Opinion | Columnists

Time is running out for peace

Come November, the turbulence in the Middle East may once again emerge should the Palestinian Question remain unresolved

  • By George S. Hishmeh | Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 October 4, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: AP
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

The Palestinian Question has been temporarily shelved — hopefully only till November — much to the disappointment of many a Palestinian who was expecting the ball to start rolling this month.

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas painted to the UN General assembly last week a horrendous view of “the catastrophic danger of the racist Israeli settlement of our country, Palestine.” He underlined the daily reality of the Palestinians: “At least 535 attacks [were] perpetrated since the beginning of this year” and militant Israeli colonists harassing “our people, our mosques, churches and monasteries and our homes and schools”. In the end, he continued, the “final map,” would constitute “small Palestinian enclaves surrounded by large Israeli settlement [colony] blocs and walls, checkpoints and vast security zones and roads devoted to [illegal] settlers [colonists].”

Regrettably, neither western — particularly American — officials nor the media acknowledged this view or castigated any of the illegal Israeli actions. In fact, since President Barack Obama launched his shortlived peace process at the beginning of his term, Israel’s policies have hardly been criticised.

Despite the objections of the US government and obviously Israel, Abbas dropped his bombshell: “In order to enhance the chances of peace, we will continue our efforts to obtain full membership for Palestine at the United Nations.” He added that as a result of his “intensive consultations” he was confident that “the vast majority of the world supports our endeavour aimed at salvaging the chances for a just peace”.

What is peculiar here is that Abbas did not seem perturbed by any hostile reaction from the Obama administration or Israel. Does he believe that since his statehood bid comes up in November, his chances to win over US support are more likely if Obama is re-elected that month as US polls seem to indicate?

The Guardian reported that European government representatives had unexpectedly received a ”private” US memorandum at the UN General Assembly last week that warned them against supporting the Palestinian move. It cautioned that this step “would be extremely counterproductive” and threatened “significant negative consequences” for the Palestinian National Authority, including financial sanctions.

Reiterating a long-held US stance, the memorandum said that Palestinian statehood “can only be achieved via direct negotiations with the Israelis”, and urged European governments to oppose their bid for upgraded “non-member state” status at the UN General Assembly, seen as a significant diminution of Palestinian ambitions after its application for full statehood failed last year when it was blocked by the US in the Security Council. This time around, the Palestinians feel confident of their move since they have extensive support among third-world governments and UNGA members do not have veto power.

Should the Palestinians succeed, the Palestinians can then join other UN-related organisations like the International Criminal Court. Here, Israel is concerned that the Palestinians could then complain about its policies on colonies, the occupation of the West Bank and the siege on Gaza.

The other side of the coin is that the US government can, as it has threatened, cut any financial aid to the Palestinians, a measure that could backfire as the recent events in the Middle East illustrated tragically. Also, the oil-rich Arab states may face a serious challenge if they turn down any Palestinian request for financial assistance.

Come November, the turbulence in the Middle East may once again emerge should the Palestinian Question remain unresolved. If Obama returns to the White House there will be high expectations that he will immediately pursue a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli question. The view is also shared by many Arabs and Israelis.

The quest for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement has of late gained ground among several Israelis and American Jews. Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of leftist pro-Israel American group, J Street, feels that “the next US president will have only a brief window of meaningful diplomacy in the months following the elections”.

Alon Ben-Meir, who has authored seven books related to Middle East policy and is currently working on a book about the psychological dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, writes in The Huffington Post that if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict “remains unresolved over the next couple of years, it will most likely precipitate a massive violent conflagration to the detriment of the Israelis and Palestinians, and will also severely damage the US security, economic interests and its credibility in the [Middle East] region”.

 

George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com.

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