Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January-February 2010, Pages 53-54

Waging Peace

Obama Initiative, Peace Options Discussed at London Conference

(L-r) CAABU Director Chris Doyle, conference moderator Duncan Macpherson, and PLO diplomat Husam Zomlot. (Photo R. Gaess)

CHRIS DOYLE, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), opened up a Nov. 21 conference in London entitled “The Obama Initiative” with a series of sobering assessments. “What is this ”˜initiative,’ what is this ”˜peace process?’” he asked, noting that there has not been a genuine peace process for many years. The conference at St. John’s Church in Notting Hill was sponsored by The Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust as the afternoon portion of its annual general meeting.

“We have more a war process than a peace process,” Doyle said, charging that Israel’s deadly “Operation Cast Lead” is continuing in a different guise. Due to the continuing Israeli blockade, he pointed out, police stations in Gaza are currently being rebuilt with mud bricks, as the infrastructure there crumbles. “It doesn’t look to the Palestinians that they are even inching toward a viable Palestinian state,” he stated.

Dan Judelson, an executive member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, recounted his visit to the U.S. Embassy in London the previous week to relate his group’s concerns. He told officials that intense U.S. pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to postpone U.N. action on the Goldstone report had been an “absolute tactical disaster” which left both Abbas and the U.S. weakened. Similarly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks hailing “unprecedented” Israeli settlement concessions had demonstrated that the Obama administration is not prepared to stand up to Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Remarking on a recent “Dispatches” program on British television that took a critical look at Britain’s Israel Lobby, Judelson said people shouldn’t try to stop the Israel Lobby—“you should [instead] organize and do the same,” he argued.

According to an Australian audience member, the same kind of lobbying goes on in his country. It’s not the fact of the lobby’s existence that is troubling, he said: the problem is “they’re not transparent or accountable, and we’ve been foolish to ignore it.” Doyle concurred, noting that the “Dispatches” program confirmed that “huge sums of money are changing hands,” raising issues about how politics in Britain is being funded.

An audience member with the Palestine Solidarity Committee wondered whether Arab states can be pressed into funding lobbying efforts. Doyle, speaking through his experience with CAABU, replied that “there’s no belief in the Arab world that lobbying works.”

Husam Zomlot, a PLO diplomat in London, said he had been heartened by Obama’s first weeks in office, as Obama made the Israeli-Palestinian issue a priority from Day One and appointed George Mitchell, a relative neutral, as his special Middle East envoy. More recent events had left him less sanguine, however, he said—not least congressional efforts to shield Israel from the findings and recommendations of the Goldstone Report.

Current conditions did not lend themselves to optimism, Doyle said: Netanyahu was beholden to various extreme-right parties in his coalition, and his recent row with Obama “hasn’t cost him in Israel.” The Palestinians were politically split, Doyle noted, and Arab states “are as divided as ever.” There is no common European policy, and the Obama administration is waist deep in healthcare, the economy and Afghanistan. The real question, Doyle said, was: What can break the logjam? “I’m not sure there’s a process now,” he offered.

Zomlot ran through what he saw as the Palestinian options, giving some insights into current PLO thinking. The Palestinians, he said, could seek a U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian state along the June 1967 borders, and could then call for a U.N. trusteeship for a limited period of time.

Secondly, Zomlot said, the Palestinians could dissolve the Palestinian Authority altogether, leaving legal responsibly for all of Palestine in Israel’s hands. The PLO would then re-engage society on the ground, and possibly move toward a third intifada, this one focused on nonviolent resistance. Palestinians could seek equal political and civil rights via the “one-man, one-vote” approach. That, he argued, would force the Israelis to enter into a moral debate with the Palestinians on the occupation.

Zomlot concluded by saying that the PLO had entered a period of re-evaluation in search of a broad national strategy to confront the Israeli occupation.

Roger Gaess

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