THE BLOG

Washington's Policy: Blaming the Palestinians and Exonerating the Israelis

The culture of blame shifting, which countries adopt as a way to evade responsibility, is being deployed against both the Palestinian leadership and the Syrian opposition. The efforts of the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in brokering the Palestinian-Israeli talks meant to fulfill the two-state solution are indeed the result of Mr. Kerry's good intentions and his determination to spare no effort to accomplish a political settlement, which, if successful, would certainly be a historic achievement. But Kerry is driving the wagon into a dead end - that is, if the wagon is not booby-trapped to begin with. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is trying everything in his power to avoid falling into the trap of being blamed for thwarting the U.S. efforts. But President Abbas is ready for being blamed in the end, no matter how much patience he shows, because blaming him is a preprogrammed policy for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the one to set up the dead end facing Mr. Kerry's wagon. It is therefore not sufficient for the Palestinian leadership to reach into its pocket from time to time, as it did recently when it approached the United Nations and Switzerland to join international treaties that can give it a boost toward achieving Palestinian statehood. Instead, the Palestinian leadership must develop a strategy to preempt the blame game lurking for it around the corner, and a strategy for what comes after the failure of the talks and the arrival of Mr. Kerry's wagon at the dead end.

The same applies with respect to the Syrian opposition, which is innocent of the Salafi Sunni extremism and terrorism that have hijacked it, with groups like al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and their ilk. This opposition is prepared for being dragged into the blame trap, not only at the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his ally Iran, but also by the decision of Russia and its Chinese ally on the Syrian issue. Accordingly, it is not enough for the Syrian opposition to object to the strategy of holding presidential elections in Syria to keep Bashar al-Assad in power, by threatening to pull out from the transitional political process in the Geneva 2 international talks. Instead, it must develop a strategy to preempt the blame game lying in store for it to withdraw from the political process, and must think about other options to upend the blame equations and rightly assign blame to all the actors for the failure of the political solution and the revival of the military-based approach to the Syrian crisis.

In the subject of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, one cannot deny the sincerity and determination of Secretary Kerry, to achieve a breakthrough that, first, serves the goal of the two-state solution, over which there is a near international consensus; and second, which serves President Barack Obama, who had entered the White House itching for this achievement, without realizing the difficulty of making it happen.

The Israeli public may truly desire to see the two-state solution achieved - Palestine side by side with Israel. There is definitely a segment of the Israeli public who is fully aware that the two-state solution is in Israel's interest, if the Israelis put an end to the siege mentality. But there certainly is another segment that does not want the two-state solution at all, and this segments backs the evasive maneuvers of any Israeli government to circumvent this solution. This segment supports Israel's state extremism, and its true goal is the one-state solution, that is a Jewish state in the sense of an Israel as a state exclusively for Jews.

This faction does not want the two-state solution, no matter how much it pretends to continue being part of the "process" of negotiations or the peace process. Their goal is to head off this goal, and they are primed to assign all sorts of blame to the Palestinian side, and to mobilize the U.S. public opinion on their side in doing so. They are gearing up for what comes after thwarting the political process and the blame shifting, and for what comes after the necessary measures to create a Jewish state free of Palestinians in Israel, through forcible deportation or by rendering them second-class citizens in the Jewish state.

There are two kinds of Palestinians who do not believe in the two-state solutions meanwhile: The utopian type that believes in the one-state solution, with equality for all and equal voting rights for all citizens regardless of their ethnicity and religion, which certainly eliminates the idea of a Jewish state; and another type that believes in confronting extremism with extremism, that there is no escaping a war of annihilation, and that Israel is going to cease to exist sooner or later.

Today, the United States is practically the sole sponsor of the two-state solution, even though there is an international consensus over it. The U.S. public is almost unaware of this or even of the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still ongoing. Indeed, the U.S. public has a strong desire to distance itself from that conflict.

Suddenly, U.S. interest in the Israeli-Palestinian issue returned because of the American spy Jonathan Pollard, who gave Israel sensitive information, landing him in prison. Suddenly, John Kerry came with an idea to appease the Israeli government and encourage it to cooperate in the negotiations he is brokering by offering to release Pollard. This sparked outrage against him from various American factions - both those that are blindly loyal to Israel, which considered the move to be pressure on Israel to act against its interest; and those that saw the offer as an insult to supreme U.S. interests.

It is certainly a dismal idea, no matter what. But it reveals the extent of the Israeli intransigence that Mr. Kerry has had to deal with, to the point that he had to think about releasing Pollard. He is in a difficult position that will only get worse, because the Israeli government led by Netanyahu will demand more and more at each stage of the peace process. It will make demands on the United States as part of the tactic of "take and then ask for more," and will make demands on the Palestinian leadership as part of its strategy to lay all blame on the Palestinians to force them to cave in or face consequences.

The Palestinian leadership is fully aware that the U.S. involvement in the futile process is meant to contain any measures the Palestinian Authority can take, having become a UNESCO member state and a UN non-member observer state. If those measures were put into force, the occupation can be held accountable in international courts.

For example, the State of Palestine's accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC) gives it the means to bring legal action to hold the occupation accountable for its crimes, including war crimes or crimes against humanity. It also gives the State of Palestine the means to bring action against Israeli individuals responsible for occupation activities and their consequences.

Mahmoud Abbas chose not to put that option to use, and wagered instead on the U.S. sponsorship of the political process to achieve the two-state solution. He froze all the options available to him practically and legally, and decided to give John Kerry his full support to make his efforts a success.

As soon as the Israelis began to renege on what had been agreed upon as provisional transitional measures, President Abbas decided to apply to join international conventions and treaties that would solidify Palestine's legal position as a state in international forums. This week, Mr. Abbas applied to join 15 treaties and conventions with the UN and Switzerland to consolidate the foundations of the Palestinian state, including the 1949 conventions relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. This means, according to the Palestinian envoy to the UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour, that "we have become equal to all states and we can ask Switzerland - the depositary state - to hold an emergency meeting to ensure respect for the terms of the convention... this is another way to defend our people under occupation."

In other words, the goal behind signing conventions is for Palestine to exercise its rights as a state, at a time when Israel refuses for Palestine to become a state during the negotiations. As Mansour explains, "We are saying we are a state under occupation, with what this entails legally and politically."

Mahmoud Abbas deliberately avoided applying to join the ICC, because this would practically put him on a collision course with the United States and would constitute a major challenge to Israel. Despite this, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said that the request to join the treaties and other conventions was a "unilateral" measure that was incompatible with the spirit of the agreement not to take unilateral actions. This is at a time when Israel continues to build settlement that the international community regards as illegal, and at a time when Israel has failed to fulfill its obligations in releasing Palestinian prisoners.

Power's attitudes gives an idea about the culture of blame shifting that will be revived and used against the Palestinians, in tandem with the culture of automatically excusing the actions of the Israelis.

For this reason, it is essential that the Palestinians prepare themselves for the next time the U.S. and Israeli lay the blame on them again. They must prepare themselves legally and must operationalize all options at their disposal, and not only in relation to the U.S. public opinion. That part is settled and not in their favor, because the Israeli sway over the American media cannot be countered by the Palestinians. The blame campaign is ready, and the plan to discredit the "partner" just needs a green light to be set in motion.

In Syria, the Syrian opposition must understand that the Western "Friends of Syria" do not plan to stop the Syrian presidential election, even if holding it is a flagrant assault on the transitional political process.

At the outset, Russia and China began to question the arguments of Joint UN-Arab Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who said that the election would undermine if not destroy the political process in Geneva 2. A Russian-Chinese campaign against Brahimi was launched because he took the matter up with the UN Security Council, pointing out that the presidential election would practically and realistically abolish the goal of creating a transitional governing body with executive powers. Their position was that the political process should proceed in parallel with the presidential election, and that there was no contradiction between the two.

The response of the United States and European Security Council members was that "there us nothing that can be done" to stop the election, and that all that can be done is to issue general positions deeming the election invalid and illegitimate.

On one hand, it could be said that the Western position constitutes deliberate inaction and reflects the West's unwillingness to fight another "veto" battle with Russia and China, especially as the priority for the West today is Ukraine. As one U.S. diplomat put it, "We have to reckon the vetoes by the number and the location."

On the other hand, Syria's move to hold presidential elections in the current circumstances, and the expected rejection of their legitimacy, will practically lead to delegitimizing Bashar al-Assad as a president during his new term, as a result of the election. In other words, holding those elections will produce a government that is not recognized internationally, unlike the present government, which has already been recognized.

The common denominator between the Syrian political process known as the Geneva process, and the Middle East peace process is the retreat of the countries brokering them.

The United States and Russia are the main sponsors of the Geneva process on Syria today, but they have both taken a step back from trying to make it a success, each for its own reasons. Today, practically speaking, the military solution is strongly back on the table. The plan to hold the presidential election has pushed the political solution, for which a consensus had to be built painstakingly, to the sidelines, and brought the military solution to the forefront.

The United States is the sole sponsor of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. This process has reached the last breath, having been chewed over and over for years and years. At the moment, there are no suggestions that military or armed confrontations between the two sides are about to return. But this is today, and tomorrow is another day. In the meantime, a battle of law and legitimacy might erupt. Ultimately, this is a people under occupation, and coexistence with occupation is not natural.

Buying time is a policy instrument just like shifting the blame is a way to avoid necessary concessions for political solutions. In Syria, as in Palestine, the "process" is now a way to stall and dodge the solution. The "process" is now meant to shirk responsibility.

Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi

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