Reading Obama's Lips: No New Settlements! Benjamin Netanyahu And US Hands Off

15 April 2010

By Sami Moubayed

In March, Israel announced that it will be building 1,600 Jewish [homes] in occupied Jerusalem. By doing this, it kicked sand in the face of the peacemakers, particularly Barack Obama, who in his June 2009 speech in Cairo, had stopped just short of saying, "Read my lips: no new colonies."

Last week, sources close to Obama said the U.S. president planned to announce a new Middle East peace plan next autumn after holding a senior meeting with six former national security advisors at the White House on March 24. Israel's response to the threat of an ‘Obama Plan' was harsher than expected; this time targeting residents of the West Bank.

Military orders, which go into effect today, were published on the Israeli army's website on Sunday, allowing for the deportation (within 72 hours) of any ‘infiltrator' who is ‘illegally residing in the West Bank'. Those who break the law, the statement read, could receive a jail sentence of up to seven years. An infiltrator, it must be noted, is someone who does not have an Israeli permit to reside in the West Bank. According to Haaretz, which first leaked the story, deportation will depend, "on the judgment of ... [army] commanders in the field". Never since the West Bank was occupied in 1967 — or since it returned to partial Palestinian rule after Oslo — has it been obligatory for Palestinians to secure residency permits to live in their own territory.

Amounting to "sheer apartheid," to use the words of top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, the Israeli army's orders are alarming, especially for the 25,000 Gazans living in the West Bank who are likely to be the first to be ejected.

The army's orders send a strong message to Obama, suggesting that he think again before publicising a Middle East Plan. By declaring a Palestinian living in occupied Jerusalem an ‘infiltrator', Israel is using language from the post-1967 era, when Golda Meir famously said: "There is no such thing as Palestinians." It has come to this: Palestinians need Israeli permits to reside and work within territories internationally recognised by the 1993 Oslo Agreements as Palestinian land, taken from them by force, 62 years ago.

Additionally, there is no clue as to where these deported Palestinians will go, since they are prohibited from entering Gaza and mass deportation to the Arab world, as occurred in 1948 and 1967, would be sheer madness. The latter would in any case be refused, both by Arab governments of potential host countries and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who would come under tremendous fire for further failing to protect his own citizens from what the Palestinians are describing as "systematic cleansing".

A closer look at the army deportations, however, shows that there is nothing really new or surprising about them, since this is how Israel has acted for over six decades. This is the same government, after all, that expelled, uprooted and killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948. More so than being a message to the Arabs, this is a message sent directly to the White House.

  • Hands off

Benjamin Netanyahu is telling Obama: "Stay out of the Palestinian issue if you plan on solving it in any way but ours."

It is common knowledge that relations have not been at such a low ebb between Israel and the U.S. since the Suez War of 1956. Netanyahu has already reacted to what Obama is preparing to say in autumn, saying: "We will oppose an imposed solution." If Obama really wanted peace in the region, Netanyahu added, he should "assist rather than impose". He hinted that rather than combating extremism (a reference to Hamas) Obama was "adapting to it."

Maariv put it brilliantly, quoting a senior official: "The American approach being led by Obama is a naïve approach that was tried in the past and which failed, and anyone who talks in terms of timetables or an imposed solution is displaying an absence of good judgment and the loss of a level head." These words were echoed by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who said: "We ought to underscore that it is utterly unreasonable that any international agent might try to impose a solution on the parties."

Then came the strong words of Israeli journalist Ari Shavit in Haaretz, who said that his country "does not have a state institution powerful enough to evict 100 ... [units] with their 100,000 residents." He noted that Israel is unable ensure peaceful coexistence in occupied Jerusalem, adding: "The notion that peace is within reach is a falsehood." What Shavit said sums it all up: we take land by force then build colonies on them, we expand these colonies, then make way for more by deporting Palestinians, and then claim that we are unable to change course on the issue of Israeli colonies, which is a key requirement for the Obama Plan.

In mid 2004, George W. Bush asked his secretary of state what the single obstacle was to peace in the Middle East. Without hesitation, Condoleezza Rice replied, "Yasser Arafat." Netanyahu and Obama know better. They know there can be no peace while Israel denies Palestinians land and freedom. This explains why 1,600 colonist homes are now earmarked for occupied Jerusalem and why 25,000 Palestinians run the high risk of mass deportation from the West Bank.

-- Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Damascus Tea Party: Syrian-US Relations 1919-1959."




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