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Ahmed Shihab-Eldin Headshot

Does "Urging Israel" Amount to "Change We Can Believe In"?

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Israel forcibly removed Palestinian families from homes that its government declared to be under Jewish ownership last weekend.

Never mind that the Palestinians had been living on the land in Sheikh Jarrah for decades. But within hours, Jewish families settled into the evacuated homes.

In a statement on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded by calling the expulsion "deeply regrettable" and said that "the eviction of families and demolition of homes in East Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations." She then urged the government of Israel to refrain from such provocative actions.

But Clinton's condemnations are as fruitless as they are correct, as unnecessary as they are obvious.

U.S. Policy Change

Expressing disappointment and calling on Israel not to repeat its "deeply regrettable" actions is ineffective, so when will America's policy change from a slap on the wrist to a handcuff to international law?

So long as Israel refuses to stop the construction of Jewish settlements and building the separation wall in the occupied Palestinian territories, the so called peace initiative will remain a political liability, rather than opportunity for progress for a just peace.

But perhaps the most promising development to emerge within Israel of late is the Israeli police's recommendation that Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's right-wing foreign minister -- whose racist sentiments and policies towards his country's own Arab minority have invited international condemnation -- be indicted on a series of corruption charges including bribery, money-laundering and embezzlement.

The decision, whether to press charges, ultimately lay in the hands of Menahem Mazuz, Israel's attorney general.

Lieberman's Corruption

If the criminal investigation, underway for over a decade now, materializes into formal charges, he will be forced to step down from his role as foreign minister.

Israeli television has already reported that a money trail has been found that tracks illegal donations through bank accounts opened in Cyprus. The reports are said to reveal enough evidence to formally charge Lieberman.

Whether Lieberman is forced to resign or not, it is clear that his political survival has depended on his ability to play to the fears of Israeli citizens and racist sentiments of much of Israel's ultra-nationalist minorities.

When mock elections were held in Israeli schools, reports flooded the media of high school students that had voted for Lieberman chanting "Death to the Arabs" (a toxic phrase that did not even distinguish between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians).

If the United States is serious about changing the deadlock surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they would benefit from treating extremism and intolerance within Israel with the same approach they use in Palestine, Lebanon and across the region -- isolation, condemnation and most importantly, consequences.

In the lead up to Lebanon's most recent parliamentary elections, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced in Beirut that aid to Lebanon would be reviewed according to which party won the elections -- the Western-backed March 14 coalition or the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.

Parity in Punishment

Without this parity in "isolation and punishment", the U.S. will struggle to be taken seriously -- if not among Arab leaders, then on the Arab street -- in spite of Obama's uplifting address to the Muslim world in Egypt on June 4.

Earlier this year Obama went so far as to demand that Israel stop settlement activity on the West Bank as part of a peace deal leading to the creation of a new Palestinian state, but stopped short of an ultimatum.

But in the same speech and consistently over the past several months, Obama (who has delivered key speeches on the issue of race and racism inside America) has said that in order to advance the peace process Palestinians must reduce "anti-Israel sentiments" expressed in schools and mosques but made no mention of the controversy brewing in many of Israel's schools.

For Palestinians, the U.S. policy is that of condemnation and consequence. But for Israel it has consistently been one of subtle criticism and unwavering support.

Again, a parity in the political approach is lacking.

If nothing else, the shift in the tone of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should be taken as a telling sign of the paramount importance for Israel to finally be coerced into a more pragmatic and principled approach to peace.

Fatah's Right to Resist

Abbas, the leader of Fatah, the more moderate of Palestine's two major political parties, has reformed his rhetoric and potentially his party's policies in recent weeks.

Abbas told a packed room of thousands of delegates at a conference on Tuesday -- the first in over two decades -- in Bethlehem, "Although peace is our choice, we reserve the right to resistance, legitimate under international law."

"We will not stand helpless in the face of Israeli incursions."

Abbas' mention of "the right to resistance" and "international law" echoes the talking points of Hamas and, more importantly, solidified Fatah as a resistance movement first, albeit one that is willing to move towards peace.

Al Jazeera English's Web site reported this week that a draft of Fatah's new program calls for new forms of resistance such as civil disobedience against Jewish settlement expansion and the separation wall.

The US government has supported Fatah over Hamas due to its willingness to negotiate with Israel and make necessary concessions, but Abbas' speech on Tuesday suggests that time for either of those possibilities may no longer be running out, but instead may have reached its expiry date.

In Arabic, the juxtaposition commonly used to ask whether someone is a Fatah or Hamas supporter is whether one is with the "Muqawamah" or "resistance" - referring to Hamas.

Fatah has repositioned its own approach to peace with Israel, it is time that the US does the same.