A US State Department spokesman told reporters this week that Washington was disappointed with Israel because of its failure to extend the settlement moratorium for as long as the peace talks were moving.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon used the same words to describe how the United Nations feels towards Israel. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris, expressed the same sentiment vis-a-vis Israel's decisions.
This is not the first time that the world community shows disappointment with the state of Israel. But foreign policy is surely not made of a negative feeling towards a particular country. If the sum total of the international community's dissatisfaction with Israel is simply expressed through a negative adjective, not much progress is going to be achieved on the way to a lasting peace.
The American position is probably the most perplexing. The US president invested the office of the presidency to make a public plea from the UN General Assembly rostrum, asking the Israelis to extend the settlement activity freeze a further three months, to give direct talks a chance. In the same speech Barack Obama hailed the bravery of the Palestinian president who is taking risks for peace. Washington, which is involved in two direct wars (and many undeclared ones) has clearly stated that Middle East peace is in the national interest of the United States. This statement was first made by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and has since been repeated by presidents Bush and Obama as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
So how can the US and the world community deal with this disappointment? Surely the Americans and the rest of the quartet (Russia, the UN and the EU) can't simply limit their reactions to public statements.
One way to cure this disappointment is to make the party that goes contrary to US national interests have its own interests affected. Washington has so many levers to use against Tel Aviv that will surely make this problem disappear.
The US is the best friend of Israel's. It provides it with political, financial and military support. One US vote (or an abstention in the UN Security Council) could put a quick end to the arrogance of a state that often acts as if it were not bound by the rules that bind other international parties.
The Americans should be smart in pressuring Israel. Israelis might be much more willing to react to undeclared pressure than to publicly declared attempts.
One observer of the US-Israel relationship once said that to be effective, the US must pressure Israel using invisible hands. In other words, the pressure must be strong enough to hurt but invisible enough to be difficult to pinpoint its direct source. For example, crucial spare parts for American-made F-16 fighters might be suspiciously delayed. When Israelis ask about them, the Americans could simply pretend that the delay is bureaucratic. The Israelis will get the message without it necessarily being seen as public pressure.
The reason why the US will need to play such games is, of course, domestic. Dealing with Israel is not simply a foreign policy issue but a domestic one as well.
Ten months ago, when the US asked Israel for a one-year moratorium on settlement freeze, Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month freeze, knowing well that when it runs out in September, the Obama administration will be too vulnerable, what with the mid-term elections, to take on Israel and, by extension, American Jewish and Christian Zionist voters. This reality was made clear soon after Israel's decision not to extend the settlement freeze. A bipartisan letter from Congress was delivered to the White House, demanding that the US press the Palestinians to continue the direct talks in spite of the Israeli decision. No attempt was made in the AIPAC-inspired (and probably written) letter to deal with the fact that the US president's public plea was rebuffed by the Israelis.
While America's current vulnerability is connected to the upcoming mid-term congressional elections, other members of the international community are not that vulnerable. The antidote to the Israeli arrogance and rebuff of the international will must be strong, immediate and unambiguous.
European and UN leaders should start with lowering their public profile with Israel. There is no need for a while for London, Paris or the UN to meet with Israel officials and to shake hands with them. A cooling off period could send the correct message that actions have consequences.
The worse way to deal with Israel's obstructionism is to reward. Press reports are saying that the Obama administration are trying to sweeten the pie to encourage Netanyahu to extend the moratorium. This is the way to perpetuate and extend the whining and delays of Israelis. You can't and shouldn't reward violations of international law and international will.
Financial pressure must be used to cure this problem. The Israeli public, enjoying a high standard of living, must understand that their government's actions against the international community will result in their standard of life being affected. When Israelis are asked why they are punishing the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza, one often-repeated answer is that this is the result of Palestinians having elected Hamas. Well, the same consequences must be felt by Israelis for electing a right-wing settler government that refuses to accept minimum world demands regarding illegally built settlements.
Israel can't have it both ways. Just like when dealing with a spoiled child, tough love is often required at an early stage so as to avoid suffering in the long run. The world community has allowed Israel to get away with occupation and murder for too long. For a while, the Israelis were able to wiggle out of the consequences of their actions by putting the blame on the Palestinians. This time, the Palestinians have closed all loopholes and the party obstructing peace talks is clearly known. The sooner the?world community makes this guilty party pay for its actions the sooner we will all benefit.
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