No place for the Palestine cause

When U.S. Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets began their bombardment of Syria, it felt strange

Daoud Kuttab

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When U.S. Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets began their bombardment of Syria, it felt strange. Foreigners bombing a sovereign Arab country without the approval of its leadership produced few signs of public discontent.

And, for the first time in decades, a war is taking place in the Middle East without the issue of Palestine having any relevance.

In previous wars, Palestine was always present. When George Bush Sr. led a coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the Iraqi leader attacked Israel with Scud missiles.

The absence of a serious U.S. desire to give Palestine priority is putting more pressure on the Palestinian leadership to take a befitting position

Daoud Kuttab

When his son invaded Iraq, the U.S. and UK made verbal promises about the need to solve the Palestinian problem, and tried to follow it with diplomacy.

In the first instance, the U.S.’ persistent effort produced the Madrid Conference and later the Oslo Accords.

In the second U.S.-led war on Iraq, no political breakthrough was recorded. Although U.S. diplomats, including secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, spend many hours shuttling between Ramallah and Israel little change was recorded.

This time around

This time around, the war has occurred after exhaustive effort by Washington, but none of the five Arab coalition partners appears to have made progress on the Palestine issue a condition for its participation in the air strikes and for participating in the anti-ISIS coalition.

This war is being waged on Syrian land, without its permission, but is not directed against the regime, but against groups fighting on its territory.

While the war against the group calling itself the Islamic State is not popular, there is no love lost for the Islamic group that is beheading its opponents and shattering centuries of diversity and tolerance in the Arab world.

Unlike the previous wars in which Washington was an enthusiastic leader which needed an Arab coalition to support it, this time around, the Obama administration is being dragged into this war.

Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia were unable to leverage regional issues, such as Palestine, to agree to join the U.S.-led coalition.

Extremely reluctant

President Barack Obama has been extremely reluctant to execute any attacks, and the last-minute coalition building appears to have required little energy from the U.S.

The Middle East’s countries are extremely worried about the existential threat ISIS presents and, therefore, have little clout to be able to make demands to the U.S. in regard to Palestine.

Palestinian disunity, although suspended for a short time during the recent war on Gaza, also contributed to the lack of Arab pressure on the U.S. to demand a stronger attempt at influencing the U.S. vis-à-vis Israel.

The relation between the U.S. and Israel has soured ever since the collapse of the nine-month Palestinian-Israeli talks.

There is no love lost between Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. And with November mid-term U.S. elections fast approaching, the Democratic party leader is unlikely to risk taking an unpopular stand that can mean his party losing the U.S. Senate in the coming elections.

The lack of U.S. involvement is not a bad thing. If Washington’s absence from the Palestinian-Israeli scene also means that America might not automatically support Israel in every case, then it might be welcomed.

While many Palestinians and their supporters want the U.S. to press Israel to adhere to international law and end its occupation, many would be happy if the U.S. just stops protecting Israel in international forums, especially the U.N. Security Council.

The absence of a serious U.S. desire to give Palestine priority is putting more pressure on the Palestinian leadership to take a befitting position.

Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative

President Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative reflects this in many ways. By giving priority to the borders of the state of Palestine and its need to be recognized, the Palestinian president seems to focus on the big picture.

Abbas’ threat that he will go to the U.N. if the U.S. refuses to recognize Palestine and his asking that the U.N. Security Council recognize Palestine on the 1967 borders will certainly put Washington in a difficult position.

Will Washington use the veto at a time it is trying to keep and increase its anti-ISIS coalition?

Will Obama do what previous presidents did and protect Israel from the international community at a time Israeli officials are routinely speaking badly about the U.S.?

The Arab states that joined the U.S. in the recent coalition against ISIS will be under a lot of pressure not to give support to Washington if it vetoes any resolution that aims to make justice for the Palestinians.

Palestine might not have been part of the deal in the current coalition, but this quickly formed coalition will become quite shaky if the U.S. will act in the U.N. Security Council as it does when there is no coalition with five Arab countries.

This article was first published in The Jordan Times on September 25, 2014.


Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab.

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