The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Palestininan-Isreali Peace Talks in Danger
Vice President Joe Biden should be commended for what has been repeatedly referenced as his “unusually blunt” criticism of the Israeli announcement earlier this week that it planned to build 1600 new apartments in East Jerusalem.
What has not gotten much mention is that the rather strong statement of condemnation is representative of a minor but yet very significant shift in the US’s official position when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Obama Administration should be applauded for, at least this time, appearing as an even-handed negotiator.
I referenced the administration’s public criticism of Israel as minor principally because even as Biden was chiding the Israeli government for this action, he was quick to tow the traditional US line: vituperatively declaring the US government’s unwavering support of Israel; its # 1 ally in the Middle East.
The problem with this centerpiece to the US policy in the region is that it undeniably undercuts any claim by the US of being a disinterested, neutral third party. It causes the Palestinians, and other concerned interests for that matter, to approach these iterations of moves by the US to revive the peace process with much distrust and trepidation.
Regarding the Israeli decision to expand and consolidate its holdings in East Jerusalem, coming on the heels of another US brokered agreement to re-start long-stalled indirect talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, this move by Israel has been characterized by almost everyone involved but the Israeli government as not only having the potential of scuttling these talks but being an affront to any person modestly interested in peace in the region.
As ought be expected, the Israeli government did what it does best: denial and obfuscation. It first indicated that it was either unaware of the plan to erect the new structures or claimed that it did not directly sponsor it. Once the incredulity of this position finally set in, it reverted to arguing that the property in question was really not in contested East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, recoiled with despair and fury; and rightfully so, perhaps. Their Chief Negotiator, Saeb Erakat, declared that by this action the Israeli’s were clearly showing a lack of interest in peace. Referring to the internationally backed peace plan, he opined that “stopping settlements is not a Palestinian condition, it’s an Israeli obligation under the road map.”
Unless the US government, through Special Envoy George Mitchell, abandons the usual exchange of niceties (the Israelis calling us “true friend” and telling us that “it’s good to be home;” us reassuring them that “there is absolutely no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security”) and truly gets in front of this by pressuring Israeli to cancel its latest real estate expansion bid, the indirect talks might as well be as good as dead. The Palestinians will pull out and no one should fault them for this decision.