Enough Already: Let the Europeans Handle Israel

Cross-posted on Mondoweiss as Obama’s toast. Time for the Europeans to step in

President Obama’s apparent inability or unwillingness to force Israel to continue its partial settlement freeze has become an embarrassment. Since the U.S. has proved incapable of being an honest broker and standing up to the Israelis, it should withdraw from the negotiation process and defer to the Europeans who appear ready to take on the responsibility of working toward achieving a fair and reasonable resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict over Palestine.

It has become clear that President Obama is incapable of standing up to Israel and its right-wing Likud lobby in this country. While the President has talked the talk of taking strong action to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and gave a strong speech in Cairo indicating how he intended to work hard to ensure that the Palestinians finally get the state long-promised them, when faced with the difficulty of walking the walk of such a challenging policy, the President has repeatedly tripped, skipped, and now is crawling, humbled, in the opposite direction.

His first stumble occurred early in his administration when he failed to support his nomination of former U.S. Ambassador Charles Freemen to the post of intelligence czar when he was challenged and smeared by the Israeli lobby. That was a bad sign. Ambassador Freeman was an excellent choice and his views on Israel, while critical, were mainstream. Unquestioning admiration of Israel should not be a mandatory qualification for holding office in this country. Nonetheless, Israel’s veto caused Ambassador Freeman to withdraw, with little or no support or objection from the Obama administration.

The second stumble occurred after President Obama had quite properly insisted that all illegal settlement building by the Israelis stop, immediately and entirely. This long-overdue action predictably caused an uproar in the Israeli lobby and in Congress, the dependable right arm of the lobby. Instead of standing his ground, the President backed down after the Israelis offered a partial and leaky farce of a 10 month moratorium on illegal settlement building which excluded East Jerusalem and 3000 already approved building permits for West Bank illegal settlements.

The final and most embarrassing stumble occurred this past week when Prime Minister Netanyahu refused repeated administration requests to extend the partial freeze of illegal settlement building for even a few months to allow negotiations with the Palestinians to proceed. Instead of using all the power available to a U.S. president to force Netanyahu to extend the freeze, Mr. Obama instead decided to bribe Mr. Netanyahu with a huge package of diplomatic, political and U.S.-funded additional military equipment commitments to Israel. So far, that ludicrously one-sided bride has been rejected by Mr. Netanyahu.

It seems clear that the U.S., for whatever reasons, has proved incapable of having any positive influence on the Israelis toward achieving a fair and reasonable settlement with the Palestinians, and that our vital national security interests will continue to suffer great harm as a result. Since President Obama has not proved willing to or capable of standing up to the Israelis and the Israeli lobby in this country, the U.S. needs to withdraw from this charade and defer to our allies in Europe, including the Quartet powers, to resolve this conflict. The Europeans, who appear increasingly frustrated by President Obama’s dilatory conduct, are much closer to the problem, not, or at least less influenced by the Israeli lobby, and likely less intimidated by Israel than is the U.S. and its current president. Moreover, European leaders and diplomats have said repeatedly and emphatically that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem portions of Palestine are illegal. U.S. officials typically use terms like “unhelpful” when describing Israeli settlement activity.

Perhaps not coincidentally, President Sarkozy of France, in a press conference this week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, indicated that Europe needs to take an active role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Europe’s top diplomat, Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Unions High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Policy, and Vice President of the European Council, has spent the last two weeks consulting with U.S. and international diplomats at the UN in New York. She is now in discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders after consulting with US Special Envoy George Mitchell and Quartet Envoy Tony Blair. It seems likely she will attempt to have Europe play a much bigger role in resolving this conflict.

European nations, including those on its periphery like Turkey, are showing greater independence in criticizing and even sanctioning Israel for its illegal, oppressive conduct toward the Palestinians. For instance, Norway just informed Israel that it will no longer have access to Norwegian naval bases and Norwegian offshore waters for testing Dolphin-class submarines being built for it in Germany. That is a very harsh step showing clear displeasure with Israeli conduct.

Turkey, led by its articulate Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, has also staked an independent position very critical of Israel’s illegal conduct toward the Palestinians and has imposed severe sanctions on Israel for its conduct in Gaza and in the Gaza Flotilla incident. Turkey has also been pushing for greater international involvement in the Israel-Palestinian direct talks.

Speaking last Tuesday at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, Davutoglu stressed Turkey’s desire for greater involvement in Middle East issues. During a question and answer period after his speech, Davutoglu described Gaza as an open air prison for 1.5 million Palestinians. He said that more international involvement was needed to achieve the two state solution. He stressed the illegality of Israeli settlements under international law and pointed out that bargaining for a temporary freeze on an activity that was already illegal made no sense. Finally, he said the Palestinian issue was affecting the entire world and that solidarity from the international community was needed to impose the two state solution based on the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, and that an end of the road was needed, not a road map. He concluded by saying that while Turkey’s vision was peace, peace would not be attainable so long as some countries have more rights than other countries, alluding to U.S. favoritism toward Israel at the expense of Palestinian rights.

A few weeks ago, former U.S. Ambassador Charles Freeman was invited to give a talk to European leaders and diplomats in Norway entitled: Americas Faltering Search for Peace in the Middle East: Openings for Others? He too stressed that solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a vital national security interest of the U.S. and its allies. More importantly, he said that the U.S. was incapable of resolving the conflict and that, “Only a peace process that is protected from Israel’s ability to manipulate American politics can succeed”. He suggested greater European involvement coupled with enforcement of the rule of law and sanctions for violations of international laws by the Israelis as the best means for achieving a lasting settlement fair to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Deferring to the Europeans on the Israeli-Palestinian issue would have several advantages for the U.S., and for the negotiation process: It would reduce the political pressure of this issue on the U.S. and the Obama administration. It would undermine the ability of Israel and its U.S. lobby to manipulate and control the issue through its excessive influence on the U.S. mainstream media and Congress. It would put Israel in a much weaker, much more visible political position, where its immoral and illegal conduct toward the Palestinians would be exposed to daily critical scrutiny. European actions aimed at stopping and sanctioning illegal actions and conduct by Israel would not be threatened by U.S. veto power as is currently the case with United Nations efforts to sanction Israel. It would allow the Europeans to use their much greater economic leverage against Israel whose trade with Europe is almost double what it is with the U.S. Israel’s import trade with Europe is three and a half times larger than its import trade from the U.S. Finally, the much higher Muslim population in European countries will provide a counterweight to Israeli propaganda, and provide more balanced political pressure on European politicians who will hear the outrage expressed by their Muslim constituents about illegal and oppressive conduct by the Israelis in their continued occupation of the Palestinians.

It is regrettable that Ambassador Freeman did not get the support he deserved from President Obama when his appointment was opposed by the Israeli lobby. If he had been part of the Obama administration he might have convinced the president and his other advisors that a strong backbone is needed to conduct an effective foreign policy, and that minor, third tier states like Israel, should not be allowed to hinder the vital national security interests of the United States.

The U.S. needs to escape from its captive role as the enabler of Israel’s illegal and immoral conduct toward the Palestinians. We don’t need to be Israel’s eternal lap dog; it’s embarrassing, humiliating, and profoundly immoral for us to play this contemptible role. Let Israel deal with a new team of honest broker mediators, the Europeans. We can then watch contentedly from the sidelines and lick our paws.


This entry was posted in East Jerusalem, Israel, Israeli, Israeli settlements, Palestine, Palestinian, Settlements, West Bank and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Enough Already: Let the Europeans Handle Israel

  1. pabelmont says:

    Well, theoretical lawyers like to look at things from a “legal” viewpoint. Practical lawyers (and others) ask, “What will the judges say?” if there are judges, and “What will the power-brokers say?” if there are power-brokers and no judges, and “How many divisions has the Pope?” and so on.

    Today, international law is effectively ignored if the USA wishes it so. Period. So what UNGA-181 meant or means is not very important. Ditto UNSC 242. Sadly.

    The ICJ (International Court of Justice) did a bang-up job answering the question of the legalities of the WALL in the West Bank. See if here. reading this opinion, I surmise that the ICJ would (if asked by the UNGA) say that the settlements are illegal (as it has already said) and the settlers are present illegally (as it has pretty much already said) and both whould be removed, settlers by repatriation, settlements by demolishment (because this is what it said of the4 wall). (The idea of donating the settlement buildings to the PA or PLO inmstead of demolishing them has some attraction, but the ICJ said “demolish” or “dismantle”, I forget the exact word, as to the WALL).

    If the ICJ were to be asked and after a year or two made its well-considered opinion, thenm my guess is that whatever it said would be as thoroughly ignored (otbher things being equal) as its opinion about the WALL was.

    Until some disaster reduces the wealthy-fraction of USA to a banana republic (where the poor and middle class fractions of USA have long already been reduced), the USA government will continue to lord it over the world as it has long already done and the Palestinians will decline.

    If there is ever a come-upance, I hope that Israel is pushed back to 55% and what they give up is taken only from thoroughly wealthy-Jewish-occupied neighborhoods, not from poor-Jewish or Palestinian neighborhoods. That way, the people responsible for all that Palestinian suffering over 60 years can have a taste of relocation as a matter of justice (rather than as a matter of military arbitrariness or Nazi cruelty).

    But the remainder of my life-time is likely to be measured in years, not decades.

    • irishmoses says:

      I think the UN gambit gives the US a relatively painless way of getting out from under the “special relationship” and obligation to follow Israel and its lobby’s insistance on total US fealty on the I-P issue, while allowing no progress and continuing land thefts. This is devasting to our foreign policy interests as Obama has recognized by defining an I-P solution as a “vital national security interest” of the US.
      Unlike with the negotiated settlement route, the lobby has no influence on a decision by the president to order either an abstension or yes vote on a UNSC resolution regarding the status of a Palestinian state and/or the illegality of the settlements and the annexations of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. A part of that decision could be a finding that Israel has violated its obligations as a occupying power, and that it will immediately be replaced by a UN trusteeship, with say the US and India the new joint trustees to administer the WB, EJ, and Gaza, with a final transfer to the Arab State of Palestine to take place within one year.
      Ashrawi seems to be thinking along the lines of a trusteeship. See her interview in today’s Foreign Policy: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/11/09/radical_solutions_for_palestine
      This approach would have a lot of benefits: It would allow the depopulation of the settlements by outside powers which would avoid the internal strife (and likely civil war) if the Israelis tried to do it themselves. Settlers could be offered handsome relocation payments that would decease with time, encouraging early, nonviolent departures. Major infrastructure projects like airports, ports, elevated or underground tram between Gaza and WB, could be started under the trusteeship. Troops to enforce the trusteeship could come in through Jordan, avoiding direct confrontations with Israeli forces. While the Israelis might fight, that seems unlikely, particularly if the UN and the US guarantee Israel’s security as part of the deal. Most Israelis want to be rid of the settlement enterprise, and the sooner the better. It would also undermine the power of Israel’s religious right which many if not most Israelis detest.
      While the UN gambit may seem unrealistic, it is far less so than the “negotiated settlement” approach which has zero chance of success. The Israelis won’t provide their version of the two state solution because they know it will be unacceptable to the Palestinians. I have never understood why the Israelis are even entitled to negotiate this matter since both the settlements and the annexations are clear violations of the 4th Geneva Conventions. Its like allowing a thief to negotiate the amount of your loot he has to return, or allowing Saddam to negotiate what portion of Kuwait he would withdraw from.
      I say the UN gambit is the way to go.

      • pabelmont says:

        You write, correctly (for the foreseeable future): “It has become clear that President Obama is incapable of standing up to Israel and its right-wing Likud lobby in this country. ”

        How could be become capable of standing up to the lobby? How can he become independent of political payoffs called campaign contributions?

        The way for any USA president to get out from under the lobby is a very hard and very unlikely path (unless pure political courage is tried and also works): the president must disclaim political money for his re-election and decline to be part of fund-raising for his party or its candidates. If there is no payoff by THE LOBBY there will also be no control. However, the Congress will still be “owned” and the president will also have to move away from doing things that require Congressional assistance, such as proposing legislation. See: http://123pab.com/blog/2010/11/Advice-to-President-Obama-after-the-election-become-explainer-general-and-act-unilaterally.php.

        If the USA were to vote for Palestinian statehood in UNGA and/or UNSC, the lobby would kick in in a serious way. If the USA were to vote for a standing army in Palestine to replace the occupation (displacing IDF and settlers) (say a standing army of Turks or Brazilians or Indians or Chinese, assuming these countries were willing !), the lobby would have a fit. either before or after such votes, the president would have to be able to tell the lobby, and the best Congress money can buy, to get with the program or get out of my way. Wonderful to imagine. Just wonderful. To imagine.

  2. MRW says:

    Freeman’s speech that you linked to above is a real keeper.

  3. pabelmont says:

    It is clear that, today, [1] Israel/Palestine is de facto an Apartheid State and [2] the “peace process” is a sham.

    Hence my perhaps wild looking proposal. The Palestinians should stop playing undignified bit parts as collaborating participants in Israeli games aimed at delaying the active participation of the international community and, instead, and with immense dignity, place the matter of the enforcement of international law (now) and of peace (later) in the hands of the international community, both the civil society (BDS) and the states.

    This one step is what the Palestinians can do, and it would be a very powerful step.

    The question is what will rouse the international community from its (perhaps USA-arm-twisting-induced) lethargy in this matter and get them acting (presumably in a BDS-like manner). Turkey and Norway have made very gentle starts. More is needed. It’s time to get the ball rolling. The USA has been made to look a fool long enough that no European State (or anyone else with eyes to see) could imagine that the USA could be an engine for change.

    For if the Apartheid situation has no future, then it lies in the hands of the international community (not of the powerless Palestinians, not of the powerless USA, and certainly not of Israel) to erase that future.

    • irishmoses says:

      Thank you for your very thoughtful posting. I apologize for not responding. I am new to the blogging business and still finding my way about.
      I totally agree with your “wild looking proposal”, and since your posting, the Palestinians seem to be moving in that direction with their “We’ll go to the UN” gambit. I think a brilliant move by the Obama administration would be to encourage the UN to take up the issue along the lines of UNR 181, essentially ratifying the Arab State created by UN 181 in 1947. A ratification of 181 would avoid the problem of a Chinese and/or Russian veto because it would not be creating a new state out of an existing country which both fear.
      The usual lobby response on UNR 181 is that it no longer has validity because the Arabs rejected it and then went to war. I’m not sure the rejection or the war really legally invalidated the creation of the Arab state. I would like to hear your opinion on that. It seems to me that since the 1947 UN Partition Plan was approved by a two thirds majority of the UN, and created the legal basis for the Jewish State, it also created the legal basis for the Arab State. The fact that one side didn’t like it and fought it shouldn’t invalidate it any more than rejection, anger, and even violent action by one spouse over a court-ordered property split would invalidate the property split. The angry, violent spouse might end up in jail but would still hold title to his/her share of the property allocated bythe court.

      • pabelmont says:

        UNGA-181 was an invitation to a party, but the party was never given. If (as if claimed), Palestine’s Jewish community arrived at the door with a bottle of wine, they found the door closed. UNGA-181 was an invitation to UNSC action and to joint action by the parties. It’s proposal of a three-way territorial division (never forget that Jerusalem was to be separate and international) was not a GRANT of land but part of a proposal which, to be effective, needed to be taken up by UNSC and both other parties. Didn’t happen.

        Whatever the PLO’s belated acceptance (in 1988?) of UNGA-181 might mean today, it doesn’t clearly mean acceptance of Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Actually, I suspect the PLO and the Arab states have separately (that is, beyond 1988) proposed a return to the pre-1967 lines, seeming to conform to UNSC-242 rather than to UNGA-181.

        As to a legal basis for an Arab state in Palestine, the ICJ (July 9, 2004 advisory opinion which ruled the WALL illegal and called for its demolishment) spoke of Palestinian rights to self-determination (without, as I recall, suggesting they should perform an act of self-determination in some place other than Palestine).

        The world is agreed, today, that the Palestinians are a people with a right to self-determination within Palestine. sadly, the nations are also agreed to do nothing about it, whether out of fear of the USA or out of why-should-I-bother?

        I call for a BDS movement at the level of nation-states (organized by UNGA in order to avoid a veto by USA or any other) to persuade Israel to remove all settlers and demolish all settlements (per UNSC 465), etc. I’m waiting, but I’m not sure my call was heard. See here
        and here.

      • irishmoses says:

        Well, if UNR 181 has no legal effect for an Arab State in Palestine, then it also has no legal effect for the Jewish State in Palestine. The implication from that woujld be that the UN still has mandatory authority over the entirety of mandate Palestine and must make a new legal determination of what the partition should look like or whether there should be a partition at all. In other words, it will be up to the UN to decide whether there should be a one or two state solution. I doubt the Israelis want that option.
        Since UNR 181 did not give either Arabs or Jews the right to conquer what they wanted, at a minimum 181 stands for the proposition that Israel has no legal land claim to anything more than the original 57% portion it received under 181.
        If the Palestinians appeal to the UN to decide, I think UNR 181 still must have some role in determining what portion of mandate Palestine is to be allocated to the Arab State. Or, the UN can punt and turn it over to the UN Court of Internation Justice (or whatever it is called) to make a decision on who gets what. The key is in framing the UN resolution, quietly, in advance, so that it does not trigger a veto from any of the major powers. This possibility is scaring the beejeezus out of the Israelis and the lobby because they have no real leverage over Obama if he has the guts to go down this road. Bolton and others have already started a campaign against this possibility.

        Interesting times.

  4. Pingback: Obama’s toast. Time for the Europeans to step in

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