Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Image Credit: Reuters

 After failing to arm-twist Barack Obama over Iran’s nuclear programme, Benjamin Netanyahu thought he could take his frustration out on Palestinians, especially those in the Gaza Strip. But, if anything, Israel’s four-day aerial bombardment has once again underlined that the number-one issue in the Middle East remains Israel’s failure to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians, most of whom lost 78 per cent of their homeland since 1948.

Without hesitation, the US president refused to accept the new Israeli ‘red lines’ vis-a-vis Iran and warned the Israeli prime minister that an Israeli attack at present was risky and will undermine American interests.

Obama stressed that he prefers to apply diplomatic pressure on Iran and that any bombing has to be approved by the US administration. Otherwise Israel will have to go it alone.

Much to Netanyahu’s obvious disappointment, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this week that a poll showed that 58 per cent of Israelis oppose a strike on Iran without US backing.

Similarly, an American poll released a few days later reported that only one in four Americans favours Israel conducting a military strike against Iran. Otherwise, seven in ten (69 per cent) favour the US and other major powers continuing to pursue negotiations with Iran.

This view is supported by Republicans (58 per cent), Democrats (79 per cent) and independents (67 per cent). This poll was conducted by the Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.

In an ill-advised bid to regain his posture, which was seriously damaged within Israel by his arrogance, Netanyahu chose to turn his guns on the Palestinians of Gaza, the region run by Hamas.

Back in August 2010, Israel claimed that a Palestinian fighter named Zuhair Al Qaisi, who is not a member of Hamas, was the mastermind behind an attack on Israelis on the road that runs alongside the Egyptian-Israeli border near Eilat. Eight people were killed and 25 Israeli soldiers were wounded in the attack.

Pack of lies

More than a year later, Israel initiated aerial bombardment of Gaza claiming that Al Qaisi and an aide, Mahmoud Al Hannani, were planning a similar attack. But an American press report published on the Mondoweiss website explained that “in order to manufacture a violent confrontation, the Israeli military simply concocted a lie that conceals what appears to be political considerations ... since the Israeli army had no proof that the men it assassinated last Friday were involved in the Eilat attacks”.

This week’s four-day assault on Gaza killed at least 26 Palestinians and left more than 80 others injured. Only three Israelis were injured by the 200 Palestinians rockets that landed in the southern Israeli region.

According to the Washington-based Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation to the US, “this Israeli escalation has been part of a larger war agenda” of Netanyahu. The intention was seen by the Palestinians as an attempt to “divert from Israeli violations in the Israeli-occupied West Bank”, including the establishment of illegal colonies there and “to thwart any efforts at reviving the political process between the two sides”.

The official PLO statement continued: “It is time that US officials stop condoning Israeli violations and transgressions. It is appalling to see such countenancing for Israel’s right to defend itself when the escalation was triggered by an unprovoked Israeli strike in Gaza. It is time for the US administration and members of Congress to stop shielding, from any reproach, a government with such a dismal record of blatant disregard for human rights and breaches of international law, norms, and conventions.” 

Regrettably, the US reaction was unbalanced. Much as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the Palestinian people “deserve dignity, liberty and the right to decide their own futures ... a viable, independent Palestine, alongside secure Israel,” she chose only to condemn “in the strongest terms the rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel.” Her failure to reprimand Israel for being the party that started the clashes was overlooked.

It’s surprising that Clinton or Netanyahu never realised that had a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict been reached, none of these fears prevalent in the Middle East nowadays would be in existence, or even imagined. This could be the case had the two parties reached an agreement on a two-state solution or a one-state agreement. Consequently, the Iranian threat would have been non-existent as it would be extremely unlikely that Iran would bombard a country where Arabs and Jews live side by side or as one entity.

Accordingly, the first logical step in this direction is for Israel to reveal its thinking about a settlement, something it has never disclosed. So it is time for Netanyahu (and his American friends) to start working towards this goal.

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