Whiff of positivity in Middle East

Once again, US President Barack Obama missed another golden opportunity last week to castigate Israel for its loud criticism of the American leader’s achievement in negotiating a preliminary agreement with Iran to derail its nuclear ambitions, which he described as “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

In an exclusive interview with Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist with the New York Times, Obama said “this is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon”. But Obama’s position towards Israel figured prominently in the interview, especially that he was labelled as “anti-Israel” by some Israelis and American Congressmen — particularly Republicans, who have been receiving sizeable donations for those running for Congress next year.

Unabashedly, he told Friedman: “This is an area that I’ve been concerned about … Look, Israel is a robust, rowdy democracy … We share so much. We share blood, family … And part of what has always made the US-Israeli relationship so special is that it has transcended party and I think that has to be preserved. There has to be the ability for me to disagree with a policy on (illegal Israeli) settlements [colonies], for example, without being viewed as opposing Israel. There has to be a way for Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to disagree with me on policy without being viewed as anti-Democrat and I think the right way to do it is to recognise that as many commonalities as we have, there are going to be strategic differences … But this has been as hard as anything I do because of the deep affinities that I feel for the Israeli people and for the Jewish people. It’s been a hard period.”

That was the only reference to the Palestinian conflict in the interview. Regrettably, he could have decried the continued illegal Israel expansion in the occupied West Bank or the mistreatment of Palestinians still living in their usurped homeland, where for example, the Gaza Strip residents are suffering immensely since Israel continues to besiege the hapless region where nearly two million Palestinians remain there.

But in fairness to Obama, he revealed in a radio interview this week that he had rejected a call by Israel for any nuclear agreement with Iran to be conditional on Tehran’s recognition of the Israeli state’s right to exist. Moreover, it would have been much appreciated in the Arab world had Obama called on the Israelis to resume peace talks with the Palestinians — an urgent step since Netanyahu has recently declared that he does not expect a state of Palestine during his current term in office.

The Palestinians are now reportedly planning serious counter-measures prompted by Israel’s continued occupation and the failure of any noteworthy international step to take any serious action which is bound to mushroom should Iran and the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) reach a peace agreement by June 30, the deadline for the ongoing negotiations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this week threatened to turn to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over Israel’s refusal to release all the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money owed to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). In response to western pressure, Israel has offered only a part of the funds, a step that was rejected by the Palestinians. Additionally, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al Maliki revealed that the PNA leadership was in touch with the office of the ICC prosecutor to inquire about documents and information that would accelerate the investigation into Israel’s “war crimes”. He explained that the court “won’t focus only on the last Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, but would look into all what it considered as a war crime or a crime against humanity”. The PNA became a member of the court on June 13 last year.

Another Palestinian front is now under consideration, as revealed by the Palestine’s UN Ambassador, Riyad Mansour, to see whether the UN Security Council has “the political will” to adopt a resolution that will set a deadline for ending Israel’s occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.

France is on record as saying it would propose a council resolution in the coming weeks with a framework for negotiations towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama, too, has also promised to reassess US policy towards Israel, following Netanyahu’s recent statement in which he said he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on his watch. “That could be a possible sign that Washington would no longer shield Israel in the UN Security Council,” a senior Palestinian diplomat reportedly said.

An “Iranian settlement” and a “Palestinian state” underline the hope that the Middle East may once again be on the top of the international agenda, ushering in a positive year ahead — should militancy in the region subside.

GEORGE S. HISHMEH

 

Courtesy: Gulfnews

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