[Published 27 October 2010]
With the mid term Congressional elections only a week away - President Obama is struggling to gain Israel’s agreement to some form of freeze to stop Jews who wish to live in the West Bank or East Jerusalem from building houses there.
The President desperately needs such an Israeli concession to help stem the threatened annihilation of the Democrats prospects in such elections.
The West Bank and East Jerusalem constitute the biblical and ancient homeland of the Jews. Together they form part of the land in which Jews were given the legal right to settle in international law for the purposes of reconstituting the Jewish National Home pursuant to the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1922 and article 80 of the United Nations Charter.
Uniquely sovereignty in such territory still remains undetermined or recognized by the international community. It still remains “no man’s land” in the truest sense of that phrase and with the exception of the Antarctic the only place on earth where such a situation prevails.
The legal right to settle and build vested in the Jews has not been – and cannot be – unilaterally abrogated without Israel’s express consent and agreement.
President Obama’s attempt to do so dates back to a press conference given by him jointly with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 18 May 2009 when in answer to a question the President stated:
“Now, Israel is going to have to take some difficult steps as well, and I shared with the Prime Minister the fact that under the roadmap and under Annapolis that there’s a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements. Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward. That’s a difficult issue. I recognize that, but it’s an important one and it has to be addressed.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to reinforce the President’s remarks when she confirmed – following a meeting with Egypt’s Foreign Minister just a few days later:
“With respect to settlements, the president was very clear when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here. He wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions. We think it is the best interests of the effort we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease.”
Bowing to such Presidential pressure Israel agreed to a limited freeze on residential construction in the West Bank (but not East Jerusalem) for ten months - which was to expire on 26 September 2010 - to enable the PA to resume negotiations with Israel.
Secretary of State Clinton was forced to retreat from her earlier position for a total freeze and pronounce such limited freeze as “unprecedented” – which it certainly was.
Jumping on the bandwagon the PA waited till the death knell to resume negotiations with Israel on 2 September 2010. Emboldened by President Obama’s position the PA are now refusing to directly negotiate with Israel until a new freeze acceptable to the PA is announced by Israel following the expiry of the original freeze.
It is a pity to see the President of reputedly the most powerful nation on earth scrambling to get some new freeze agreed by Israel to get those negotiations resumed whilst also helping his own political fortunes in the United States that have plummeted since his call on the Jews to stop building was made just 18 months ago.
Like the last four Presidents before him – President Obama has had an inflated notion of believing he can solve the Arab-Jewish conflict where the best international efforts over the last 70 years have failed to do so. He is now reaping the results of his own attempt to do so.
Giving comfort and encouragement to the Arab side of the conflict by seeking to stop Jews building on land that presently belongs to no one now must seem a stupid and irrational thing to have done. The President is now paying the price for his off the cuff remark made at a press conference.
If the President wanted to be serious and evenhanded he should have also called for Arabs to stop building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem whilst negotiations were proceeding between Israel and the PA.
It is farcical that Arabs can build with gay abandon in the West Bank but Jews can’t.
Perhaps in seeking a way out of the current impasse President Obama could speak to the President of the PA – Mahmoud Abbas – to seek a reciprocal freeze on building activity corresponding to that he is now requesting from Israel.
If Abbas refuses such a request then Obama should draw the conclusion that the Arabs are not really serious about resuming negotiations with Israel.
Netanyahu has always insisted on reciprocity in the negotiations .
The current frantic Presidential attempt to once again stop only Jews building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is a good example of how the principle of reciprocity is being subverted at great cost to the White House.
Much has been written about the illegality of Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Many United Nation General Assembly resolutions have been passed expressing the same viewpoint. All are without foundation or legal basis and completely unsustainable having regard to the clear terms of the Mandate and the United Nations Charter.
The demand that Jews stop building in those areas whilst negotiations are in train to settle Jewish and Arab claims to sovereignty there - is certainly open to discussion. But so is Arab building construction. To deny one and allow the other is to make a determination in favour of one of the claimants to sovereignty in those areas to the detriment of negotiations designed to solve that very issue.
As President Obama struggles to get out of the quicksand into which he has stumbled he should reflect on calling for a mutually agreed building freeze by both Israel and the PA in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for a period to enable negotiations to be resumed and finalized.
No doubt the President now rues his intemperate remarks on 18 May 2009. He will need to call on the Arab League to get him out of his present predicament and agree to an Arab freeze on building in the West Bank and Jerusalem - or be subjected to making significant concessions to Israel to persuade it to maintain the President’s prestige and influence once again.
What is good for the goose must surely be good for the gander.