Good Morning, Mr. President; All is Not Well

It took Barack Obama just over a year to realize what we Palestinians have known all along. This conflict is much more complicated than outsiders choose to believe it is. "Intractable" was the word President Obama used to describe the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in an interview given to Time Magazine on January 21. "It is just really hard," he admitted.

No kidding. For the Palestinians, this is just a solid indication that President Obama has finally woken up and smelled the coffee, something many of us thought would happen long ago given the President’s supposed deeper understanding of the issues at hand, unlike many of those before him. However, it is clear to us that the issue is not whether the US President understands the outstanding problems or not but how much he is willing to do to solve them. The answer, unfortunately, is not much.

This is why, the time has come to change directions, think outside the box and get bold. Even Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, a man who wrote a book called "Life is Negotiations" has admitted, albeit begrudgingly, that the 18 years of Palestinian dedication to negotiations with Israel have been a failure. Coming to an agreement through bilateral talks between the two sides is just not going to happen. It’s as simple as that.

The solution then, is not simple either. However, as intractable as it may seem –” and it is if the players continue to think along the same conventional lines –” there is an inevitable solution if the courage to implement it can be found. It is kind of like Dorothy from the famed musical The Wizard of Oz who realizes that she always had the power within her to find her way home; she just had to realize it. For the United States in particular and the international community in general, the power to solve the problem lies ultimately with them.

If a two state-solution is what the international community wants, then it will have to stop dragging its feet. At this point and with the existing realities on the ground, a two-state solution does indeed seem impossible. Israel has successfully severed not only the West Bank from Israel, but from east Jerusalem and has isolated Palestinian communities from each other. It has continued to entrench its presence in the West Bank though its settlement enterprise and has convinced at least the United States that some of these settlements/colonies are just not up for negotiation in any final agreement regardless of the clear fact that all of them under international law are illegal and illegitimate. Add to this the separation wall that Israel built, not along the Green Line of 1948 but deep into the West Bank, some 40 percent of this area has been effectively annexed to Israel.

What seems to have been forgotten by the US and by those who have the power to change the status quo is that this area –” the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem –” are occupied territories, taken forcefully by Israel in the 1967 War. What seems to have slipped everyone’s mind is that the Palestinians, in their quest for peace and nationhood, accepted a state on these occupied territories, relinquishing their claim to all of historic Palestine. It was a huge concession, a painful compromise that some Palestinians still find hard to swallow but who have done so for the sake of giving their children and all other future generations a homeland and a state within secure and recognized borders.

That is why frustrations among the Palestinians run so high when Israel and the United States claim the Palestinians are being intransigent. "The Palestinian approach was in principle the demand of 100 percent of their rights from 1967. The practical aspect interested them less. They are not willing to discuss any further compromise," former Israeli negotiator Udi Dekel recently said. "We tried to build scenarios, some of them were imaginary, about specific compromises, but we found the Palestinians taking an approach of ‘all or nothing.’"

Somehow, 22 percent of historical Palestine has become "all" to the Israelis, the 22 percent which the United Nations and the international community considers as occupied territory and which they largely recognize as the area on which a Palestinian state will one day be established.

Hence, the solution is simple: follow the guidelines of UN Resolutions and recognized occupied territory, the legitimate Palestinian demands and international law and the answer is right there. Israel has gotten away with so much for so long that no one seems to know what to do anymore. Despite its violations of international law though its settlement construction and despite its crimes of war, namely in the Gaza Strip last year and despite its continued oppression of an entire population, US funds continue to flow into Israel, funds which support all of the above. And while it may cost President Obama a second term in office and some bad "pro- Palestinian" rap, the US has it within its power to twist Israel’s arm through nothing other than good old American greenbacks. Just like Hamas and the PA are often punished by the international community through their withholding of funds, why is Israel not treated in much the same fashion? Israel should not be held above the law, especially not by the United States which claims it does not tolerate oppressive regimes in other places of the world.

It is time for Israel’s arrogance to be cut down in its tracks. The Israelis have come to believe they can do and say whatever they please, no matter how outrageous. The era of negotiations is certainly over and many thanks for that. It has brought the Palestinians nothing but trouble. It is time to change the rules of the game if any solution is to be found. President Obama, if you want a two-state solution, then have the courage to make it happen.