US President Barack Obama has now surprisingly admitted publicly that his four-year Syrian intervention has so far failed as Russia, in turn, launched an impressive offensive against opponents of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Yet, the attention in the coming days will most likely focus on his upcoming meeting next month with the discredited Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has also lost a degrading fight with the US (and four other European nations) over the deal they reached with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
The turbulence engulfing Israel and the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and even within Israel has meanwhile reached high levels, is being identified as a third Palestinian “intifada” or uprising.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees last Monday condemned the recent murder and injury of Palestinians by Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank including occupied East Jerusalem, largely populated by Palestinians and where more than 27 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds of others in the West Bank.
The UN agency reminded Israelis that security forces should use firearms against individuals only in certain situations, including “self-defence or defence of others against imminent threat of death or serious injury”. It added: “An entire generation of Palestinians is at risk. All political actors must act decisively to restore their [Palestinians’] hope in a dignified, secure and stable future.”
In a statement slamming Israel’s recent actions, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, declared: “Indiscriminate or deliberate firing on observers and demonstrators who pose no imminent threat violates the international standards that bind Israeli security forces.”
Netanyahu’s November 9 trip to Washington will be his first since the failed, arrogant attempt to torpedo the agreement with Iran in a shameless appearance before the US Congress, which ultimately supported Obama’s praiseworthy step. Obama’s initiative was also criticised by influential American Jewish groups, including the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The upcoming meeting — which in part will focus on mending their poor relationship in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, curtailing Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for some sanctions relief, — will most likely deal with the ongoing violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and even in other parts of the Arab communities inside Israel.
This is a golden opportunity for Obama, who has more than one year remaining in office, to push Israel into reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, who have been under harsh Israeli occupation for nearly 50 years — an ugly situation that merits immediate attention.
Obviously, this may be very difficult for a right-wing Israeli regime that has many expansionist partners within the government — as evidenced in the growing number of illegal Israeli colonies in the occupied West Bank — who may be reluctant to take any serious steps, Netanyahu should nevertheless be encouraged by his American patron to reveal Israel’s borders. This should also be followed by eliminating forthwith the illegal Israeli colonies.
Gilead Sher, a former Israeli senior peace negotiator and Netanyahu’s Chief-of-Staff, lamented last week in an article published by the Washington-based Brookings institution that “we are being dragged into a choice between a Jewish-dominated apartheid-like state and a shared unitary, Jewish-Palestinian state”, adding that, “preservation of the status quo runs counter to the Israeli interest”.
He continued: “The new framework should include a regional dialogue broadly based on the Arab Peace Initiative [endorsed by 22 Arab states] and bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians.”
But whether Netanyahu will be able to twist the arms of his extremist colleagues in the Israeli government is unlikely, a situation that may prompt him to dissolve his cabinet and try to form a new government should the Knesset renew his term in office.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu reportedly “sabotaged” the mission of a delegation of Mideast Quartet diplomats who were set to arrive in the Occupied Territories to help end the violence there.
“The Israelis told us that this is not a good time to talk about diplomatic matters,” a western diplomat told the Israeli media last Monday after reports that the envoys from the Middle East Quartet had been told by Netanyahu to cancel their trip to the Occupied Territories this week.
In other words, Obama may have a tough encounter next month, and it remains to be seen whether he is willing to be firm.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He is a former editor in chief of the Daily Star.