Africa.
New opportunities for diplomacy that may now arise from the evolving pivotal relationship between the American and Israeli governments demand proactive initiatives by Palestinians, Europeans, Arabs and civil society across the world. The aim is to build up pressure and provide possibilities for a negotiated two-state solution that satisfies the legitimate rights of all parties.