06 October 2012

The U.S. squeezes the Palestinians

The Palestinian Authority has announced that before the end of the year (but after the U.S. presidential election) it will press for a vote by the General Assembly for upgraded status at the UN. On cue, the United States has gone into bullying mode, warning European nations that if they support the Palestinians there will be "significant negative consequences," including financial sanctions, for the Palestinians. Last year the U.S. used its veto in the Security Council to block an application for full statehood.

At first glance, U.S. opposition to the Palestinians moving closer to statehood seems to contradict its own policies. Does it not consistently claim that it supports a two-state solution in Palestine? The Israelis have their state, should the Palestinians not now have theirs? The current process—whatever it is—has been going on for decades and is going nowhere. (Or at least it has gained nothing for the Palestinians—the Israelis gain more land and further segregate the Palestinians every day.) Taking another approach to statehood, a peaceful one step at a time process in co-operation with the world's nations via the UN, would seem eminently sensible. We might expect the Americans to be applauding and yet they are instead threatening dire consequences. They would apparently deny the Palestinians any progress at all.

The answer to this seeming contradiction lies in the U.S. declaration that Palestinian statehood "can only be achieved via direct negotiations with the Israelis." The U.S. pushes negotiations between the two parties because the Israelis have all the leverage. They have the most powerful military in the region, complete with nuclear arms, backed up by the most powerful military in the world. And they occupy most of the land. The Palestinians have virtually no leverage at all. The U.S. is in effect telling the Palestinians to submit, to accept whatever crumbs the Israelis care to offer. And they are determined to coerce the Palestinians into accepting this submission by cutting off any other alternatives that might lead to a Palestinian state.

The U.S. approach is rather like what we did with the North American Indians. We forced them, by virtue of our ever-increasing numbers and our superior technology, to negotiate with us when we had all the leverage. And we know how that worked out.

The analogy with the Palestinians is not complete however. History was on our side with the Indians. As Europeans poured into North America in their millions, the Indians were utterly overwhelmed and either negotiated for very little or got nothing at all. In the case of the Palestinians, however,  history is on their side. They make up 20 per cent of Israel itself, half of all Palestine, and then there are the millions in the immediate diaspora in Jordan, Syrian, etc. and beyond that hundreds of millions of fellow Arabs.

Of course the Palestinians do face losses as Israel changes the facts on the ground by stealing ever more land. Nonetheless, with the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Palestinians and their kin and the support of the Arab peoples brought increasingly to the fore with the Arab spring, in the long term the Palestinian position is strong.

Naturally, the Israelis are keen to take advantage of the current power imbalance while the Palestinians gain by taking other approaches than negotiation which, with time on their side, they can afford to do. Thus their bid to the UN for upgraded status. One European diplomat observed "if we are to persuade Abbas not to pull the trigger, a serious alternative needs to be put on the table, and fast." That alternative is obvious: propose a settlement that is fair to the Palestinians and then the U.S. must pressure Israel into accepting it.

But they refuse to do that. They insist instead on coercing the Palestinians into negotiations in which they will be victimized yet again. The American behaviour strongly suggests the United States supports not a two state solution but rather a state/bantustan solution.

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