Abbas Reported to have Withdrawn from Israeli-Palestinian talks; Obama Mideast Policy Sabotaged by Netanyahu

Obama’s Mideast policy lies in tatters this morning and US credibility as a broker of any future settlement was deeply wounded.

Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, announced Wednesday that he had been informed by Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas that the latter has pulled out of indirect talks with Israel. Late Wednesday, the Arab League itself reversed its earlier cautious endorsement of the proximity talks, recommending that that support be dropped.

Israeli colonization of Palestinian territory lies at the heart of the Mideast conflict. It isn’t a complicated issue in the law, since Israel’s actions are clearly illegal and unethical to boot. But might makes right and Israel is the most powerful country in the Middle East, so all the protests on legal and humanitarian grounds have amounted to nothing.

The talks were likely deliberately sabotaged by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had his Interior Minister announce the construction of 1600 new households in Occupied East Jerusalem the day before they were scheduled to begin. In fact, Israel is actively planning 50,000 further housing units on occupied Palestinian territory. US Vice President Joe Biden had come to kick off the process with visits to Netanyahu and Abbas, but he has now been sent home empty-handed by Netanyahu’s sheer effrontery.

Netanyahu’s far rightwing coalition includes many members of the Knesset or Israeli parliament who are bound and determined to colonize every last inch of the Palestinian West Bank and to reduce the Palestinians to landless beggars. Were the prime minister to make too many concessions to the Obama administration, some of them might well pull out of his government, and it could easily fall. Netanyahu is convinced that the Clinton administration undermined him the last time he was prime minister, and he is determined not to allow that to happen again. So acted as though he was complying with US demands for a settlement freeze, but exempted part of Palestinian territory from the freeze. Then shortly before proximity talks were to begin he had his Interior Ministry announce further colonization, knowing that it would complicate or (better) nix the talks. Netanyahu knew that if he was pressed on the announcement, he could get himself off the hook by apologizing for his flat-footed minister’s poor timing. Biden did not buy this lame shadow play and neither will anyone else with any common sense.

Since 1949, the US has given Israel over $100 billion in direct aid, and the indirect forms of aid are orders of magnitude greater. That the vice president of the United States (and therefore the president himself) were ambushed by the prime minister in this arrogant and nearly sadistic manner raises the severest questions about why US taxpayer money should flow in such enormous amounts to a country that is actively and on a massive scale violating the Hague Agreement of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of populations by occupiers. And this at a time when the US budget deficit is ballooning and there is not enough government money to take care of the needs of US citizens. The argument that Israel is a security asset for the United States is undermined if the Israelis are provoking enmity toward the United States among 1.5 billion Muslims by their inexorable annexation of Palestinian land and daily oppression of the Palestinian people.

Biden took small bits of revenge on Netanyahu, such as going on Aljazeera English from the Occupied West Bank and denouncing the Netanyahu government’s plans to expand its colonies on Palestinian territory as “destabilizing.”

Obama is in real danger of seeing his allies lose respect for the United States once they see that Israel can treat him in this humiliating way with impunity. The security implications for the US are enormous. Many European allies feel strongly that Israel is an aggressor state in the region, and when Obama asks them for help in the fight against al-Qaeda, they may feel that Washington’s coddling of Israeli colonialism produced much of the radicalism that they are now asked to spend blood and treasure combating. Moreover, many leaders may be emboldened to treat Obama and Biden just as Netanyahu did, if the latter faces no consequences for his impudence.

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19 Responses

  1. And what will the Obama administration actually do about any of this? Most likely roll over and take it. Just like the previous time, and like the next one.

    Oh, Biden or Clinton may use some strong words – directed at Iran.

    Hard to imagine these people have any self-respect left. George Mitchell should quit.

  2. Israel is overplaying its hand on an industrial scale, and it is going downhill at an ever faster speed.

    The same happened to the white rule in S Africa. US and British support was steady for a long time(the hideous Mrs Thatcher described the then imprisond Mandella as a terrorist and claimed that Apartheid was sustaining 200,000 UK jobs.) But that support then quickly vanished and with it the regime.

  3. Excellent posting.
    That the USA Executive and Congress take all that humiliation may amount to treason.

  4. I wish you were wrong in your conclusions. The many of us who have long believed Israel to be the one true democracy in the Middle East need to reconsider our kneejerk support of Israel. It's no longer wrong to include "arrogant" and "aggressive" in the same sentence with Israel. For US policymakers, it's time to require more from Israel in return for our financial largess. For Israeli policymakers, it's time to review how harmful to the nation's longterm interests are these aggressives stances. Threats to peace in the Middle East come from many sides. It's not just Iran and radical Islam. Our own friends have to be blamed as well.

  5. I didn't agree with George Bush on many issues, but I agreed with his policy toward Israel/Palestine. He saw early on that he had no constructive role to play, so he stayed away. He accomplished nothing, but at least avoided the inevitable humiliation at the hand of our "no better friend." Furthermore, having conspicuously defied the US on colonization of the West Bank, can an attack on Iran, perhaps a nuclear attack, be far behind? Who's to stop them?

  6. This is indeed unprecedented. If the leader of the world's only superpower lets the leader of a puny client state that is utterly dependent on the US, derail what was to have been Obama's premier foreign policy initiative in this blatant in-your-face fashion, then who will to take Obama seriously?

    And not just once, this is the second time that Netanyahu runs circles around Obama and shouts nahnahninahna without Obama reacting.

    As you say, other powers, Iran, China, Russia and anyone except possibly Monaco, will draw the logical conclusions that Obama is a 100% certified paper tiger.

    Push back ever so gently and Obama will fold.

    This is embarrassing in the extreme, especially after all of Biden's gushing on arrival in Israel.

  7. Thank you, Mr. Cole, for your unvarnished assessment of the state of Israeli-US relations and its wider implications. Although the Israelis have continuously said they were in support of peace negotiations, their actions belie their words.

    I have never understood why we should continue to dole out aid to a country that has consistently acted in a way that puts our security at risk and has necessitated the expenditure of our treasure and the precious lives of our soldiers fighting in the region.

    I just hope Obama doesn't "turn the other cheek", as he seems prone to do.

  8. Abbas pulling away from the negotiating table is a misstep.

    He's given a "win" to the Israeli provocateurs. Why should they get a "veto"?

    The more willing of a negotiating partner, the more obvious that there is, indeed, a 'partner for peace' and more sharp are the criticisms of Israel's actions to reshape Jerusalem all for themselves.

    This type of clarity matters, especially in the Western media, who have to present "two sides" all the time.

  9. The Israeli government has continually been acting in a savage manner with regard to Palestinians, not just this government but before. After all, the war on Gaza was as savage and needless as can be imagined. I am continually appalled, and President Obama should long have been appalled but is obviously not. Obama had no words to say about Gaza, not even to ask a ceasefire. Obama has even condemned the Goldstone report.

  10. NYT on Mid East diplomacy.I think this editorial epitomizes the root cause of our failure to make a difference. Its the notion of symmetry between the two sides.
    "Mr. Biden said on Wednesday that the administration would hold both Israelis and Palestinians “accountable for any statements or actions that inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of talks.” That would be a very important start."

    So the punisher and the punished, the rich and the impoverished, the master and slave, the bully and the bullied, are held to the same standard. Our rationale is grounded on this image of an incipient Fourth Reich surrounding Israel, ready to take up where the Third left off – "never again".

    Until we accept the real world asymmetry and act accordingly, "turn the other cheek" will continue be our prime diplomacy mantra. We'll need very leathery cheeks.

  11. With this stance, did we just become friends with Palestine?

    Should the US, Haliburton, start to build up the Palistine area of Israel?

    Can the US executive lift economic sanctions on the palistinians? To support their right to life.

    Could we send in troops to patrol the areas inside the walls? (To keep Israel out)

  12. "when Obama asks [Europeans] for help in the fight against al-Qaeda, they [overwhelmingly believe] that Washington's coddling of Israeli colonialism produces much of the radicalism that they are now asked to spend blood and treasure combating." bingo. imho The only Europeans who do support western military occupation of IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN are either ideological racists, or an odd assortment of politicians, militarists and industrialists who do so for some self-interest. Everyone, I do mean everyone else sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as THE issue that defines all other Middle East angst and animus towards the West.

  13. The fact of the matter is that these so called indirect peace talks were a sham. Israel is not an honest partner. There can never be any peace until the aggressors change their attitude and Israel has, if anything, gotten more aggressive in its tactics of late.

    I think Eli Yisha did an awesome thing (with or without the Yahu's approval) for lifting the curtain from this sham peace process… A point well made in this
    Gideon Levy article.

  14. Lennart: I'd say Obama's premire FP initiatives are in Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment…

    But aside from that, does Obama have the power to cut off any subsidies? I don't see how he could. That all comes from Congress, and there is no way Congress will cut off those funds. No Republican (aside from maybe Ron Paul) would vote to stop sending funds to Israel. Nor would a majority of Democrats.

    Bibi knows this, which is why he can spurn the executive in this fashion. I don't know what the Obama administration could practically do in response.

  15. We will never allow the Arabs to expel the Jews from Palestine. The Israelis know this. So our leverage over Israel is non-existent. We will not have leverage over Israel until we are willing to cut off all aid and leave Israel to the not so tender mercies of its enemies. Don't wait around waiting for this to happen.

  16. That the Israelis intend an attack on Iran is more than likely. Iran's support of Hezbollah in Lebanon prevents Israel's access to the Litanni River. Their support of Hamas keeps Palestinian resistance alive. Doubtless, the Israeli's believe – and are almost certainly right – that the U.S. and the U.K. will ride to their assistance when they launch such an attack, at a time of their choosing. Sadly, rapidly escalating oil prices will destroy what's left of the struggling U.S. and world economies, and might well cause a backlash against the Jewish people as a whole, the majority of whom appear to favor peace and dialogue over aggression. I council them to use their influence to stop the Israeli government's lunacy. As for the American political class, like Lieberman, who are salivating at the prospect of slaughtering Iranian civilians, vote them out.

  17. tdraicer:

    Actually our soldiers have never fought in the region because of Israel, though Israel refrained from defending itself in the first Gulf War necause of our soldiers. 9/11 didn't happen because of Israel, nor did our folly in Iraq.

    And there ARE two sides here-those that see Evil Israel and Good Arabs are as blinkered as those who see only the reverse.

    There is the Israel of Bibi and Likud. But there is also this Israel.

    link to

    And in that Israel lies whatever hope there is for the future.

  18. What's to stop the US retaliating not so much by cutting aid to Israel (which congress just won't do), but by building a far more open relationship with the Palestinians, sending THEM aid too, building up infrastructure, American schools, etc (dare the Israeli's to let video footage be created of them destroying buildings built by America, with big American seals on the outside).

    The Israeli hawks will be furious, but what can they do to stop it? Two can play at this game.

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