Broad smiles and handshakes characterised Clinton’s visit to Israel, but in terms of helping peace, the event amounted to nothing, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
In her brief visit to Israel-occupied Palestine this week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton utterly failed to push the peace process — or what remains of it — forward, mainly due to recalcitrant Israeli refusals to halt settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Clinton, who met with top Israeli leaders, seemed more eager to please her hosts than stir the stagnant waters of the stalled peace process, which serious observers argue is dying out and outliving its usefulness.
One frustrated Palestinian official described the visit as “reasserting the American presence and continued relevance in the region, but nothing more. She just wanted to say ‘We are here.'”
In her meeting with Israeli officials, Clinton dutifully affirmed US commitment to Israel’s security, a mantra all US officials arriving in Israel have to invoke. She also sought to assure the anxious Israeli leadership of Egypt’s continued commitment to the Camp David Peace Treaty of 1978. Israel is worried that the new Egyptian leadership might create a linkage between its commitment to the treaty, on the one hand, and Israeli behaviour towards the Palestinians on the other.
Some Israeli sources went as far as claiming that President Mohamed Mursi promised Clinton that Egypt would maintain the year-old siege on the Gaza Strip. However, Egyptian sources have dismissed the reports as “baseless speculations”.
In her meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Clinton implored Israel not to take any “unilateral action” against Iran at least before the US elections in November.
“Friends like us must act together,” she said.
The Israelis didn’t give any commitment in this regard, probably to keep the Americans guessing as to Israel’s next step and also to blackmail the Obama administration for maximal possible concessions.
Eager to appease the Israelis, likely to avoid the occurrence of any last-minute glitches that would hurt Obama’s re-election chances, Clinton refused to even allude to recent decisions by an Israeli government committee declaring all Jewish colonies in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, perfectly legal.
Apart from that, Clinton parroted every Israeli position at the regional level, including maintaining pressure on Hamas and demanding Turkey to improve relations with Tel Aviv, regardless of the latter’s behaviour, past and present.
Clinton also asked the Israeli government to make “some positive gestures” towards the Palestinian Authority (PA) because, as she put it, “such gestures would first and foremost serve Israeli interests.”
The PA, which is foreign aid-dependent, is undergoing the worst financial crisis ever to the point that it has failed to pay July salaries for an estimated 180,00 employees and civil servants.
Shortly before Clinton’s visit to occupied Jerusalem, one Israeli official was quoted as saying that the raison d’Ãªtre of the PA was to serve Israeli security needs. “If they fail in this task, they don’t need to exist.”
Israeli leaders pressed Clinton to apply more pressure on Iran to force it to end its nuclear programme. Israel is believed to possess hundreds of nuclear bombs and warheads. However, even alluding to this subject is an unthinkable taboo in Washington due to the Zionist stranglehold on American political life, especially during elections seasons.
One of the demands Israel has been constantly pressing the Obama administration to meet is to release from jail convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. Shortly before Clinton’s arrival in West Jerusalem, dozens of small children demonstrated for the convicted spy’s release.
Influential officials in the US security establishment have resisted pressure to release Pollard, arguing that matters touching US national security must remain a red line even for Israel.
In her meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at an East Jerusalem hotel, Clinton made the usual statements about continued US commitment to the peace process.
However, Clinton’s statements seemed to have failed to make any positive impression on visibly frustrated PA officials who are increasingly worried that Israeli intransigence and American acquiescence might eventually render the strategic Palestinian goal of establishing an independent and viable state unreachable.
One PA official said Clinton was only reproducing the same “disappointments, same failures and same false expectations made by [former secretary of state Condoleezza] Rice.”
Rice visited Israel-occupied Palestine more than 22 times during President George W Bush’s term in office, but failed to make any substantive progress towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is widely believed that the repeated failure of American policy in the region is rooted in the immense influence Israel’s supporters have on US politics and policies.
Clinton’s talks with Fayyad centred on two main issues, including demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners who have finished three decades in Israeli jails, and the transfer of Russian-supplied armoured vehicles to Palestinian security forces.
Such vehicles are intended to combat riots and street protests, but Israel is worried they might be used against Israel in case the current “moderate” leadership in Ramallah is replaced by a more nationalistic or Islamist leadership.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas signalled last month that he would resume stalled talks with Israel if the Israeli government agreed to release dozens of Fatah and other Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israel jails for decades in connection to resisting the Israeli occupation.
Israel indicated its initial willingness to “help” the PA in this regard, insisting on keeping the crucial issue of settlement expansion outside any discussion. Nonetheless, Nimr Hammad, personal secretary to Abbas, said that there could be no breakthrough until and unless Israel halted its settlement activities.
“Our position is clear: no gesture or measure taken by Israel will have any strategic significance if the settlement enterprise keeps going.”
With the PA forced to choose between financial survival, on the one hand, and pursuing its national liberation agenda, on the other, many Palestinians, including intellectuals and politicians, are increasingly convinced that another road to freedom must be opened as the two-state solution formula seems irreversibly doomed.