Opposing View: Palestinians Need An Honest Broker
This article originally appeared on USA Today on 22 September 2011.
Let us start from the beginning: Is there a Middle East "peace process," and what has the process achieved for Palestinians?
This is a process that in 20 years of negotiations (since Madrid in October 1991) has produced a tripling of the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories, from 200,000 to nearly 600,000; has drastically reduced the mobility of 4 million Palestinians living under Israeli control; and may have made a two-state solution to the conflict impossible. The process has made peace more distant.
Four American presidents have presided over this debacle. All cared more about the dictates of domestic politics than Middle East peace. President Obama's speech at the United Nations on Wednesday reinforced this reality.
The United States is Israel's patron. The U.S. needs only to tie our massive support for Israel to a simple requirement — to abide by international law and previous agreements — for peace to be within reach. But the United States is highly partisan. And Palestinians suffer the consequences.
A much more important accomplishment than Palestinian U.N. membership would be to secure a genuinely honest broker. The U.S. has failed in this role. The Palestinians' U.N. membership bid is an effort to enlist the international community to redress the imbalance in power and rights in this asymmetrical conflict.
President Obama unwittingly undercut his argument when he cited Northern Ireland and South Sudan as examples of peace won through negotiations between two sides. In both cases, the international community (led by the U.S.) evened the scales by supporting the (just) claims of the weaker party.
This could not be further from the reality of the past two decades of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Indeed, former American negotiator Aaron David Miller once described the American role as that of "Israel's lawyer." Thus, the president's speech made it seem as if the Palestinians, and not the Israelis, were the occupying power.
The statehood bid is an effort to alter this dynamic. It is an attempt to shake the U.S. out of its one-sided approach before the Arab Spring reaches the millions of Palestinians languishing under a 44-year occupation that the president never saw fit to mention in his U.N. speech.
President Obama's speech was, sadly, par for the course, and it's yet another illustration of why U.S. policy is and has been a major obstacle to a just and lasting Middle East peace.
Rashid Khalidi is a professor of Arab studies in the history department at Columbia University.