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Dancing to yankee doodle dandy

By Terry Lacey

(June 13, Jakarta, Sri Lanka Guardian) To Israel, President Obama represents Nemesis. The US may conceivably reconcile with Iran, and put heavy pressure on Israel to stop or reverse the creeping annexation of Palestine. The upcoming speech of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to square a circle and requires complex political acrobatics.

But here is support from a strange quarter. Some of those who wonder if the twin state is the best solution, and favor an historical compromise with Hamas, may also welcome an opportunity for a fresh start.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres and Avigdor Liebermann, should not have to dress up in Uncle Sam outfits and pretend they are dancing to an American tune.

They should not be required to lead Israelis in a dance to a foreign-dictated destination. Their obligation to their own electorate comes first. And the Palestinian electorate merits similar consideration. And both have said what they think.

Nor is this to criticize Uncle Sam who stands, under President Obama, shoulders high above the rest.

But the EU has performed like a political midget on the Middle East, failing to use its economic leverage to good effect and squandering its political capital by following Bush on the road to nowhere.

New realities require new priorities. Not a headlong dive into early, comprehensive and final peace talks, which the majority of Israelis and Palestinians may oppose, in general, or at this time.

So Uncle Sam must survey the new world he sees, and help us all to change direction, for only he has the height and weight to do so.

And the world is changing fast around him. The power of the US and EU is diminishing and they will both be judged in the Arab and Muslim world, especially in Asia where most Muslims live, and more widely, on this outcome.

The wise man builds his house upon the rocks. What we see in Ramallah and in the Palestinian and Israeli street are shifting sands. Not yet solid foundations for peace.

It would be better to proceed step by step, and perhaps give the twin state a last chance later on, rather than a premature launching in adverse circumstances, which might sink it for ever.

Instead the interim objectives should be to end the blockade of Gaza, to cease the political, economic and security war of attrition against Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza and to create a modus operandi for economic and security co-operation between the West Bank and Gaza and between both of them and Israel.

Then to pursue the regional negotiation and cooperation track, as Netanyahu will suggest in his speech, along with economic cooperation and building strong foundations for the future, instead of building a house on shifting sands.

But the US condition to take this new path should be that Hamas must be included, because without them the whole pack of cards comes down.

On this Uncle Sam, and the new Peace Quartet, must persuade the Israelis and carry with them Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

What is needed now is engagement with Iran, Syria, Libya, Qatar, Turkey and maybe Malaysia and Indonesia, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and whoever can help deal with Hamas. This the EU could help to do. And help the Gaza Strip.

The weakened Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should not be asked to make a charge of the Light Brigade with no electoral political base and little legitimacy.

The whole Palestinian donor interface and diplomatic machinery has become detached from its foundations and lacks a legitimately endorsed political base as a result of boycott, in-fighting, civil war and the collapse of its electoral mandate and public accountability. The West Bank Palestinian government is simply Western-backed and appointed. What does it represent any more except the wishes of its donors?

It will take time to rebuild Fatah and the PLO and then come to terms with Hamas and then restore legitimacy to Palestinian government and instutions through elections. Only Hamas in Gaza has an elected government and administration. What has happened to the Palestinian parliament which was elected. How many members are in jail? Could it not play a role in restoring legitimacy if the Israelis were persuaded to let its members meet?

Hamas exiled leader Khaled Meshal, whilst also rejecting the presently proposed twin state solution, says Hamas could join a government of national reconciliation based on the 1967 boundaries and would accept a ten year truce with economic cooperation. This is a start.

This impasse is not the fault of the Obama administration. But when the Irishman stuck up to his neck in an Irish bog was asked by another Irishman, “Which is the best way to Dublin?”, then the correct answer was “You don´t start from here”.

So we need a fresh start.

Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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