It is puzzling to see US President Barack Obama allowing Israel to drag him into another misadventure in the Middle East; this time with Iran. One would think Obama would do anything to avoid this Israeli trap after his predecessor George W. Bush got involved in the fruitless and costly war in Iraq — something that most Americans, and probably the former president, now regret.
The US experience with other regional conflicts has been drastic and heart-breaking and one wonders why the Obama administration will not follow the steps adopted by previous US governments in their relationship, for example, with the former Soviet Union, namely, the establishment of a ‘hotline’ between two governments.
There have lately been several suggestions by US pundits to resolve the row over Iran’s nuclear programme. The Tehran regime has repeatedly said its nuclear intentions are peaceful. Israel is the only nation in the region that has nuclear weapons and its aggressiveness has been demonstrated when its air force bombed two alleged nuclear labs, one in Iraq during the Saddam Hussain era and another in Syria.
Moreover, Israel’s nuclear arsenal has yet to be inspected by any international organisation and to date, unlike Iran, it has not joined the 190-member Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The best suggestion to date has been establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. “And it is more feasible than most assume,” wrote Dr Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Steven Kull, director of the Programme on International Policy Attitudes in an article published in the New York Times recently.
According to a poll they conducted in Israel along with the Dahaf Institute there, the two authors found that “a remarkable 64 per cent of Israeli Jews favoured the idea of a nuclear-free zone [in the Middle East], even when it was explained that this would mean Israel giving up its nuclear weapons”.
This is where Obama should be heading and once the ball starts rolling he then can turn his attention to the entire region, especially the Palestinian-Israeli conflict now in its seventh decade.
But this is not the Israeli government’s chief concern, although a settlement would include the entire Arab world. This is evident in its continued negative stance towards the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, two divided regions totalling only 22 per cent of original Palestine.
This led the Palestinian Ambassador in Washington, Maen R. Erekat, to recently voice his disappointment that “the US continues to provide unconditional diplomatic cover for Israeli policies that are detrimental to the peace process, such as colony construction and human rights violations”.
Here are some of Israel’s deplorable actions in the Occupied Territories which have yet to trigger a reprimand from the Obama administration who must now feel overwhelmed by all the negative statements from the Republican candidates about Palestinians:
- Israel’s Supreme Court has upheld the law banning Palestinians from permanently living in Israel with their Israeli Arab spouses, dashing the hopes of tens of thousands who were seeking to live there with their families.
- A Palestinian National Authority intelligence officer complained that illegal Israeli colonists burned his car in the West Bank, the latest in a string of similar attacks in recent months.
- A 20 per cent rise in colony construction across the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem over the past year during which time construction started on at least 1,850 housing units, with 3,500 units already under construction. Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, saw this as “deliberate vandalism”.
- A leaked European Union report on Area C in the West Bank, where 62 per cent of the territory is under Israeli control, is the starkest critique yet of how a combination of house and farm building demolitions; a prohibitive planning regime, relentless settlement expansion, the military’s separation barrier, obstacles to free movement, and denial of access to vital natural resources, including land and water, is eroding Palestinian tenure of the large tract of the West Bank on which hopes of a contiguous Palestinian state depends.
- Israel has stripped Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of VIP status and given him a watered-down travel permit that is valid for just two months.
Postponing the largest military drill between the US and Israeli military until later in the year is probably the best indication so far that Obama can still stand up and be counted. He reportedly told Israel “to back off in its actions and rhetoric on Iran”. Maybe we can now start crossing our fingers.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He is a former editor in chief of The Daily Star.