Media reports suggested that US President Barack Obama's May 19 Washington DC speech on the Middle East and North Africa contained a new proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A look at the content shows this is false.
The May 20 New York Times declared: “President Obama, seeking to capture a moment of epochal change in the Arab world, began a new effort [in his speech] to break the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, setting out a new starting point for negotiations on the region's most intractable problem.”
Much of the media reported Obama's references to Israel's pre-1967 borders as a new concession to the Palestinians, but these borders have in fact been the basis of all negotiations in the peace process since the 1993 Oslo Accords.
In 1967, Israel occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip
Under international law, Israel has no legal claim to any of the land it occupies beyond its pre-1967 borders, including no legal claim to East Jerusalem. However, this fact has long since ceased to be relevant in the peace process.
In reality, Obama's proposals were the same pro-Israel demands that the US has always brought to the negotiations ― and not even the accompanying rhetoric was new.
Obama's reference to Israel's 1967 borders was not a call for Israel to return behind them. He clarified in his May 22 speech to the rabidly pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): “Since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what '1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps' means.
“By definition, it means that the parties themselves, Israelis and Palestinians, will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967 [before Israel's occupation of Gaza and the West Bank].
“It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”
The “new demographic realities on the ground” that Obama said justified new borders are the illegal ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank and their colonisation by 500,000 Jewish settlers.
In his May 19 speech, Obama was explicit that the future status of East Jerusalem was up for negotiation.
There was nothing new in Obama's “two states for two peoples” formula proclaiming the two peoples are worthy of very differently defined states.
He said, “Every state has the right to self-defence, and Israel must be able to defend itself ― by itself ― against any threat,” but that Palestinians should only get “a sovereign, non-militarised state”.
In total conformity with previous US proposals, Obama indicated that to be recognised as a “state”, a Palestinian administration would have to demonstrate its willingness and ability to serve as a proxy police force for Israel.
“The effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated,” he said.
Sticking to a script that has had more reruns than a daytime soap opera, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's used the media-created perception of a pro-Palestinian tilt by Obama as an opportunity to put Israel's case belligerently.
The May 26 Australian paraphrased his enthusiastically received May 25 address to the US congress: “There were six major 'nos' in the speech: no to sharing Jerusalem; no to the return of Palestinian refugees [to Israel, from the land they were expelled from in 1948]; no to a Palestinian state without Israeli soldiers along the Jordan Valley; no to conceding major [Israeli] settlements [in occupied Palestinian territory]; no to pre-1967 lines; and no to negotiations with the Palestinian 'unity government'.”
Despite the differences in tone, Obama could reassure Netanyahu and AIPAC that he basically supported these “no”.
This suggests opposition to any Palestinian state capable of being a viable, independent entity, and yet both leaders remain committed to the two-state formula.
Since 1993, the illusion of a future Palestinian state is used to justify an exclusively Jewish state ruling over a country where, including territories Israel occupies, only half the population are Jews.
A peace process based on ethnic partition has become a major prop for the system of apartheid that five million Palestinian live under.
It was entirely predictable that the supposed clash between Obama and Netanyahu did not derail the peace process. But the process is threatened by the changes in Middle East politics brought about by the popular uprisings for democracy and social justice that have swept the Arab world.
The overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt meant that Israel and the US lost one of their most dependable puppets. How dependable was revealed by documents published on WikiLeaks and the “Palestine Papers” leaked to al-Jazeera in January.
An end to collaboration with Israel has been a recurrent demand by Egyptian pro-democracy protesters.
The Egyptian military government that replaced Mubarak has been forced to moderate its policy towards Israel and Palestine. It has announced it would open the Rafah crossing to end Egyptian participation in the Israeli starvation siege of Gaza).
However, Gaza-based journalist Rami Almeghari reported in the Electronic Intifada on May 26 that Egyptian authorities were still preventing movement of people and goods from Egypt into Gaza.
The West bank-based Palestinian Authority is threatening to take a unilateral declaration of statehood to the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Obama warned against this in his March 19 speech, stating: “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state.”
And obtaining symbolic recognition of a Palestinian state that lacks any control of territory will not fundamentally challenge the ethnic-partition based peace process either.
The US and Israel have expressed concerns about the unity deal signed in Egypt between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. Obama and Netanyahu both used their speeches to denounce Fatah-Hamas unity, but Hamas has demonstrated it is willing to negotiate on the two-state formula.
More threatening to Israel is the example of the Arab democracy movements.
Israel showed with its violent response that it was worried by the non-violent Palestinian protests that erupted on May 15, in the West Bank and Gaza, within Israel's pre-1967 borders, and by refugees on the Lebanese and Syrian borders demanding the right of return.
Opening fire, Israeli soldiers killed 21 protesters.