By S. Nihal Singh
Nov 13, 2013
In conjuring up the prospect of a third Intifada, Mr Kerry was seeking to administer some shock therapy to Israel, also by publicly describing Israeli settlements as illegitimate
The Palestinian issue has returned to the front burner for two reasons. A meticulous report after examining the remains of the Palestinian hero Yasser Arafat by a team of Swiss doctors has come to the conclusion that the high levels of polonium 210 found led to the preponderant conclusion that he died from poisoning. Second, a desperate bid to rescue the dying Israeli-Palestinian talks US secretary of state John Kerry revived last July provoked him publicly to suggest in a double television interview with Israeli and Palestinian journalists last week that the alternative to peace was the onset of a third Intifada (uprising).
The Palestinian committee formed to study the Swiss report (a second Russian report was inconclusive) quickly came to the conclusion that the “only suspect” was Israel, a charge Tel Aviv has denied. Expectedly, sections of Israelis were outraged by Mr Kerry’s stark warning and were metaphorically manning the barricades. But the depth of discomfort in Tel Aviv was also apparent from the cautiously optimistic signs that were emerging from the major powers’ negotiations in Switzerland with the Iranian foreign minister on his country’s nuclear programme.
Mr Kerry has invested much time in restarting the moribund Israeli-Palestinian talks last July giving a nine-month timeframe for an initial agreement. In parallel, he launched a $4 billion economic plan for Palestinians that is still to take off in weeks or months. But these talks have expectedly gone nowhere while Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem have proliferated. No one expects a miracle in the remaining six months of the time limit. In conjuring up the prospect of a third Intifada, Mr Kerry was seeking to administer some shock therapy to Israel, also by publicly describing Israeli settlements as illegitimate.
The tragedy of Palestine is well known. To give one statistic, Israel’s draconian limits on Palestinian economic activity in “Area C” directly controlled by it represent 61 per cent of the land. Indeed, Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, is in the firing line by his own people who are more inclined to listen to the more radical Hamas movement controlling the Gaza Strip, one of whose leaders has already hinted at a third Intifada. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has the dubious distinction of representing the “Middle East Quartet” of the US, the European Union, Russia and the UN since 2007. His globe-trotting business activities give him little time to attend to contentious Palestinian-Israeli problems.
No one believes that, given the composition of the Israeli Cabinet of Benjamin Netanyahu, there is any give in Tel Aviv’s attitude for an honourable deal for Palestinians. In fact, Neftali Bennett of the far Right Jewish Home Party, a member of the ruling coalition, opposes a two-state solution, the international mantra, and wants Israel to annex Palestinian “Area C”.
Is Mr Kerry then on a fool’s errand in making peace between Palestinians and Israel? He has compounded his provocative activities in Israeli eyes not only by bringing up the question of another Intifada, but by seeking to test Iran’s efforts to seek a compromise on its nuclear programme. Israel’s own stock of nuclear weapons remains intact.
Indeed, Mr Netanyahu seems less concerned by Mr Kerry’s peace efforts with Palestinians than he is in relation to the prospect of a rapprochement between the US and Iran. The Israeli Prime Minister had famously bested US President Barack Obama during his first term by rebuking him on home soil because he had suggested a stop to illegal settlements as a prelude to talks with Palestinians. Mr Obama was insulted by Mr Netanyahu in a joint session of the US Congress and the former kept his hands off the settlements issue during the remainder of his first term. It was only Mr Kerry who dared to attempt a peace effort after taking office during Mr Obama’s second term.
The influence of the American Jewish lobby is proverbially phenomenal in relation to US policy-making in the region. Israel is more than a strategic alliance partner and ally. Mr Netanyahu believes that it is tantamount to swatting a fly to shoot down the ghost of another Intifada. His energies seem to be more devoted to hindering any possible US-Iran rapprochement through the Jewish lobby’s hold on the US Congress, which would come into play were the administration want to lift the deeper economic sanctions imposed on Tehran.
The Palestinian issue and discussions with Iran are taking place against a changing scenario in the region. For one thing, the vicious civil war in Syria is fuelled by the immunity from American attack President Assad has won by permitting the cataloguing and destruction of his chemical weapons as he seeks to drive home his advantage against rebels. For another, outside proxies are very much part of the Syrian tragedy.
The Shia-Sunni faultlines are much in evidence in the region. Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia see the Iranian nuclear programme as being very much in the nature of an Iranian quest for regional hegemony. Ironically, Saudi Arabia and Israel are on the same side as far as dealings with Iran are concerned. Turkey seems to have softened its hard line against President Assad, given the evolving US position although it still serves as a hub for opponents of the Assad regime.
However, the Palestinians’ return to the bright lights is an indication that much of the folklore and passions in the region are tied up in the Arab mind to the occupied holy city of Jerusalem. Arafat’s metaphorical phoenix-like rise from the ashes reveals that the occupation and annexation of Palestinian land are Muslim problems and Arab problems. Admittedly, President Obama has announced a “pivot” to the East, but the umbilical cord that ties American power to Israel is breeding increasing levels of anti-Americanism. Thus far, Tel Aviv has successfully negotiated its subjection of Palestinians and occupation of their land on the strength of US power.