The Jerusalem "Compromise"

by JONATHAN COOK

Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in the United States this week armed with a mandate from the Israeli parliament. A large majority of legislators from all of Israel’s main parties had supported a petition urging him to stand firm on the building of Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem — the very issue that got him into hot water days earlier with the White House.

Given the Israeli consensus on Jerusalem, there was no way Mr Netanyahu could have avoided rubbing that wound again in his speech on Monday to the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

He told the thousands of delegates: “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.”

Citing his own policy as inseparable from all previous Israeli governments, he added: “Everyone knows that these neighbourhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.”

Mr Netanyahu’s speech appeared consistent with the new approach agreed by both sides to end this particular debacle. According to the US media, a policy of “Don’t ask and don’t tell” has been adopted to avoid making East Jerusalem an insurmountable obstacle to negotiations.

It will be telling how the US administration responds to the latest approval by Israeli planning authorities of a housing project at the Shepherd’s Hotel in East Jerusalem – this time in the even more controversial area of Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian community slowly being taken over by Jewish settlers backed by the Israeli courts.

The White House has eased its stance chiefly because Mr Netanyahu has climbed down on two issues of even greater importance to the administration.

First, he has agreed to make a “significant gesture” to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, probably in the form of a prisoner release. That is the carrot needed to bring Mr Abbas to the peace talks overseen by George Mitchell, the US special peace envoy.

And second, Mr Netanyahu has conceded that Israel will discuss the “core issues” of the conflict – borders, Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees – ensuring that the negotiations are substantive rather than formal, as he had intended.

Those concessions – if Mr Netanyahu delivers on them – should be enough to break up his far-right coalition, a prospect the White House craves. The US administration wants Tzipi Livni, the leader of the centrist opposition, to join Mr Netanyahu in a new, “peacemaking coalition”.

If Mr Netanyahu could wriggle out of this bind, he would do so. But his ace in the hole – harnessing the might of AIPAC and its legions in Congress to back him against the White House – looks to have been disarmed.

Comments last week by Gen David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, linked Israel’s intransigence towards the Palestinians to the spread of a hatred that endangers US troops in the Middle East. That left the AIPAC hordes with little option but to swallow their and Mr Netanyahu’s pride, lest they be accused of dual loyalties.

In the words of Uri Avnery, a former Israeli legislator: “This is only a shot across the bow, a warning shot fired by a warship in order to induce another vessel to follow its instructions. The warning is clear.”

And the warning is that Mr Netanyahu must come to the negotiating table to help to establish a Palestinian state whatever the consequences for his coalition.

But it would be unwise to assume that the crisis over settlement building in East Jerusalem indicates that the Obama administration plans to get any tougher with Israel on the form of such statehood than its predecessors.

Ms Livni, unlike Mr Netanyahu, may wish to find a solution to the conflict – or impose one – but her terms would be far from generous. The White House knows that she, too, is an ardent advocate of settlements in East Jerusalem. When she broke her silence on the crisis last week, it was to emphasise that, by “acting stupidly” in stoking a row with the US, Mr Netanyahu had risked “weakening” Israel’s hold on Jerusalem

Instead, the signs are that Barack Obama could be just as ready to accommodate the Israeli consensus on East Jerusalem as the previous Bush administration was in backing Israel’s position on keeping the overwhelming majority of West Bank settlers in their homes on occupied Palestinian land.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli president who is much favoured in Washington, has outlined a “compromise” to placate the Americans. It would involve a peace deal in which Israel keeps the large swaths of East Jerusalem already settled by Jews, while the Palestinians would be entitled to the ghettos left behind after four decades of illegal Israeli building.

In her own AIPAC speech, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, hinted that such a solution might yet be acceptable to the administration. The recent US condemnation of settlement building, she said, was not “a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table. This is about getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it — and staying there until the job is finally done.”

Having lost patience with Mr Netanyahu’s lip service to Palestinian statehood, the White House appears finally to have decided its credibility in the Middle East depends on dragging Israel — kicking and screaming, if needs be — to the negotiating table.

Mr Obama may hope that the outcome of such a process will make US troops safer in Iraq and strengthen his hand in the stand-off with Iran. But it remains doubtful that the US actually has the stomach to extract from Israel the concessions needed to create that elusive entity referred to as a viable Palestinian state.

JONATHAN COOK is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

 

WORDS THAT STICK

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman