by Arthur L. Lowrie
Israel's well organized and financed supporters have exerted excessive influence over American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which has resulted in the Clinton Administration abandoning long-standing U.S. positions on the core issues of Jerusalem, settlements, and the occupied territories; undercut America's stature, and, in realpolitik terms, sowed the seeds of future conflict.
Jerusalem: Clinton has condoned the consolidation of Israeli control. Netanyahu's opening of the tourist tunnel on September 25, 1996 was merely the latest provocative act, to which the administration's response was weak. Earlier, on May 17, 1995, Ms. Albright had exercised the first U.S. veto in five years in rejecting a Security Council resolution that called on Israel to reverse its decision to expropriate land in Palestinian areas. Albright defended the veto on the grounds that "by injecting the Council into this issue, this resolution would merely compound the problem." The reversal of U.S. policy on Jerusalem was most dramatically revealed on worldwide television in July 1996 when the cabinet and the entire Congress gave Netanyahu a standing ovation as he stated his uncompromising position.
Settlements: American officials have justified support for expanded settlements by pleading that confrontation with Israel would disrupt the "peace process", thereby tacitly accepting the Israeli argument that settlement expansion does not violate Oslo nor change the legal status of the disputed territories. Dennis Ross' criticism was limited to seeing (settlement building) "as the kind of activity that complicates the negotiating process." Given the lameness of the American response, there is little doubt that the Likud will continue to pursue Minister of National Infrastructures Ariel Sharon's policy of "establishing facts on the ground."
Occupied territories: American policy toward the occupied territories was consistent up to the Clinton Administration and was based on UN resolutions 242 and 338, the "land for peace" formula. Early in the administration, Clinton began to back away from this formula by suggesting the territories were not "occupied", but "disputed", thus aligning itself with the long held Israeli position.
Netanyahu has only made explicit what Labor was accomplishing with stealth. Clinton's unequivocal support for Israel, whether under Labor or Likud, gives Israeli leaders little incentive to compromise or to demonstrate any magnanimity toward the Palestinians. Netanyahu, Sharon and their supporters must sense that they can have most of Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem, settlements, and continuing American billions.
The real problem is not the moral one, it is the realpolitik one. The United States is supporting the elimination of any meaningful Palestinian presence in Jerusalem; the fragmentation of the West Bank, and the immigration of foreigners into occupied Palestinian land. Israel and the United States are likely to pay a heavy price for having disregarded not just the history of Western attempts to dominate the Middle East, but the historic positions of the U.S. The words of George Bush, in addressing the Madrid Peace Conference on October 30, 1991, may be prophetic: "We know that peace must also be based on fairness. In the absence of fairness, there will be no legitimacy, no stability. This applies above all to the Palestinian people". The future conflict will not be a "clash of civilizations", but the price of having violated the basic rights of the region's indigenous people. The fact that the vast majority of the people of the region happen to be Muslim only adds incendiary fuel to the fire.
[Arthur L. Lowrie is Adjunct Professor at the University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, and a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer.]