Experts fault Washington for failing to rein in Israel

Urge Biden administration to act as negotiator, and not as party


Hammad Sarfraz May 31, 2021
US President Joe Biden. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

KARACHI:

While skies above Gaza are silent for the first time in several weeks, experts fault the United States for failing to use the levers of power to halt the tide of Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians.

According to several leading observers, the recent escalation, and all those episodes of violence that may follow, are due to Washington’s failure to hold Israel to its commitments and legal obligations during the fragile peace process between the two sides.

“The only power that can bring change in this conflict is the United States,” said Dr Wajjeh Abu Zarifa who heads the Palestinian Center for Democratic Dialogue and Political Development, a non-profit organisation that advocates an independent democratic state for Palestinians.

Disappointed by US President Joe Biden’s pledge to change the course of the Israel-Palestine conflict during his term, Dr Zarifa said: “Seeing him operate over the past five months, I don’t think he plans to prioritize the Palestinian cause.”

Amid the escalation, Dr Zarifa pointed out that the US president asserted his unwavering support for Israel’s “right to defend itself”. Not only did the Biden administration back the self-defense narrative, but the president himself refrained from openly criticizing Israel for its use of heavy force against unarmed Palestinians.

“From the onset of this conflict the US failed to prevent the Israeli aggression against Palestinians. Instead, they gave Benjamin Netanyahu more time to kill Palestinians and destroy the infrastructure,” said Dr Zarifa from Gaza.

Read: Pro-Palestinian rally in Washington seeks end to US Aid to Israel

During the war, the expert mentioned, Washington gave more than $700 million to the Israeli military. “We thought the Biden administration would change the course of this conflict, but it hasn’t,” he added.

Dr Zarifa directly blamed the US for the failure of the two-state solution. “It is dead due to the Israeli aggression, its forceful settlements, and killings. It is destroyed because the world and particularly -- the United States has given the Israelis the chance and space to move the settlers to the West Bank.”

With the recent conflict, steering both sides away from a long-lasting political solution, Uppsala University’s Dr Ashok Swain believes the first step towards peace is to restart the negotiation process. The Sweden-based professor of peace and conflict research said the US would have to act as a negotiator, and not as a party.

Criticism at home

Washington’s overall performance in bringing peace to the troubled region was also rated poorly by Chicago Tribune’s former Middle East correspondent. Bob Rowley, who spent four of his 30 years in journalism, covering the conflict between Israel and Palestine, blamed former president Donald Trump for causing the greatest harm to the peace process.

“I fault Trump for not doing anything for the Palestinian concerns or to deal with their side of the final status issues in a meaningful way,” said Rowley, who had front row access to the Middle East conflict between 1994-98.

According to Rowley, Trump took the Israeli side on every issue. The former president, who deputed his son-in-law as his administration’s Middle East point man, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, which had always been in Tel Aviv as a statement.

Also read: Top US diplomat lands in Israel to 'solidify' ceasefire

“That is fine for Israel and Trump, but it is death and destruction for the prospects of peace. It shows that the US is no longer an honest broker between the two sides,” explained the former correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, one of the most dominant voices of the Midwest.

Referring to the heavy amount of aid the US sends to Israel, Rowley said: “The US could use the leverage that we have due to the military aid we give to Israel.” Since the heavy bombardment of Gaza, which killed more than 250 Palestinians, an increasing number of US lawmakers are questioning the financial support Israel receives from the US.

Following the devastation in Gaza, outspoken Senator (D) Bernie Sanders was the first to question the Biden administration about the money Israel receives. In a tweet, the lawmaker from Vermont said: “We must also take a hard look at nearly $4 billion a year in military aid to Israel. It is illegal for US aid to support human rights violations.”

Referring to the tweet by Senator Sander’s, Rowley pointed out that several US lawmakers were joining the growing chorus against the misuse of US financial support to Israel.

In the US, Rowley said, there is more political pressure on President Biden to go beyond the unequivocal support for Israel but also show support for the Palestinians.

The former Middle East correspondent urged the US to try more deliberately to solve conflict – that has been simmering for decades. “The US must ensure there is democracy, equality, security for Jews and Muslims,” said Rowley, who has also covered the White House for several years during his extended career.

Towards the end of the no holds barred interview on the subject, Rowley said: “No matter how much the US wants peace it won’t happen unless the two sides on the ground want it.”

Read more: Biden sticks to Israel-Gaza playbook, irking progressives and allies

From Jerusalem

According to Orly Noy, a Jerusalem based journalist and editor at Local Call, the US, under Biden, must hold Israel accountable to the same human rights standards as it would in any other violator’s cases.

Noy said the US president cannot blame the Palestinians for the aggression. “The Palestinian armed resistance is also the outcome of the Israeli oppression. The framing should be accurate,” she insisted.

Like Rowley, she too blamed the Trump administration for derailing the peace process. “Trump administration has been a catastrophe in terms of its impact on the Palestinian cause.”

The activist urged the Biden administration to stop the special treatment given to Israel. “Biden must hold Israel accountable to the same liberal values he implements in other aspects of his policies.”

Allowing Israel to continue with its occupation, Noy said, was Washington’s biggest mistake. “It has been detrimental to the cause of peace,” she added.

For any final settlement, Noy said, the US must perform a neutral role, and where possible, it must penalise Israel for violating human rights.

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