The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Israel/Palestine: Washington is the problem

Please take 15m of your time and watch this excruciating video of last Thursday's State Dept. briefing. It shows journalists ask the tough questions about the coming fiasco of a US veto at the UN when Mahmoud Abbas asks for recognition of Palestine as a state. My favorite bit is when the AP's Matt Lee asks (in bold):

QUESTION: But do you see going to the UN as anathema to an approach in getting them – why can’t it be embraced as part of an approach to get them back to the table instead of being viewed as an enemy of getting them back to the table?

MR. TONER: Well, Matt, again, what we’ve tried to be clear all along here is that our focus, and we believe the parties’ focus, should be in direct negotiations because it’s only by dealing with these issues through direct negotiations that they’re going to reach a settlement. So one-off actions in New York don’t accomplish anything at the end of the day.

QUESTION: But why can’t you --

MR. TONER: We’re going to continue to work today, tomorrow, through New York to get the parties back to the negotiating table. But our position all along – I don’t know how it could be more clear – is that we think these --

QUESTION: It can’t be any more clear. I’m not asking you what your position is.

MR. TONER: We think these --

QUESTION: I’m asking why you lack the creativity to use this as leverage to get them back to the negotiating table, instead of trying to fight a losing battle in which you’re going to be the only – you’re going to be isolated, the Israelis are going to be isolated, because if they go to the General Assembly, they’re going to win.

MR. TONER: Precisely because --

QUESTION: So why don’t --

MR. TONER: -- because we think it’s --

QUESTION: Why isn’t there anyone in this Administration that has the brainpower, the creativity, to use this as a positive thing to build momentum instead of regarding it as completely a negative thing?

MR. TONER: Because it’s counterproductive.


QUESTION: But that’s --

QUESTION: Why is it – it’s counterproductive to you. To the Palestinians, it gives them some kind of hope, some kind of confidence, that when they do sit down – let me finish – when they do sit down at the negotiating table, that they have more leverage than some kind of nonentity that they’re treated as now.

[Hat tip: Ali Gharib]

And then take a look at this from Haaretz:

Speaking to reporters in Ramallah, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said that a plan delivered at the last minute by U.S. envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross did not meet several Palestinian demands, thus convincing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the U.S. was not serious in trying to negotiate peace.

"David Hale and Dennis Ross came with a paper that was the last straw that he [Abbas] could take," said Shaath. "It seems that it was designed to be rejected."

One issue the Palestinians had with the American proposal was did not refer to disputed Israeli settlements as illegal, instead attributing their presence to demographic trends since 1967.

I'm no fan of Abbas but here he is right: the US is not serious about the peace process and cannot be serious as long as Israel lobby saboteurs like Dennis Ross are given positions on any administration's team. These guys (or people just as bad like Elliott Abrams in the Bush administration) have been doing the peace process merry-go-round since the George H.W. Bush administration in the late eighties. Except back then they weren't senior officials and could be shut down by James Baker.

It's has long become obvious to all players — the Arabs, the Europeans — that on Israel/Palestine the US is an obstacle to move around, not a factor that moves things forward. The Israelis might not budge if left to their own devices, of course, but without the protection of Washington they would at least be more sensitive to the pressure of others.