American Vice President Joe Biden was sucker-punched last week by a provocative settlement announcement for 1,600 new units in occupied East Jerusalem (and 50,000 more planned for Jerusalem alone). It's the much-practiced welcome provided by Israeli proponents of illegal settlement activity. Biden condemned the measure. But it is too little, too late. The two-state solution has slipped away from the Americans and the Israelis though they seem blissfully unaware, after more than four decades of undisturbed illegal settlement.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton remain fully committed to the decades-old game of the two-state solution. Their solution is a Pax-Israelica, a forced agreement denying the minimum basic rights and needs of Palestine, fully in line with the Israeli agenda of establishing only one meaningful entity - politically, militarily and financially - between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel would remain the local hegemon. Palestinians would receive two or three non-contiguous Bantustans and be told to call it a state.
Nothing else is on the table. Despite the desperation of Palestinian leaders to sign something on behalf of their people, these leaders also recognize that continuing the charade of the 'peace talks' is playing with fire. Their constituents know that all the Oslo agreements, promises and procedures were used by Israel for one aim alone: to advance, deepen and secure its stranglehold on Palestine through a system combining settlements, brutal military occupation, the segregation wall, daily repression and mass misery in Gaza. Even today's pliant Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, seems to understand he cannot put a signature to something which will not only stifle hope, but not deliver justice to Palestinians, as evidenced by his decision to call off the ill-fated 'Proximity Talks'. Mealy-mouthed protestations and stern gazes from Clinton and Biden do not change this reality one iota.
What, then, is behind current attempts to revive the 'peace' talks? Hopefully, no one today is likely to be fooled by 'Proximity Talks' - separate meetings in separate rooms as Israel settles both the West Bank and East Jerusalem during this ostensible settlements freeze. Quite possibly, it is once more to give the appearance of doing something, anything, while the main thrust of (belligerent) involvement is elsewhere; seven years ago it was Iraq, this time the target is Iran, with Israel playing a central role.
Analysts have told the various US administrations for decades that as long as the Palestine conflict festers and occasionally boils over, the chance of stemming the anger in the Muslim and Arab world against the West is minimal. The US has overlooked and flagrantly ignored such advice with devastating results for all involved.
Much hope was placed in Obama just a year ago. Neoconservatives are now hitting back at him saying he's to blame for wrongly demanding a full freeze of settlements, while other apologists for Israeli expansionism were applauding him - until this weekend - for pulling back from public pressure on Israel. Having angered Israeli expansionists, people who ought to be put on the run politically, he backtracked on settlements, signaling to Palestinians that he too doesn't have the stomach to challenge Israeli leaders or the Israel lobby. In this mid-term election year he has reverted to a dependence on doctrines that have failed time and again. He appears almost totally beholden to 'a strong Israel' and, by corollary, a weak Palestine. Ironically, such behavior is unlikely to win him votes beyond the Israel lobby, as it will be seen to be a climb-down, a retreat, a weakness.
The failure to fully grasp Palestinian aspirations for freedom, the willingness to put in place yet another timeline for eventual, putative freedom, shows the Obama administration remains deeply out of touch with the active forces in Palestinian civil society. That deeply-rooted Palestinian dream for freedom and justice will not be much heard in discussions with an ossified Palestinian leadership that chooses Israeli subjugation over active nonviolent resistance by Palestinians young and old alike.
All this bodes ill for Palestine, but it does not herald excellent times ahead for Israel either. Unless the Israeli leadership, fully complicit in the brutal occupation and the Gaza brutalities, is brought to book and faced with the results of decades of war crimes and human-rights abuses, there is no hope for Palestine, Israel, or the Middle East. There is also no hope for the rest of us to escape the maelstrom brewed by decades of war and suppression heaped upon Palestinians.
The administration is failing its first major foreign policy test and showing every indication that it, like its predecessors, intends to make faux passes at mediation intended to manage the region's problems, rather than resolve them. The cap only ever stays on a suppressed population so long.
Prof. Haim Bresheeth is Chair of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of East London.