Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - On 31 October this year Hillary Clinton made an unexpected and unsuccessful visit to Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem to see Abu Mazen and Benjiamin Netanyahu. At the end of the meeting with the Israeli prime minister, she said that peace talks must resume even if Israel has not frozen settlement construction in the occupied territories, saying the exact opposite of what her own President had declared only a few months ago in a speech in Cairo.
This latest turn of events proves that diplomatic activity on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the Obama administration is now painfully reminiscent of the activity of previous administrations, specifically that of George W. Bush, but earlier too. There is a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing, cabinet ministers, special envoys and so on, are forever on their airplanes between Washington, Tel Aviv, and neighbouring nations.
Israel's Prime Minister, Defence Minister, and the Prime Minister's special envoys and advisers are forever on their way to and from Washington. Opaque public statements are made, which are immediately exegeted to no great effect. The U.S. expresses unhappiness over Israel's settlement activity in the occupied territories, with a variety of polite descriptions, varying from "an obstacle to peace" to a mere "not helpful". While Israel makes once more promises made already many times before, to "remove" a few "unauthorized outposts" - while at the same time accelerating a massive "authorized" settlement drive everywhere else.
As Clintons words have revealed the U.S. despairs and drops the subject. In the end, the "peace process" industry is operating at full capacity, while nothing ever happens to bring about peace, and something may happen at any time to turn back the clock and end the present hour of opportunity.
In the occupied West Bank in fact - while a small class of high level functionaries and favoured entrepreneurs are living the high life - popular discontent is once more growing. If there is no real progress, not in the "peace process", but towards actually ending the military occupation by a foreign power, under which they live, analysts in Israel agree, there will be a growing probability of a "Third Intifadah". And when that happens, then of course the nationalist right-wing in Israel will have its "definitive proof" (as it is sure to put it) that Israel should not be pressed to end the occupation and that it could not possibly think of a peace treaty with a still violent neighbour…
Earlier in the Obama administration, it seemed that this time it would be different, that the President understood that putting an end to the on-going colonization of the occupied Palestinian territory was a logically necessary premise for meaningful peace negotiations. The President had sounded very, very determined, and spoke of the matter very publicly and on a number of occasions. But like his predecessors, on this issue, he too has been defeated by the well-honed "yes, but…." response of the Israeli government of the day: "Yes, but not in greater Jerusalem… yes, but we must surely complete the (multiple) projects already underway…. Yes, but we shall not freeze construction of public buildings…. Yes, but (settler) families must be allowed to grow naturally…. Yes, but only for a short while, maybe six months, maybe just maybe even nine months!" And so on, and so on, until any undertaking of a settlement freeze – and not even such a symbolic one has been forthcoming so far – would be sure to be insignificant in itself, and constantly belied by the rapid construction continuing on the ground.
So all that is happening is the parades (rather, flights) of officials across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, westwards and eastwards, eastwards and westwards…
But the break-out of a new Intifadah (and the inevitable military response) is not the only possible consequence of this failure to intervene decisively. Even more damaging, in historical perspective, might be a possible success, under such conditions, of current efforts to achieve Palestinian "national reconciliation" through bringing Hamas, the armed Isalmist movement into the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), whose president at present is Mahmoud Abbas (Abou Mazen).
Just recently Hamas rejected the draft agreement negotiated under Egyptian auspices, but it may yet change its mind, and Egypt is currently working hard to make it do so. Egypt has its own reasons, of course, to do with its own security concerns in relation to the Gaza Strip, the densely populated Palestinian region, which is now being ruled de facto by Hamas. However, Egypt's sponsorship, not only of a truce or a "working relationship" between the PLO and Hamas, but of a "genetic mutation" of the PLO – established as a secular and national movement, certainly not an Islamist one - is surely short-sighted, and does an injustice to the Palestinian people whose national aspiration has always been articulated by the PLO as a secular and democratic state, decidedly not an islamist polity.
Abou-Mazen, for his part, is worried at the growing disillusionment among his people with the attempt to achieve freedom through peaceful means, which so far appears to the people as leading nowhere, and has declared a general election in the occupied territories, an election to the presidency and legislature of the semi-autonomous Palestinian National Authority, to be held on 24 January 2010. In the expectation that he could maintain alive the hopes for a peaceful transition to freedom, until then, perhaps with more help from the U.S. and Europe than he has been getting (by way of pressing Israel to halt the settlement drive). It is an open question whether the gamble will succeed, just as it is almost certain that the elections will not be able to be held in the Gaza Strip, while it is under the control of Hamas gunmen. And, of course, some say that the announcement of the elections is just a ploy, to drive Hamas to accept the "national reconciliation proposal", or to keep hope alive in the hearts of ordinary Palestinians, and that the elections will surely be postponed, and not only once…
And in Israel? In Israel no one (i.e. no one who counts nowadays) is particularly interested in the Palestinian front. The Government's agenda is focused on Iran, and on making everybody else focus on Iran, and on the growing probability that Israel may be forced to launch military action to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons – with eventually incalculable consequences – or else reconcile itself to living ever after in fear of annihilation.
This probability has just grown exponentially after Iran's mocking acceptance-rejection of the draft it had negotiated to export its enriched uranium.
Now it may not matter what Iran signs or does not sign, any credibility the Ahmadinedjad regime ever had may be permanently lost here.
Israel's Government is working hard to persuade the U.S. and Europe and others that the Palestinian issue is of no importance compared to the drama and possible tragedy associated with the Iran issue.
And whether or not others share the view, official Israel itself appears fairly confident that the Palestinian situation is in any case manageable – as long as the new U.S. Administration follows the same script as its predecessor, and right now the Administration is not yet doing anything really different.
Mrs. Clinton arrived in Jerusalem on the 31st and did the exact same things as her predecessors, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell: meetings took place, statements were made, dinners were eaten, and more edifices for settlers were built, planned, or inaugurated, even as the U.S. Secretary of State is on the ground. It has all been done before. With an ever closer risk of war.