Friday, February 28, 2020

It‘s up to Obama

By Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi - March 21, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Opinion]

Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

Around 20 years ago, a young civil rights attorney was mobilizing the African-American community in Chicago at the beginning of his political career. This week Barack Obama will visit Palestine as president of the United States.

Around 20 years ago, I was involved in the process of negotiations that followed the Madrid conference, an early attempt to start a peace process, in an effort to secure independence for Palestine and the rights of its people. Next week I will still be here, alongside our steadfast people, fighting for our rights.

For two decades Palestine has engaged in discussions with successive Israeli governments, which have talked the talk of a negotiated settlement while deliberately turning a military occupation into something far more sinister — an ugly system of racial segregation.

President Obama has the power to change this reality and break the political deadlock. It will require some tough decisions and strong political will, but the United States is known for its ability to make strong foreign policy decisions when necessary.

Let us review the goal. The United States, along with the rest of the international community, endorses a two-state solution based on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and a resolution of the refugee issue in accordance with United Nations Resolution 194, so that Palestine and Israel can live side by side in peace and security.

There must be real consequences for Israel if it fails to comply with U.S. requests and international law. Israel’s lack of accountability remains the single most damaging aspect of U.S. involvement in the conflict

The Palestinian and American visions are therefore in line with each other. Successive Israeli governments, unfortunately, have not shared this vision, a fact which is made abundantly clear by Israel’s actions on the ground: The cranes building settlements speak far louder than any words at a negotiating table.

American officials talk a great deal about the resumption of negotiations. The Palestinian leadership has always pushed for a negotiated settlement on all final-status issues. However, we also need to be very clear that any further negotiations must have clear terms of reference and prior obligations must be fulfilled in order to show that both parties have good-faith intentions of working toward a defined end goal. Otherwise we will be stuck in an empty process, one which unfortunately acts as a smokescreen for continued unilateral Israeli policies.

The first concrete step that Obama could take would be to demand that Israel fulfill its prior obligations. This includes a full freeze on settlement construction, the release of prisoners, the opening of closed institutions in Jerusalem and other commitments made during previous negotiations.

There must be real consequences for Israel if it fails to comply with U.S. requests and international law. Israel’s lack of accountability remains the single most damaging aspect of U.S. involvement in the conflict.

Obama could also use this visit to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whether his intention is two states based on the 1967 border. If Netanyahu answers yes, then the president should ask to see Netanyahu’s map of what this might look like.

The Palestine Liberation Organization has presented its negotiating positions clearly and repeatedly while fulfilling its commitments; there is no point going back to the negotiating table without an indication from this new Israeli government that it shares the same vision for a solution as the rest of the world.

Thirdly, if the United States does see itself as an honest broker, then the balance of power must be redressed. Two parties cannot reasonably negotiate when one is weaker and the mediator is allied to the stronger party. We understand that America will always be Israel’s close friend. But a good friend needs to be willing to tell his friend when he is going astray.

Obama needs to make it clear that the reality of occupation and segregation contradicts the strongly held values of the American people, is in no one’s interests, and cannot last indefinitely. If Obama feels that given the American relationship with Israel he is not able to mediate, then it would be better to admit this and step back, allowing others to take the lead.

We, as Palestinians, are doing what we can to break the deadlock and work toward peace. Last year, we took the diplomatic initiative to enhance our status at the United Nations to that of an observer state, in part to salvage the internationally endorsed two-state solution and to create positive pressure to restart a political process. It is a shame that the United States and Israel did not support our bid, which ultimately would have been in all parties’ interests.

The P.L.O. is ready as ever to negotiate — as long as there are clear terms of reference and the fulfillment of prior obligations, including a complete settlement freeze. Unfortunately, both of these elements have been missing — along with an honest broker.

The importance of Obama’s visit will depend on his actions. Above all, Palestinians want to be granted their right to freedom, self-determination and equality. The United States has the power to reinstate the elements required to help us achieve our rights and advance toward a lasting peace. The question is whether the U.S. has the will.

Originally published on the New York Times website

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