Posted by on December 14, 2010 in Blog

In an unfortunate setback for the peace process, the Obama administration announced last week that it was abandoning the demand for an extension of the settlement freeze as a precondition for the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It is worth noting that the eagerly-sought 90-day extension of the partial moratorium was a compromise from an already tepid demand for a full settlement freeze during negotiations (to say nothing of the illegitimacy of existing settlements). Nevertheless, the US gave strong indication that its abandonment of the settlement freeze demand should not in any way be taken as a sign of retreat in its efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Critics of US-led efforts to bring the parties together in a meaningful way were quick to point to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s implied equivalence between the roles of Israelis and Palestinians in bringing about the collapse of this phase of direct talks. However, a closer look at Clinton’s speech by those familiar with Washington political speak cannot miss the strength of the message she delivered to Israel:
For starters, Clinton stated that the “lack of peace and the occupation that began in 1967” which “deprive[s] the Palestinian people of dignity and self-determination” was “unacceptable.” Clinton discussed the implications of Israel’s refusal to seriously pursue a two-state solution in no uncertain terms. She said that the “long-term population trends that result from the occupation” were endangering Israel’s entire national project of being a state that is both Jewish and democratic. She went on to say that “Israelis should not have to choose between preserving both elements of their dream. But that day is approaching.”

Many peace process insiders have complained during the direct negotiations that while Palestinians where trying to discuss the final status of core issues, Israeli negotiators were stalling by insisting on talking about minor administrative jurisdictional matters. Clinton appeared to be implying that the US will not put up with further stalling when she said “the United States will not be a passive participant. We will push the parties to lay out their positions on the core issues without delay and with real specificity.”
Even on the question of settlements, which the Obama administration is largely viewed as having compromised too far on, Clinton said:

Let me be clear: The position of the United States on settlements has not changed and will not change. Like every American administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and two-state solution, but to Israel’s future itself.

In addition to the negotiations front, Palestinians have begun efforts to seek recognition for a Palestinian state in the occupied territories. Brazil and Argentina have already recognized the state of Palestine, and Uruguay indicated it might be next. If Israel is not forthcoming during the indirect negotiations, perhaps the next step could be a US commitment to not impede or veto Palestinian efforts for recognition through the United Nations. As Robert Wright stated in a piece in the New York Times, “The United Nations created a Jewish state six decades ago, and it can create a Palestinian state now.”

Many have expressed concerns and reservations about Palestinian efforts to gain recognition for their state without reaching an agreement with Israel, and those concerns and reservations are perfectly valid. But it is on Israel to resolve these concerns by taking the negotiations seriously, not on the Palestinians to wait indefinitely for Israel to decide when it may feel like ending the occupation.