By Ramzy Baroud - Special to Gulf News
Judging by the final statement of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit held in Cairo on February 6-7, Arab and Muslim countries have little to offer Palestinians — or anyone else for that matter — apart from the ever-predictable rhetoric and promises of financial assistance.
Fiery speeches and passionate avowals made by representatives of the 57-member organisation often attempted to cover for political deficiency, if not ineptitude. Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President, Mahmoud Abbas, had perhaps summed up the sorry spectacle with a ‘Freudian slip’ during a speech in which he thanked ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak for his support of Palestinians, instead of the new, democratically-elected President Mohammad Mursi. To some degree, little has changed for Palestinians since Mursi replaced Mubarak at the helm of Egyptian politics.
Abbas must know that the OIC is a weak organisation. It reflects the existing status quo as opposed to attempting to inject a new reality of a united Muslim front amid growing challenges — wars, sieges, terrorism, foreign interventions, famines and much more.
However, Abbas is unlikely to confuse various American or Israeli officials the way he confused Mubarak with Mursi. In fact, Abbas represents a generation of “pragmatic” Palestinian leaders who, in the course of the last two decades, refocused their political efforts by seeking support and validation from various US administrations, rather than finding alternative political allies elsewhere. The fact that such faith in Washington has yielded no result and that it has cost Palestinians their traditional allies and worsened their plight in every respect, the attitude has not changed. It has morphed into a culture that believes in the formidability of Washington and the irrelevance of everyone else.
To an extent, one can understand the enthrallment with Washington’s power in the Middle East — after all, for many years, it has single-handedly shaped the region by overthrowing its enemies and installing or sustaining its friends. However, in the case of Palestinians, it is no secret that Washington has been the main obstacle before any effort at holding Israel accountable to its human rights violations and illegal occupation of Palestinian land and that its might and outreach has been used in every way possible to chastise and punish Palestinians while aiding and abetting the Israeli government.
Some mistakenly thought that the last few months were about to usher in a change of course in the Palestinian leadership’s political attitude, but despite much sabre-rattling by Israel and the US administration and hyped up expectations by the Palestinian leadership, the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state at the UN late last year is on its way to becoming yet another footnote in a protracted conflict that has endured for 65 years.
Only hours after the announcement, Israel had its own announcement to make: The building of a new illegal colony on Palestinian land that is in an area Israel calls the E-1 zone. A couple of European countries responded with greater exasperation than usual, but soon moved on to other seemingly more pressing issues. The US called Israel’s spiteful move “counterproductive”, but soon neglected the matter. Palestinian activists who tried to counter Israel’s illegal activities by pitching tents in areas marked by Israel for construction, were violently removed. For now, Israeli bulldozers prevail as they have for the last 45 years.
Currently Abbas’ PNA has come to a standstill. It is in an urgent need for a lifeline. If Washington had been of any service to the PNA, it was in its ability to throw it lifelines during hard times. The US administration of Barack Obama is soon to oblige.
Obama is scheduled to visit the Middle East next month. Unlike his first term in office — when he initiated his presidency with the appointment of former senator George Mitchell as a special envoy in the Middle East, amid high expectations of achieving the elusive Israel-Palestine peace — this time, he is likely to tread very carefully without completely abandoning the peace process. His new Secretary of State, John Kerry, reportedly conversed with both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — another sign of American inclination to re-engage both parties. This time around, however, US officials insist that there is no peace initiative per se with specific details. Snubbed repeatedly by Netanyahu during his first term in office, Obama will try to avoid outright embarrassment. The Israeli prime minister must be comforted with Obama’s current knowledge that in any future attempt at swaying the Israeli government towards peace talks, Obama is likely to face walls of resistance, not just in Israel but from US Congress, the powerful Zionist lobby and pro-Israel media.
Israel’s political elites are busy trying to shape their next coalition government and extending the Knesset’s political boundaries to the extreme right and centre. However, such terminology — as in right, left and centre — is only relevant in Israel and will have little or no impact on any possible peace with Palestinians. Much of Israel’s objectionable acts in the past, land grab and wars took place under ‘left’-leaning governments. Netanyahu is merely an expression of Israeli political obstinacy. With him or without him, little will change as long as the US–Israeli alliance continue to defy international law, and conspire to quash Palestinian aspirations for long-denied freedom and rights.
Israelis continue to look into the political drama unfolding in Washington with much interest, even if only to be reminded of the power of their ‘friends’ in Congress and the influence of their ever-faithful lobbyists. The US administration is still assembling its team for Obama’s second term in office and of course, Israeli interests are high on the agenda. Two nominations in particular were of much interest to Israel — that of Kerry and Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defence.
Before Kerry’s confirmation, a Voice of America website commentary posed a mundane question in relation to his new post on February 1: “Can Secretary of State John Kerry bring peace to Israel and the Palestinians?” Israeli media, however, is far more candid in these matters. “Is John Kerry good for Israel?” asked Yedioth Ahronot on its English website. “He may be a friend of Israel, but is not considered the standard bearer for Israel at the Senate,” the Israeli paper quoted a state official. If Kerry is not good enough, one can only imagine the seething anger of neoconservative and other pro-Israeli pundits and officials at the nomination of Hagel, whose past statements on Israel and Iran are neither those of “standard bearers for Israel” nor anything that resemble a commitment of any sort.
In an all-day confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers pounced on the former Nebraska Republican senator regarding everything he said or failed to say (or sign) over issues of vital interest to Israel. It was difficult to decipher whether Senator John McCain and Senator Ted Cruz were more concerned about genuine US security issues or Israel’s ‘security’ masquerading as vital US national interests. The oddity of the matter is that Hagel is chastised for criticising the immense power wielded by the pro-Israel lobby in Washington — as if his allegations were mere fantasies — despite the fact that the major campaign that was unleashed against his nomination was by the very forces he rightfully criticised.
Few expect a major departure from old policies once the new Washington team is fully assembled, although others underscore a slow but steady shift in US priorities in the Middle East. Even if one adheres to a more optimistic reading of the supposed ‘shift’ underway in Washington, one cannot expect a major change in Israel’s behaviour in the Occupied Territories. Without a real mechanism to force an Israeli change of course — which must be accompanied by taming the disproportionately powerful Zionist lobby — little on the ground is likely to change.
Israel will continue to bargain for the best possible deal from Washington; the latter will continue to oblige. Abbas and his authority are unlikely to abandon their ‘pragmatism’ in which they invested much time and efforts. For them, there are numerous perks at stake, money and political validation notwithstanding.
Meanwhile, Palestinians are trapped between this sorry trio of Israel-US-PNA ‘peacemakers’. Unless they find an alternative, they can only expect more of the same: Talks of peace and a peace process, yet more illegal Jewish colonies, violence and thrashed hopes. This was the case during Obama’s first term in office and will continue until a paradigm shift takes place.
- Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).