A few days ago I read an article in the leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz about US President Barack Obama's recent initiative which suggested that Israelis and Palestinians use the 1967 lines as a starting point for a negotiated delineation of borders between Israel and the future Palestinian state.
The article pointed out that the Palestinian leadership had accepted the Obama initiative but that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had reacted furiously, and publicly rejected Obama's initiative, was somehow expected to give a formal answer.
The article was entitled "White House waiting for Netanyahu to accept Obama's peace talk principles." I was struck by how the events that accompanied the Obama initiative and the Israeli reaction to it seemed to come straight out of the theatre of the absurd. How else can one characterise the lop-sided relationship? Consider the audacity of the prime minister of a tiny country that virtually totally depends for its economic survival and military hegemony on the only remaining superpower, publicly and unceremoniously dressing down the president of the most powerful country in the world.
The analogy with the theatre of the absurd gained more legitimacy when I read the headline of the article I mentioned above. "The White House waiting for Netanyahu" has striking resemblance to Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot. In the play Godot never comes; in real life Netanyahu came to Washington, but he might as well have stayed home and contented himself with a violent statement from his office denouncing the Obama initiative.
He could have still displayed absurdly disproportionate power over his benefactor by sending a message to the powerful Israeli lobby, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) instructing it to request that the American congressmen pass a resolution supporting Netanyahu's rejectionism and denouncing the position of their own president. The two characters in Waiting for Godot considered alternative ways to pass the time while waiting for Godot, they settle on ‘doing nothing' because it would be ‘safer' and agree that if and when Godot shows up, he should do nothing too. To say that Netanyahu is doing nothing to advance the peace process would be to adopt an absurdly generous interpretation of his policy. He is in fact, by any standard of objectivity, doing everything he can to torpedo the peace process and make the goal of establishing a Palestinian state so remote and distant so as to lose its viability. Consider his strategy: he calls for negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions then proceeds to list a series of conditions of his own. He claims to accept the idea of a Palestinian state, then proceeds to do everything to prevent it from coming into being. He rejects the conciliation agreement between the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas and wants to have a veto over the composition of his interlocutors.
Even the Obama initiative itself was not without its own absurdities. The Obama initiative emphasises that the 1967 lines are only a starting point and the final borders will be agreed upon by the parties themselves. But since the balance of power between the parties is grossly unequal, what is there to prevent the powerful party — the Israelis — from behaving exploitatively towards the weaker party — the Palestinians? But the biggest absurdity of all was how the prime minister of Israel manipulated the political process of its benefactor — the United States — to deliver a most public and most humiliating rebuke to the hesitant peace initiative of the president of the US.
This episode took place when Netanayhu — through the Israel lobby — had the American congress invite him to address both chambers — a rare honour reserved for very special occasions. The first and most visibly intriguing manifestation of the absurdity here was in the blind support Netanyahu's rejectionist speech received from the representatives of both parties.
The New York Times observed that members of both parties stood to applaud Netanyahu so often they seemed to be listening to his speech standing. Someone counted 29 standing ovations for Netanyahu — apparently more than the president of the US himself received during his last state of the union address. The absurdities did not stop there. The Democratic leadership in both chambers (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) had no problem siding with the rejectionist views of the Israeli prime minister against their own president, inflicting untold damage to the prestige of US foreign policy and that of Obama himself.
The gathered American congressmen rose to their feet to applaud Netanyahu when he made some glaringly absurd ideological assertions. As when he claimed that Israeli forces and Jewish colonists in the West Bank were not foreign occupiers because this was "the land of our forefathers..." In so doing the American congressmen were placing themselves squarely on the side of the religious right.
In giving Netanyahu raucous applause when he rejected the 1967 lines and defended plans for the annexation of occupied Palestinian territories — the American congress placed itself on the side of violators of international law and countless UN resolutions. The American congress — where lawmakers defend human rights, uphold rule of law, and champion the principles of equality in the vibrant democracy that is America — has absurdly ignored these principles here.
It rejected international law and UN resolutions; religious arguments as foundations for the international relations system have been accepted, and principles of justice and law in favour of the balance of power between the parties disregarded. Consider the absurdity of this position: one party armed to the teeth and whose security is paramount and guaranteed by the US; the other party demilitarised and whose security is hardly part of the equation. Having listed a series of non-negotiable demands that prejudged the outcome of a negotiated settlement, and having received an absurdly astonishing support from both parties in the American congress, Netanyahu went home satisfied that he blocked any chance of a negotiated settlement. Last week he went to Italy and could confidently stated: "This is an insoluble conflict".
Adel Safty is Distinguished Professor Adjunct at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky, and published in England by Garnet, 2009.