RAMALLAH, August 3, 2012 (JMCC) - The combination of US President Barack Obama’s abandonment of the Middle East peace process and Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s exaggerated support for Israel should generate worry among those who care about the Mideast region. For many decades (and especially since the beginning of the peace process in 1991), the leadership role of the United States in making peace between Palestinians and Israelis has been an article of faith.
Now, with the complete stagnation of the peace process and irreversible changes Israel is implementing in the occupied territories, many people in the region are beginning to ask questions about US-led efforts. In the last four years, Obama swung between active enthusiasm and involvement, which positively targeted illegal settlement as the obstacle to serious talks, and complete lack of serious engagement, even engagement necessary to maintain the status quo. The impact of this vacillation has been to stymie progress.
The right-wing government in Israel, which is politically incompatible with peace efforts that will end the occupation and bring about a two-state solution, has taken advantage of Washington’s indifference. As a result, the occupation is becoming more entrenched by the day and the creation of facts on the ground that preclude the two-state solution is ongoing.
The other dangerous development resulting from this stagnation is a further shift in Israel towards hard line right-wing politics in Israel. This is apparent in public opinion and official institutions, which increasingly support once-controversial policies such as settlement expansion in nearly every part of the West Bank and the political separation of the West Bank from the Gaza Strip. All this will make it still more difficult to realize the international vision of peace that is based on the two-state solution.
Into this gloomy environment were interjected the shocking statements of presidential candidate Mitt Romney during his visit to Israel. Romney contradicted international law and the official positions of the United States when he encouraged Israel’s illegal occupation of east Jerusalem. He also compromised the independence of the United States when he said the US should not have political differences with Israel. He then went even further to claim that the differences between the Israeli and Palestinian economies can be explained by “culture”, ignoring the fact that Israel has been economically exploiting the occupied territories for the last 45 years. Israel has given itself the liberty to exploit Palestinian land and resources below and above the land, making use of key religious sites to benefit from tourism and also for decades profiting from as many as 200,000 cheap Palestinian laborers. Israel’s wealth is partly due to the spoils of illegal occupation.
Moreover, the weaknesses of the Palestinian economy are mainly--if not solely--attributable to Israeli restrictions, not some inherent cultural characteristic. Romney’s racist comments led many Palestinians to respond with despair, that a power that has so much control over their destiny could be so blatantly unfair. Such sentiment bodes ill for the future US role in the peace process. One can only say as a result that the competition between US presidential candidates over who is more pleasing to Israel and its supporters in the United States is seriously damaging the credibility of the United States and its leading role as peace broker.
Palestinians understand that many other dramatic developments are underway in the region that demand attention and effort by the international community. We also understand that in an election year, the US administration will focus on domestic demands. However, policymakers in the United States should likewise understand that leaving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict unattended and even without basic “maintenance” is contributing further to an erosion of the possibilities of two states, which will later lay a huge burden on the international community as it tries to resolve the conflict otherwise. Moreover, regional instability remains deeply connected to the status of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
As such, other members of the international community, especially Europe, should increase their role in implementing peace based on international legality. This should encourage the United States to adopt a more effective position, replace the US monopoly with collective efforts, and thereby reduce the negative impact of internal American politics on peacemaking.
It should be eminently clear by now that maintaining double standards in the region does not serve US foreign policy goals. The United States cannot pretend to be keen on freedom, liberty, dignity and human rights elsewhere in the region while neglecting those rights for Palestinians.