Frustration over the lack of progress in resolving the Palestinian issue is on display in a variety of forms, most of them deeply troubling for Israel, which is being blamed for the impasse.
The White House warned recently that Israeli housing plans in east Jerusalem would alienate “even its closest allies.” And after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called such criticism “against the American values,” the White House issued a lengthy, detailed statement defending American values like “unwavering support to Israel” and strengthening Israel’s security. Clearly there is impatience and irritation in the administration over Israel’s perceived lack of urgency in moving forward on negotiations.
On Monday the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to urge the British government to recognize Palestinian statehood. The 274-12 parliamentary was only symbolic, since it was nonbinding. But the implications of the vote are that even Israel’s close allies in the international community are fed up with the Mideast stalemate in the wake of the failed U.S.-sponsored peace talks and the bloody Gaza war this summer. And the blame is being placed squarely on Israel. Unfairly, we would add, particularly after Palestinian President Abbas gets away with a terrible United Nations speech accusing Israel, not Hamas, of genocide in the Gaza war.
Sir Richard Ottoway, a Conservative member of parliament who abstained in the British vote, spoke of his personal anguish as someone who has “stood by Israel through thick and thin” and thought Israel was listening to his pleas for progress. “But I realize now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion,” he said.
Deeply upset by Jerusalem’s recent claim on 950 acres of West Bank land, he said he was so angry about Israel’s “behavior in recent months … that I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.”
The British vote came only days after Stefan Lofven, the new prime minister of Sweden, said his country would recognize Palestine, making him the first among Western European leaders to make such a claim.
Israeli officials were quick to point out that such moves have no substantive consequence and go against the principle established by the U.S. and most European countries that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties themselves. What’s more, such support for the Palestinians only encourages them to avoid dealing with Israel, further sours the Jerusalem-Ramallah relationship and relieves Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia from pushing for the kind of regional cooperation Netanyahu called for in his United Nations speech several weeks ago.
But the shift against Israel, more evident each week, must not be dismissed by Jerusalem. And Washington could play a vital and constructive role here, taking advantage of the common interests Arab regimes share with Israel these days, namely a deep concern over the Muslim Brotherhood and the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Netanyahu, in his UN address, suggested these commonalities could lead to the kind of regional cooperation that might result in progress with the Palestinians — a reverse in thinking for those who see peace with the Palestinians as a requirement before there can be greater rapprochement with the Arab world.
With much of the Mideast in chaos it is important that the administration show support for Israel, the most stable ally in the region, and to strengthen and make public the alliance between Jerusalem and moderate Arab regimes as a means of breaking the cycle of hopelessness and renewed hostilities. Such a plan to counter the Islamic fundamentalism that threatens much of the Mideast has a better chance than imposing yet another round of U.S.-led peace talks between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas that would go nowhere — again.