Palestinian Authority President - Mahmoud Abbas - delivered a stinging rebuff to President Obama during his address at the United Nations last Friday.
Obama had called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority from the same podium at the United Nations just a few days earlier to enter into final status negotiations - “without preconditions” - designed to lead to the creation of a new Arab state between Israel and Jordan - the so called “two state solution”.
Obama’s statement had greatly disappointed Abbas who had expected that after six months of intense diplomatic activity by the Americans - Israel would agree to the demand by Abbas - supported by Obama - that Israel freeze all construction and building activity on the West Bank as a condition of Abbas resuming negotiations with Israel after an eight months hiatus.
Israel’s response was to curtail - but not freeze - such activities. This position was ultimately accepted - albeit reluctantly - by the American administration, which had no basis at all for insisting on a freeze anyway since Israel had not agreed to its original inclusion in the Road Map first proposed by President Bush in 2003.
Abbas in his address to the UN made it clear to Obama that Abbas would not be returning to the negotiating table unless there was a complete freeze - and - it would seem - a whole lot of new conditions that Abbas lumped in at the same time.
Abbas told the assembled delegates:
“We call upon the international community to uphold international law and international legitimacy and to exert pressure on Israel to cease its settlement activities, to comply with the signed agreements, and desist from the policies of the occupation and colonial settlements, to release the 10000 - correction approximately 11000 prisoners and detainees, to lift - and to lift the unjust siege imposed on the Gaza Strip….”Whilst not stating what international pressure should be exerted on Israel to achieve these objectives - Abbas no doubt had in mind the collective economic punishment of Israel’s population by imposing boycotts on the importation and purchase of Israeli products, the sharing of intellectual knowledge between universities and divestment by investors of their share portfolios in Israeli companies.
What is crystal clear is that this shopping list of conditions is unacceptable to Israel and will act as an effective bar to the resumption of negotiations - making President Obama’s call for the immediate resumption of those negotiations just a few days before superfluous and already outdated.
It would need an extraordinary loss of face for Abbas to announce his readiness to resume negotiations in the face of his defiant stance and response to President Obama at the United Nations. His arch enemy - Hamas - would pillory him for his submission to American and Zionist pressure.
President Obama can respond in two ways - either do nothing and let the current state of affairs meander along aimlessly - and dangerously - on the road to nowhere or announce his own plan to break the current impasse.
Before proposing his own plan President Obama would be well advised to put a series of questions to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority so as to gauge their respective attitudes to the following matters:
1. Is the Palestinian Authority prepared to recognize Israel as the Jewish National Home reconstituted pursuant to the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the United Nations Charter?America - unequivocally and unambiguously - needs to present its own answers to both parties on these same questions after first gauging and evaluating their responses and then lay down its own terms as the price for America’s continuing involvement in helping the parties achieve a final resolution of their conflict.
2. Does the Palestinian Authority intend to persist with its demand that every square centimeter of the West Bank be ceded to it by Israel or is it prepared to accept less in exchange for an equivalent land swap by Israel?
3. Is the Palestinian Authority still committed to millions of former Arab residents and their descendants of what is now Israel being given the right to return and live there and if so what would be the appropriate number that Israel should accept?
4. Is Israel prepared to allow the creation of a 22nd Arab State between Israel and Jordan with full and unfettered access and control over its air space and maritime waters? If not is the Palestinian Authority prepared to accept something less such as demilitarization?
5. Is Israel prepared to remove all the 500000 Jewish residents living in the West Bank. If not what number are they prepared to remove and from where?
6. Is Israel prepared to divide Jerusalem so that it becomes the capital of both Israel and the new Arab state?
Failure by America to elicit satisfactory and positive responses to these questions from the Palestinian Authority and Israel will only ensure that one can continue to predict with absolute certainty that the two state solution is not going to be the solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict.
Living the dream but experiencing the nightmare that has accompanied this fatally flawed and discredited vision for the last 72 years has proved to be catastrophic for both Arabs and Jews. How much longer will this failed proposal continue to be paraded as the only solution to the conflict? It is about time that the parties put up or shut up.
The thumbs down given to President Obama by Abbas this past week only underscores America’s need to get some answers from the parties to the above questions or vacate the scene - unless America completely revamps its thinking and starts to look at options other than the two state solution.
Obama has already hinted at going in another direction emphasising “dignity” and “security” as the diplomatic drivers in resolving the Jewish-Arab conflict if the two state solution is abandoned.
Such a policy and initiative should surely be welcomed to break the impasse and receive the thumbs up from the international community to enable it to be successfully implemented.