US mediation monopoly collapsing

Sam Bahour

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.

http://www.bitterlemons.org/issue/pal2.php

Happy smiling faces?

smiley5

Marian Houk, 20 August 2010

A new crop of billboards has gone up at strategic locations around Ramallah — that is, at the entrances to the city, where diplomats from donor countries is most likely to see them.

The second target seems to be the cadres of the Palestinian Authority’s various Ramallah-based ministries.

The billboards, sponsored by USAID, show headshots of various young people. Next to their faces are [in Arabic] the words:
“I’m very happy…about my new school…”etc.

This promotional campaign must have cost many, many tens if not hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars.

The new schools (seven of them, constructed by USAID and handed over to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in 2009) are great.

These USAID ads — are stupid and embarassing.

A few hours after these billboards were visible, the U.S. announced that invitations were being sent to Israel and to the current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah to come to Washington D.C. on 2 September for a [re]-launch of direct talks.

As the inevitable became apparent, Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour wrote on The Hill blog that “Palestine’s investment community remains in a wait-and-see mode. More peace talks will not spark the significant investments required to build an economy that can serve an emerging state. Serious state-building economic development requires land, water, access, movement, ports, and spectrum, which Israel remains in full control of today. My clients, and many like them, refuse to be misled, yet again, by another round of empty talk from politicians as settlements go up in East Jerusalem … Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to enter direct negotiations (yet again) in Washington on September 2 … The lead-up to these talks saw both Palestinian and Israeli leaders touting economic growth as a prelude to moving the political process forward. The growth they cite is hard to comprehend … the economy is micro-managed by a foreign military. Yet leaders, foreign and domestic, laud the temporary West Bank economic growth that results from a brief respite in a harsh crackdown. Very few in the U.S. Congress have done their homework to gauge if US policy is helping or actively impeding the prospects for peace. One brave congressman who has gone the extra mile is Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA). Rep. Baird sets a prime example of a legislator willing to challenge the current unhelpful US path. At a recent speaking engagement organized by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Baird advocated that his colleagues visit the West Bank and Gaza and see firsthand the results of the current policy. He noted that ‘they’re certainly ignorant about what’s happening on the ground in Gaza because they’ve never been’ and they’re nearly as ‘ignorant about what’s happening in the West Bank because they haven’t been to a checkpoint…” Sam Bahour’s analysis is posted here.

  • Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site. She is a Member of the Online News Association, Member of the Foreign Correspondents Association (in Israel) and Marian Houk is a past President (1986) of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY

Sam Bahour

Sam Bahour
Sam Bahour

Sam Bahour

Sam is a Palestinian-American based in Al-Bireh/Ramallah, Palestine.  He is a freelance business consultant operating as Applied Information Management (AIM), specializing in business development with a niche focus on the information technology sector and start-ups.  Sam was instrumental in the establishment of the Palestine Telecommunications Co. (PALTEL) and the PLAZA Shopping Center and currently serves as a Board of Trustees member at Birzeit University and is the University’s treasurer.  He is also a Director at the Arab Islamic Bank and a founding Board member of the community foundation Dalia Association.  Sam writes frequently on Palestinian affairs and has been widely published.  Sam is co-editor of HOMELAND: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians and may be reached at sbahour @ palnet.com and his work may be found at www.epalestine.com.