Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The US Needs to Get Tough with Israel
By Yousef Munayyer
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, April 4, 2011
When diplomatic sources revealed that the United States was
abandoning efforts for an Israeli settlement freeze, many surely did not
know whether to laugh or cry. The first two years of U.S.-Israeli
relations under the Obama administration has been a debacle. For the next
two, what is learned from that failure, and how it's applied, will be of
The failure to get a freeze is not only about
the settlements — a colonial enterprise expanding on occupied Palestinian
territory that a new Human Rights Watch report called a "two-tier system"
that is both "separate and unequal"— but also a test of America's
commitment to evenhanded mediation. So-called core issues, including the
return of Palestinian refugees and the disposition of Jerusalem, are every
bit as difficult as the settlements, maybe more. But obtaining the freeze
was a tone-setter, one that would have shown that the U.S. could fairly
enforce obligations by both parties.
This didn't happen. Instead,
during the earlier, temporary 10-month freeze, the Israeli settlements
were still being expanded — only new-home construction was frozen — and
settlements around Jerusalem were accelerated.
When the Oslo peace
process began — a process that was based on the principle of a two-state
solution — there were 200,000 settlers in occupied Palestinian territory.
Over the years, as Israel has claimed it sought peace, it increased the
number of colonists to well over 500,000 today, according to the Israeli
Central Bureau of Statistics.
No legitimate Palestinian leader can
negotiate with Israel while it continues to colonize Palestinian land.
The U.S. strategy began to fail when it expected the Israelis to
freeze settlements upon request. What the Obama administration apparently
didn't realize was that Israel would not change its behavior without an
incentive. When that finally became clear, Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton made an offer that amounted to a bribe.
the incentive to rectify bad behavior in the international community —
behavior like expanding settlements despite road map obligations and
international law — is delivered by sticks, not carrots. But the deal
offered to Israel, which included billions of dollars' worth of advanced
F-35s in exchange for a 90-day freeze, was all carrot and no stick.
And it didn't work. Despite American prostrations, the Israelis
continued with settlement expansion, and provocative announcements about
settlements around Jerusalem were made just as the offer was reported. All
hope for a freeze disintegrated.
The message this sent to
Palestinians was that the United States was simply incapable of being an
evenhanded broker. The U.S. never misses an opportunity to reward bad
Israeli behavior, and Israel never misses an opportunity to squeeze its
principal world ally.
Ultimately, we discovered that Israel's
near-insatiable desire for American carrots is outweighed only by its
insatiable desire to colonize Palestinian land.
learn from this and apply the lessons in the next stage of mediating this
The Obama administration should not expect the Israelis
to do anything without pressure, and this pressure — economic, diplomatic
— has to be real, tangible and biting. A brazen Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, undoubtedly emboldened by what he and his right-wing
coalition view as a victory in a standoff with President Obama, needs to
be presented with a decisive and harsh response to Israel's bad behavior.
Some suggest that abandoning a freeze gives the United States an
opportunity to put forward its own plan. But if Washington couldn't muster
the strength or the will to press Netanyahu on settlements, can anyone
believe it can press the Israelis to accept a deal on the rest of the core
issues? It's highly unlikely.
The biggest mistake the United States
has made in the last two years was not its focus on settlements but its
failure to use leverage to get the Israelis to stop building them.
Has Washington learned the lesson? Perhaps the answer came earlier this
month when Clinton delivered a major policy speech at the Brookings
Institution. Though she expressed her frustration with the peace process,
she didn't signal any change in the U.S. approach. Clinton's message can
be summed up succinctly: We will keep doing what we have done and hope for
a better outcome.
At a moment when the world needed to hear a
change in direction, we instead were told that the United States is
committed to repeating the same failed policies of the past. This is
precisely why Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil recently determined they
wouldn't wait for the bankrupt American-led process and recognized the
state of Palestine.
America's political response? Rep. Howard L.
Berman (D-Valley Village) rushed a resolution to the House floor
expressing opposition to such declarations of Palestinian statehood. The
resolution, which passed, is a timely reminder of the increasing gap
between Washington and the international community on this issue.
If there is no change in the U.S. approach to Israeli violations, no one
will take this administration seriously: not the Israelis, certainly not
the Palestinians, and presumably not the international community. Who can
Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center.
Palestine Center Brief No. 208