RAMALLAH, March 30 (JMCC) - For over 30 years the United States has been an integral part of the effort to forge peace agreements between Israel
, the Palestinians, and surrounding Arab nations. The US helped bring Israel and Egypt to a settlement in 1979, and Israel and Jordan in 1994, acting variably as mediator, motivator, and linchpin.
Yet, in the Israeli-Palestinian track -- often regarded as the real source of conflict -- US efforts have fallen flat.
Palestinians, for their part, have long considered the promise of an “honest broker” in the United States a running joke.
“It has been difficult to identify an independent American policy distinct from an Israeli policy,” says Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti
. “And I think the struggle President Obama is having today is exactly that point. Their ability to play mediator is undermined drastically by Israeli behavior.”
Palestinian and Israeli negotiations are currently stalled over the issue of Israeli settlement
construction. Palestinians are insisting that Israel declare a full moratorium on building in the areas it occupied in 1967.
As long as negotiations are on hold, the US role is minimized and other forces are taking over.
Barghouti believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will never be solved as long as the United States favors Israel the way it does and the world does not hold Israel accountable for its actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
In the meantime, he advocates a global grassroots approach that bypasses traditional centers of power. Barghouti has become one of the leading Palestinian spokesmen for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement directed at Israel.
“I think there is a huge rise in solidarity, especially after the War on Gaza
, and especially after the rise of non-violent Palestinian resistance,” says Barghouti. “There is a huge movement; the problem is that the governments are still not responding as they should.”
“But we have no other option than to continue to work with the people, and in democratic countries the people will eventually change the position of the government.”
BUILDING A STATE
Palestinians inside the occupied territories
are also taking matters into their own hands. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
initiated a policy of building the institutions of a future state, even though Palestinians remain under Israeli occupation.
European governments led by Sweden and France have encouraged this new path being advanced by the Palestinian Authority
French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government was one of the first to suggest that the international community recognize the Palestinian state before negotiations take place.
INTEGRAL US ROLE
This does not mean, however, that the US role can be dismissed. Some Palestinians view the US role as integral to the state-building effort.
Ziad Asali is a retired medical doctor and President of the American Task Force on Palestine, a non-profit organization working in Washington to promote US-Palestinian interests and the two-state solution.
He views the United States’ role in this conflict as indispensable.
“There is no solution to this issue without the US. So, giving up on the United States is giving up on resolving this issue.”
Recently, he testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at the US Congress where he addressed the issue of Palestinian state-building.
“What matters to us about presenting this case to the Senate and Congress is that the Senate and Congress control the money. So it is very important for the United States Congress to support this project politically and to fund it. We have a political program here that needs funding by the United States.”
Despite regional disappointment with Obama, Asali urges people not to discount the many policy commitments his administration has made in the Palestinians' favor.
“It’s been just a year and political fortunes change, and political changes may take place in Palestine, in Israel, and in the Middle East. If you have a commitment in terms of policy from the United States, supported by the rest of the world, that’s a big deal. So, people should not just write it off.”
Neither Asali nor Barghouti are optimistic about restarting negotiations in the the current political atmosphere. Both see it as a matter of a severe imbalance in power between the two sides that makes an equitable settlement difficult to reach.
Yet, according to Asali, who also promotes Fayyad’s plan, negotiations are still absolutely necessary to the process. Without negotiations, recognition of statehood means very little.
In this, and in terms of finances, the United States may still be essential to realizing a Palestinian-Israeli solution.