With the international Quartet unable to relaunch talks between Israel and the Palestinians and the Arab League throwing its support behind a Palestinian bid at the United Nations, the prospect of a vote on Palestinian statehood in September is looming large on the horizon. But Israel and its U.S. ally are undertaking a furious diplomatic effort to avert the vote or defeat it, with a potential U.S. Security Council veto hanging over the proceedings.
Henry Siegman, the president of the U.S./Middle East Project (USMEP), a former member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the former 16-year head of the American Jewish Congress (AJC), spoke by phone to ThinkProgress to share his thoughts on how we got here, what the Palestinians are looking to get out of the U.N. and what the U.S. should do about it all.
You’ve shown support for the Palestinian initiative to have their statehood recognized by the U.N. Do you think the U.S. should get out of the way and not cast a veto in the Security Council?
I think the United States ought to do more than that, but at the very least ought to stop being the major obstructer to progress in the situation by getting out of the way. The reason the United States so far has not only been unable to make any progress and bring the situation forward, but so far has been the main player preventing any progress, is because the United States has taken the position that the only way to make any progress in this situation is a renewal of the peace process, getting [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas to talk to each other. If there is anything to be learned from years of disappointment and failure, it’s that the so-called peace process is simply a vehicle for Israel to pretend there is some potential for progress even as on the ground they are making it impossible because of their settlement project. There is a basic dishonesty here. The United States, instead of saying, “This is a fraud,” says instead Israel wants to see a two-state solution, and thus provides a cover for Israel to expand its settlements on the ground and make an outcome absolutely impossible. So it’s in that sense that I’m saying the U.S. is the major obstacle. Because for years the assumption has been that the United States is uniquely in a position to bring about an agreement because of its leverage with Israel. But it turns out the U.S. is captive to Israel’s plans.
The U.S. says that the only way for a solution to be brought about is a negotiated deal between the two parties. You’ve written that you don’t think this is quite correct.
It’s not only not quite correct; it’s absolutely wrong. There are two reasons this is totally unreal. For nearly twenty years now — since Oslo, that is — we have been trying to move the parties beyond where they’ve been. And every effort, every round of negotiations, has failed. The parties have not come closer. The only thing that has happened is that Israel has succeeded in creating the network of settlements and support infrastructure that will make a Palestinian state impossible. There are people on the ground who think the two state solution is impossible because of that.
There is a reason the peace process is a hollow exercise. The assumption all along has been that what is needed to achieve a breakthrough is a change in the modalities of the peace process that would enable the two parties to reach an agreement, something both of them really want to do, but have been prevented from doing because of years of mistrust and conflict. So what is needed is an honest broker – i.e., the U.S. — who would help the parties to overcome existing obstacles. The U.S. believed itself to be the only mediator who could facilitate an agreement, and the rest of the world agreed. But this was based on a completely false understanding of the reality of the situation. Read more