Those who had initially thought that the crisis between Washington and Tel Aviv over Israel’s announcement of a new settlement project in Jerusalem might result in a shift in Israeli government policy regarding settlement construction received a quick response from Benjamin Netanyahu himself during his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington on Monday. Netanyahu stated clearly and explicitly and without any attempt to couch his words in diplomatic language, so as to not embarrass the Obama administration, that Israel has the right to build in any part of Jerusalem, saying that “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It’s our capital,” whilst those attending the conference applauded. Netanyahu used this speech to hit back at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who in her own speech to AIPAC said that the continued policy of settlement construction was undermining US efforts to revive Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. However Clinton offset this by stating that US commitment to the security of Israel is “rock solid.” However the Israeli Prime Minister said that there was a national consensus concerning the annexation of Jerusalem and Israeli settlement building there. He said, “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today.” Netanyahu said that every Israeli government since 1967 has carried out building work in what he described as the Jewish districts of Jerusalem.
Netanyahu was not just addressing the 8,000 delegates attending the annual AIPAC conference who constitute the pro-Israeli pressure mechanism in the US, but also hundreds of US members of Congress who were attending the conference. Some members of Congress issued statements criticizing any attempt to pressurize Israel on the grounds that this puts Israeli security in danger. Netanyahu wanted to inform the Obama administration that he would reply to the settlement issue, not just in Jerusalem, but also in Washington, through the Jewish pressure groups there and via the “friends of Israel” in the US corridors of power. Consequently, the speeches that were made at the AIPAC conference – including speeches given by US members of Congress – became something of a contest to announce a rejection of pressuring Israel and a confirmation of their commitment to the security of Israel.
Israel has set its sights on the US mid-term congressional elections that are due to take place in November, and this is from two standpoints; firstly politicians do not risk engaging in conflict with Israel during elections for fear of the influence of Jewish pressure groups, and secondly because projections indicate that the Democratic party may lose a number of seats during these elections. This is a defeat that could weaken the Obama administration and cause it to turn its focus to the domestic front as a result of the extreme polarization caused by some of its programs and projects, especially with the continuation of the economic crisis. Therefore we will see the Israeli government playing in order to win time and procrastinating, as usual, especially as it is not being compelled to make any significant concessions to the Palestinians at this moment in time. The Palestinian situation is now at its worst stage with division and conflict between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Even if reconciliation efforts are successful, mutual confidence between the two parties is something that may remain absent for a long time. This would mean continuation of a state of weakness and the absence of true bargaining power. To be clear, the Palestinians should not expect an Arab miracle that will result in all their dreams and aspirations being fulfilled. The current Arab situation is extremely frail, and even if there is a desire to take serious steps to support the Palestinian negotiator, this is something that would require the Arab position to derive its strength from the cohesion and strength of the Palestinian position.
It is not logical for the government of President Mahmoud Abbas to pin all of its negotiation hopes on the US effort, just as it is not acceptable for Hamas to stall reconciliation and subject the fate of the Palestinians in Gaza to the calculations of Tehran. While Fatah and Hamas fight over power, Palestinian suffering is increasing; their lands are being confiscated, and the dream of a Palestinian state is diminishing day by day. What is currently required of the Palestinian leadership is for it to rise to the level of responsibility and stop jeopardizing the rights of its people. Without complete reconciliation, neither the Arab states nor Washington will be able to do anything for the Palestinians.