By Owei Lakemfa
THE on-going disagreements between Israel and its principal backer, the United States seem a trifle.
The Palestinians are squeezed mainly into two small settlements;Â the Gaza Strip and the West Bank .Â Yet Israel continues to nibble parts of the West Bank by building settlements.
Americaâ€™s request delivered by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, simply states: â€œWe want to see a stop to the settlementsâ€.
The Americans argue thus: â€œWe think that this is an important and essential part of pursuing efforts leading to a comprehensive agreement and the creation of a Palestinian next to an Israeli Jewish state that is secure in its borders and futureâ€. These simple statements hold the key to finding a lasting peace to the worldâ€™s most volatile region.
But Israelâ€™s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on behalf of the Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government, rejects this, claiming that Israel had an understanding with the George W. Bush administrationÂ endorsing the theft of Palestinian lands. Clinton had disowned the Israeli claim stating that â€œâ€¦ there were no informal or oral enforceable agreementsâ€ on such a matter between Israel and US.
The fact is that after 61 years of being at war or on war footing, most Israelis are tired and want peace.Â Unfortunately their leaders insist on feeding the populace on a diet of fears and tales of how Israel would be wiped out if it allows an independent Palestinian state.
Of course the Israeli government is not so tactless to openly reject peace and advocate war.Â It raps this under layers of peace fabrics and cynical declarations for aÂ peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis.
In no place has this cynicism been better displayed than Netanyahuâ€™s â€œhistoricâ€ foreign policy declaration of June 14, 2009 in which he made pretences to accepting the existence of a Palestinian homeland.
As expected, he made half-hearted declarations. He toldÂ Palestinian leaders: â€œLetâ€™s begin negotiations immediately without preconditionsâ€.Â He immediately followed this declaration by putting forward preconditions designed to ensure thatÂ peace talks are stalled.
Netanyahu who proclaimed that there must be no â€œpreconditionsâ€ set forth preconditions. He said: â€œPalestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The second principle is demilitarisation â€¦ We must ensure that Palestinians will not be able to import missiles into the territory, to field an army, to close their airspace to us ( Israel ) or to make pacts with the likes of Hezbollah and Iran â€.
Other preconditions he set out include that â€œâ€¦ Jerusalem must remain the United Capital of Israel … (and) the Palestinian Authority will have to establish the rule of law in Gaza and overcome Hamasâ€.
These preconditions set out by the Israeli government are to ensure that the peace process does not take off.
Let us examine some of them.Â First that Palestinians â€œmust clearly and unambiguously recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish peopleâ€.Â The question is: Are the Palestinians who have no state, are scattered across the world and are under Isreali occupation, in a position to recognise a sovereign state?Â EvenÂ if the argument is yes, is it not logical that this would be part of an agreementÂ that would recogniseÂ the Israeli and Palestinian states?
Thirdly, it should be noted that what Netanyahu asks for is not the recognition of Israel as a sovereign state, but as a Jewish state. Yet one fifth of the citizens in the state of Israel are Arabs not Jews. So what happens to these indigenous Arabs if Israel is proclaimed a â€œJewish stateâ€ rather than a country with multi-racial and religious groups ?
The second precondition is that a future Palestinian state will have no army to defend its territory; which people will agree to this? The third is that the future state will have no control over its airspace, which country will agree that it cannot control its airspace or territory?
The fourth is that the future Palestinian state would have no freedom to decide its foreign affairs.Â Of course, a Palestinian state must have the right at any time to decide to have or break up diplomatic relations with any country.
The issue of Jerusalem remaining the â€œUnited Capital of Israelâ€ is an attempt by Israeli leaders to hold on to occupied territories which even Israel acknowledges do not belong to it.
It is a known fact that until the 1967 war, East Jerusalem belonged to the Palestinians who are indigenous to the area.Â The fact that Israel captured East Jerusalem does not mean the territory automatically belongs to it.Â It is like Israel saying that since it captured the Syrian Golan heights, the place automatically becomes part of the Israeli nation.
The other precondition, that the Palestinian Authority must â€œovercome Hamasâ€ is equally ridiculous.Â Today, there are two dominant political parties in Palestine,Â the Hamas which won the last general elections, and the Fatah.
Fatah is the party founded by Yasser Arafat whom the Israelis tried to kill, claiming that he was a â€œterroristâ€.Â Today, Israel wants it to wipe out its rival party.
It is like asking the Yisrael Beitenu party to wipe out the Likud Party or the Israeli Labour Party wiping out Yisrael as a Palestinian precondition for peace talks.Â It just does not make sense.
Yet another Netanyahu precondition for peace talks is that Palestinians who have been refugees for decades as a result of the Israeli-Arab wars would not be allowed to return to an independent Palestinian state .
How does an Israel that encourages Jews from Russia and Poland, Ethiopia and Asia to come and settle in Israel, make it a precondition for peace that Palestinians in neighbouring Jordan or Egypt would have no right to return to their ancestral homes?
What all these show is that the Israeli leaders contrary to what their populace desire, do not want peace .They pose a threat not just to world peace but also to the Israeli people. The world must pressure the Israeli political class to embrace the peace process.