Sam Bahour, 6 Dec 2010
The United States is at a crossroads in its mediation of Middle East peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. The Obama administration can no longer walk on the Israeli side of the line–which is exactly where the US has been since Israel’s creation–while continuing to pay lip service to the illusion of walking on the thin line of fair mediation. Unfortunately, neither the US, nor anyone in the Palestinian leadership for that matter, has proposed anything beyond brushing the dust off already-failed initiatives and placing the burden for progress on the need for more Palestinian concessions; concessions that do not exist.
The international euphoria surrounding the US bear hug embrace of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah is about to quickly pass and, come autumn 2011–the Fayyad government’s declared target for Palestinian statehood–the region will find itself exactly where former President George W. Bush left it: at a dead end.
What is urgently needed is a restructuring of international mediation addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Shuttle diplomacy by world powers unable or unwilling to commit to international and humanitarian law as a foundation for Palestinian and Israeli reconciliation is a waste of time, money and Palestinian and Israeli lives. Military occupation must end if good faith final status negotiations are ever to sincerely begin.
The US has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that its historic alliance with Israel, an “unholy alliance” as it has often been called, prohibits it from being a fair and impartial mediator. Over the years, the Israeli agenda has become a domestic US issue and is integrally linked to US elections, US foreign policy and aid, and the US military-industrial complex. The collapse of the infamous Oslo peace process gave the US a historic chance to clean its slate of its blind support to Israel. It chose not to do so, thus losing any impression of being a credible, impartial mediator.
The US is fully aware of its failed attempts at mediation, especially over the past 20 years, and thus moved to create the so-called “Quartet”. In essence, the Quartet attempted to camouflage the dominating US role in the conflict with the inclusion of the European Union, Russian Federation and United Nations. This fuzzy, ineffective diplomatic mechanism, which self-proclaims a mandate of mediating the conflict, falls short of having any real international legitimacy. Over the past years, the Quartet, currently represented by Tony Blair, quietly observed unprecedented Israeli aggression against Palestinians and a collapse of the peace process while doing little more than deciding how high to jump after being ordered to do so by the US.
An alternative to the Quartet would be to create a properly mandated UN Security Council mediation team in which no member would be allowed to exercise veto power. The team would be equipped with the necessary resources to bring Israel (the occupier) and the Palestinians (the occupied) to the table with the agenda of ending the 43-year Israeli military occupation of Palestinians. The basis for an end to the occupation would be dictated as prescribed in international and humanitarian law. This mediation team would have the authority to deploy a specified number of multinational peacekeeping forces should they be required.
The wild card actually blocking such a serious approach to mediation is the US. Why would the US accept a mediation arrangement that would definitely drive a wedge between the US and Israel? There are 101 reasons for the US to take a backseat in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, not the least being the quagmire that it created for itself in Iraq and Afghanistan or the constantly increasing costs that Israel is inflicting upon the US, both financially and politically. Sooner or later, the US must take action to remove Israel from dominating its domestic agenda. With President Barack Obama past the mid-term elections, despite recovering from a setback, he should be able to breathe a little easier and spend serious political capital to repair some of the damage that was done to his presidency when he was forced to retreat from the showdown with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over continued illegal Israeli settlement building.
However, betting on the US or Obama to make a historic unilateral about-face is most likely a losing bet. The international community needs to urgently step up to the plate.
If the US refuses to cooperate on it own, then the international community can take action regardless. Under a well-known and tested United Nations procedure called “Uniting for Peace” (General Assembly Resolution 377 A (V)), the UN General Assembly can demand a withdrawal of Israel from the occupied Palestinian lands. The General Assembly may also call for a United Nations peacekeeping force to be sent to Palestine to protect Palestinians from the occupying power. The “Uniting for Peace” procedure has been used before, by none other than the United States.
International law must be defined and applied by the world institutions that were established for the purpose, and not by the existing superpower or the party to the conflict that can hire the better public relations firms or has the stronger military. The clear and unequivocal end to Israeli occupation, in all its forms, has the power to bring justice, security and stability to a region on the verge of self-destruction. – Published 6/12/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman.