Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Image Credit: Gulf News archive

It was fortuitous that three prominent Americans spoke within days of each other to full-house audiences at three different think-tanks in Washington, blasting Israeli policies and the blatant favouritism of American administrations towards Israel and a failure to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, now in its 64th year. Shockingly, US media neglected the harsh criticism voiced within a mile’s radius of the White House.

The prominent American speakers were James A. Baker III, secretary of state during the Reagan administration (1989-1992); Chas W. Freeman, Jr., a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and President Barack Obama’s nominee as chairman of the powerful National Intelligence Council, but whose abrupt withdrawal from his appointment, in the view of Politico, “show[ed] Obama’s reluctance to signal a change to US policy in the Middle East that centres on standing beside Israel;” and Dr John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, a New York Times best-seller.

Speaking at the US Institute of Peace, Baker noted that the Arab Spring has “the potential to rearrange the political and social landscape in the Middle East in unpredictable ways”. But in the short-term, he cautioned, it may be quite problematic, making it harder for Arab leaders to engage in peace talks with Israel. However, in the future, the Arab Spring should “benefit the region, particularly if it leads to the spread of democracy, human rights, economic stability and social justice”.

About the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the former secretary said, “we are far from agreement” although the general outline of a two-state solution is “relatively” clear. “The peace process may not be dead,” he observed, “but it is clearly on life-support.”

Leadership and will

Here, he took a shot at the US for the lack of both “leadership and will” vis-a-vis the Palestinian issue, which he pointed out, has been the case in both the Republican and Democratic administrations.

“The window for a two-state solution continues to narrow,” Baker warned, “as [Israeli] settlers keep moving in the Occupied Territories”. He stressed the need “to kickstart the peace process before time runs out [because] with each new settler, it becomes harder for the Israeli government to make the compromise needed for peace”.

Here, he advised that the Palestinians must be united in supporting negotiations for peace, but, he continued, “the Israeli government must be the one that is prepared to lean forward for peace as [the late Israeli prime minister] Yitzhak Rabin was”. He then threw the gauntlet: “The current Israeli government fails that test.”

But Baker sounded adamant, feeling that nothing much can happen between now and next year’s American election, saying “there is no chance of breakthrough ...”

Speaking at the National Council on US-Arab Relations in late October, Freeman turned over almost every stone that outlined the one-sided relationship between the US and Israel. His punchline in the over 5,000-word statement: “The American-led ‘peace process’ is over. We blew it.”

Here’s what the forceful former ambassador advocated: “The United States must now let the international community do for [Benjamin] Netanyahu what [former President] Jimmy Carter did for [Israeli prime minister] Menachem Begin — make Israel an offer of peace it will not let its prime minister refuse.

Long-term choices

He elaborated: “This means ceasing to block the diplomatic tough love for Israel that only non-Americans can provide, and it means withdrawing US funding and other support for Israeli policies and programmes that harm US interests or constitute obstacles to peace. The combination of international pressure and diminishing US support is necessary to concentrate Israeli minds on the long-term choices before their country.”

Freeman recalled that it was Carter who “put the squeeze on Begin to accept what [Egypt’s president] Anwar Sadat had bravely offered,” adding that “there is no prospect that any elected or appointed American official could now act toward an Israeli leader with the determination that President Carter showed in September 1978 at Camp David.”

Conversely, he continued, “as long as the US fawns on Israel and uses drones and hit teams to carry out extrajudicial executions in an expanding list of Arab and Muslim countries, no president will have any credibility with the Palestinians, other Arabs, or the broader Islamic community”.

The former ambassador reminded his audience that Israel has once again demonstrated “its hold on domestic US politics remains unbroken”. He recalled that in recent months Israel “was able to compel our president to swear allegiance to expansive Zionism and to repudiate policies endorsed by his own and previous administrations as well as the international community”.

He stressed that by contemptuously overriding the views and interests of the US, Israel and its American claque debased and discredited American international prestige and regional credibility.” He pointed to a series of ever firmer votes of no-confidence by other nations in US leadership and diplomacy on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. This was obviously evident in the large vote that Palestinians received for their admission to Unesco.

He recalled: “The spectacle of members of Congress bouncing up and down like so many obsequious yo-yos as Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to them last May is irrefutable evidence of Israel’s hammerlock on US policy.” However, he underlined that US policy now “no longer decides what happens politically or economically in the Middle East”.

Dr Mearsheimer also voiced a similar concern when he told The Palestine Center last Friday that the US is now “obviously in deep trouble” in the Middle East and the situation is unlikely to change; “if it does, it will be for the worse”.

He added that the Arab Spring that is now engulfing the region represents “a sea change” because of the consequences for the US, especially if democracy spreads in the region. “What matters here is that public opinion in the Arab world is going to have a much larger impact than it has had in the past,” implying that Arab leaders will no longer be able to insulate themselves from their peoples. He then noted that the Arabs, by and large, tend to be “hostile” to the US.

Dr Mearsheimer expressed belief that Iran will pursue its nuclear enrichment programme and the US would not attack Iran. He then went on to describe the continued talk in the US capital about a two-state solution for the Palestinians and Israelis as “laughable”. He argued that Israel is planning to grab all the remaining Palestinian land and establish a “Greater Israel”, claiming that Netanyahu was elected on a platform that ruled out a Palestinian state. He added that he doubts the US will continue to pressure Israel to accept a two-state solution.

The university professor continued the “special relationship” between the US and Israel as “unprecedented ... in fact, it has no parallel in modern history, in recorded history”. The US aid to Israel is “unconditional” and no matter what Israel does it continues to get full American support. Here he pointed out that every American president since 1967 has voiced his opinion against continued colony-building, but Israel has never been punished for its continued expansion into Arab areas.

The bottom line came from a Frenchman. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who apparently did not realise that his telephone was live, confided to Obama that Netanyahu was “a liar”. The American president, who was attending the G20 meeting in Cannes, France, replied. “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.” 

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