Never on time, never enough

There are many reasons why American intervention is inevitable in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. All over the world, United States’ dominance and attempts to influence developments in its favor mean an involved US actor. But in this conflict in particular, one party–i.e. Israel–has always depended on the United States for aspects of its economic, political and military survival. Nor is that influence straightforward. There is a unique relationship between Israel and the United States, whereby attitudes towards Israel are shaped both in the arena of United States foreign policy and as a result of internal political wrangling, due to the many friends of Israel and the strong Jewish lobby inside the United States government.

There are American interests to protect on the other side of the conflict, i.e. in the Arab world. These include oil, strategic geographic positioning and the cultivation of allies. But the difference in impact between these US interests and those on the Israeli side is that the Arabs in general have not been active in using US regional interests to their political favor, at least towards a just resolution of the Middle East conflict. This is no coincidence, but largely a result of the absence of democracy in the Arab world. The practices of most Arab regimes do not necessarily reflect their publics’ interest, which in turn helps explain the ongoing American support for non-democratic regimes in this part of the world: for the US to question those regimes would open a Pandora’s box of new demands on US foreign policy.

Recent years, which include several attempts to establish a peace process beginning with the 1991 Madrid peace conference, demonstrate that only United States’ involvement allows negotiations to progress. By the same token, it can be argued that at every turn the limited nature of the American intervention has been at least partially responsible for subsequent failures.

Palestinians were encouraged by the establishment of the Quartet, made up of United States, United Nations, European Union and Russian representation, simply because they believed it might reduce the American monopoly over the peace process, which has yet to be productive because US Middle East policy is not sensitive enough to the conflict’s framework of international law. But we have just witnessed one more example of the dire need for American interference, in this case an intervention that arrived despite all pessimistic predictions. Many analysts argue that the US intervened only after Israel failed in using a US-proffered window of opportunity to end the confrontations using force. The consequence of this failure was to be added pressure on Israel to accept the roadmap and come to the negotiating table.

The subsequent failure of the American intervention in Aqaba to press Israel to fulfill only the very first step of roadmap implementation, therefore, is an illustration of historic American diplomatic shortcomings. The text of the roadmap stipulates that implementation be initiated via simultaneous statements from each side, each party recognizing the other, committing to stop violence against the other, and also committing to the implementation of the roadmap. While the United States did everything in its power to make sure that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas would include these elements and more in his statement, they did not ensure the same of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he welcomed the opportunity “to renew direct negotiations according to the steps of the road map as adopted by the Israeli Government to achieve [the Bush] vision.” This legalistic formula falls short of accepting the roadmap outright. Sharon also failed to say that Israel would stop violence against Palestinians wherever they are, as the roadmap required, and also did not offer clear recognition of a Palestinian state. It was perfectly consistent for Israel, then, the very next day to resume the use of violence as it killed two Palestinian men and injured a third in an attempt to assassinate them all. Further, Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, which are an immense psychological barrier towards negotiations for the general population, are now worse than ever before.

The position of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has been deeply weakened, then, since he promised his constituency that Palestinian commitments to Israel would be matched by an end to Israeli violence, the dismantling of certain settlements and a halt to construction in others, as well as the lifting of the insufferable roadblocks. By not bringing Israel to the table, the United States has once again shot itself in the foot.

Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

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