All hopes were dashed this week when United States President Barrack Obama, who was in Paris at what has been described as one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in history to deal with the abhorrent consequences of climate change, failed to highlight the nearly 50-year-old conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, with the latter now in virtual control of the Holy Land.
Even the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who went to the Middle East on his way to the Paris conference, has hardly begun to arrange talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose stance on a peace accord has been miserable.
The fact is that Obama, who raised much hope in the region when he visited the Israeli–occupied Palestinian Arab sector and Israel during his initial days in White House, has now obviously abandoned his peace mission. The reason was his fear that it would mar his reputation, as has been the case with former US president George W. Bush in his unsuccessful military invasion of Iraq.
In Obama’s case, however, American military involvement was out of question. All that was needed was some arm-twisting, despite the amazing influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the US, as demonstrated when Netanyahu visited the US Congress in March this year to try to derail the nuclear deal with Iran.
In a column in the Washington Post last Tuesday titled, ‘The president who lost his voice’, Richard Cohen observed that Obama’s problem is that “he often has nothing to say” not that he lost his eloquence. He, however, explained: “It is on foreign policy particularly where he goes empty and cold”, adding, “his policy, after all, is to avoid yet another Middle East quagmire. It entails the ringing call to do as little as possible”.
There are countless Israeli decisions and actions that Obama, or Kerry, could put a stop to. One issue was the decision of the European Union (EU), which he should support. Last month, the EU set new guidelines requiring that the illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank, where more than half a million Israelis now occupy exclusively, should clearly label export products as coming from Occupied Palestinian Territories. In other words, the colonies may no longer use the “Made in Israel” label for Europe-bound goods.
The suggestion is that they should say the products come from a “colony” in the Occupied Territories and products made by Palestinian-owned enterprises could be labelled “product from the West Bank or the Golan Heights”.
Adding to the short-sighted Israeli policies, Netanyahu revealed last week that his government would establish roads for Israeli colony drivers in certain areas of the West Bank and more broadly would revoke work permits for the relatives of the Palestinian attackers. At present, the homes of Palestinian families, whose children are involved in bloody conflicts with Israeli colonists, are, as a punishment, unfairly demolished.
In another offensive anti-Palestinian measure, reported by Mondoweiss.org, a US-based website, the Israeli government has threatened to close the Palestinian National Theatre, Al Hakawati, in occupied Jerusalem. Founded in 1984, Al Hakawati is the only remaining Palestinian theatre, reported Abir Kopty, and one of the few remaining cultural institutions in occupied Jerusalem, after the prolonged Israeli destruction of Palestinian cultural and political life in the city. Kopty concluded that the threat to the theatre “shows how poor political and (unconditional) financial support” is offered to Palestinian institutions in the West Bank.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He is a former editor in chief of the Daily Star.