Israel and Palestine
By Nayyer Ali MD
For the last several months Secretary of State John Kerry has been mediating direct talks between Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over a final peace settlement. While occasional bits of information have leaked, for the most part the process remains opaque to outsiders, and what even the positions of each side is, is not clear.
Obama and Kerry want to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for a variety of reasons, but one of them in Obama's case is that I do feel he genuinely sees the Palestinians as the victims of a grave injustice that should be ended. Obama tried early in his first term to make an attempt to get Israel to stop the settlements, and while he did force Netanyahu to accept the concept of a Palestinian state, he did not accomplish much more than that. Obama has come back to the issue now that he has been safely re-elected.
Israel is facing increasing international pressure to end the occupation. This is manifesting in the growing Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement, known as BDS. The BDS movement is currently a very low level campaign even in Europe, but it will gather momentum over the next few years if Israel is seen as blocking a fair deal and ending the occupation. The key is European trade. The EU is Israel's biggest trading partner, a trade embargo (and not just on the trivial amounts produced in the settlements) would devastate Israel and the Israelis know it. Kerry warned Israel that if it blocked a fair deal the BDS movement will gain steam, for that remark Kerry was attacked by senior Israeli leaders. They are going all out to portray BDS as inherently anti-Semitic, but that is a battle they will lose.
The current negotiations have been a standoff, any settlement that is acceptable to the Israelis is not acceptable to the Palestinians and vice versa. Kerry has been "facilitating" negotiations but in the next month or two he is going to put on the table the American "compromise" proposals. This will be the critical moment of truth. What matters is whether one or the other party accepts the American terms, and whether those terms are perceived as "fair" by the rest of the world. If the terms are "fair", and the Palestinians accept while the Israelis reject, this will lead to the EU sanctioning Israel and to a possible rupture of US-Israeli relations and conceivably an American recognition of Palestine through the Security Council in 2016 after the Presidential election when Obama is a lame duck. If on the other hand, the terms are seen as "fair" and Israel accepts while the Palestinians reject, then the Palestinians will lose much of the global diplomatic support they have been accumulating, and the EU will not put harsh pressure on the Israelis. If both the Israelis and Palestinians reject, then all bets are off and we are back to square one. Obama will probably then give up on the issue for the rest of his Presidency.
The critical question is whether the global community sees the US terms as "fair". What defines fair to a Muslim or an Arab or a Palestinian is probably rather different than what the Europeans or the Latin Americans see as fair. For much of the world a fair deal would be a nearly complete withdrawal of the Israelis from the West Bank, a fully sovereign Palestinian state with control of its borders and no Israeli troops stationed on its soil, East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and generous financial compensation for the refugees. It does not include an actual right of return of several million Palestinians into Israel itself. That position has no support outside of Palestinian/Arab/Muslim opinion and if the Palestinians reject a peace deal that gives them everything they ask for except the right of return, they will find global public opinion completely unsympathetic to their position. That may not be morally right, but that is the current reality.
White House knows that if a deal is achieved there will be massive criticism of it within the US, coming from Republicans and right wing Zionists including Christian Zionists. They are working in advance to shore up as much support as they can for a deal when they face a tough political battle in Congress. If the refugees are compensated at 10,000 dollars per person that would come to 50 billion dollars, and Israel will be asking the US to pay much of that.
The last thing Obama wants is a peace deal to be scuttled because no one in the US will support it. The White House has reached out to the Muslim community as part of a much larger coalition of support they are trying to generate. However, American Muslims cannot support in advance a deal that they have not seen. We should support a two-state solution, support Kerry's effort, but only comment on the particulars if and when we see them. Meanwhile American Muslims should continue to support BDS as it gains credibility and stature around the world.