By Iqbal Alimohamed
23 April, 2011
John F. Kennedy said: “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” For Mr. Obama, it is time for action!
When Mr Obama was elected to the US Presidency, he vowed to tackle and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, both parties to that conflict have reached a threshold point which, if unresolved, has the potential to spiral out of control. Its importance lies in the context of the March Arab Uprising, the popular revolts that have dethroned several Middle East / North African dictators, and caused unconscionable suffering to countless thousands. Understandably, the Palestinians are also saying “enough is enough’ in their own tragic circumstances.
The Palestinians have embarked on a process to gain swift passage this September of a United Nations General Assembly Resolution that would declare statehood for Palestine. The Resolution, if passed, will call for Israelis to stop all settlement activity, demolish existing settlements in the Occupied Territories, and to revert to the pre-1967 Borders. The status of Jerusalem and the question of return of refugees to their former homeland will need also to be resolved. The USA is the only country that can broker a lasting peace in this conundrum. Successive governments have tried and failed. There is no time left for failure; action is of the essence.
Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu are unfortunately not on good speaking terms and the Republicans, under pressure from the Israeli lobby, may try to thwart efforts to bring the issue before the UN or manipulate an outcome in Israel’s favor. In a clearly preemptive move, the Republicans arbitrarily extended an invitation for Mr. Netanyahu to address a Joint Meeting of Congress. This may be deemed a matter of domestic politics, but it has far-reaching ramifications for US foreign policy. It behoves Mr Obama now, more than ever before, to show both courage and determination to right the wrongs inflicted for so long on a disenfranchised and beleaguered Palestinian population. He must insist to the Republican members of the House and Congress that it is in both American and Israeli long-term security interests to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that further political posturing or delaying tactics, can only harm their collective interests. Similarly, Mr Obama must make every effort to secure Palestinian cooperation to meet the legitimate demands of the Israelis, namely the recognition of Israel’s existence as a state and clear guarantees for its security.
It is crucial for the Western nations to recognize that, from the revolts in the Middle East/North Africa region, there will emerge enlightened leaderships that may no longer be subservient to imperialist-style designs or domination. In the emerging new world order, the West led by the USA will need to devise strategies and foreign policy approaches which invoke upfront and quiet diplomacy to resolve conflicts without the threat or use of force.
Both Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu have before them a historic opportunity to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to leave a legacy of genuine and lasting peace in this embattled region They should strive hard, as Kennedy said, to seize the moment before the issue goes to the UN General Assembly. Any further stalling on this issue may well prove costly for American interests and the future of Israel.
Iqbal Alimohamed is a Canadian citizen, living in Geneva, Switzerland. A former senior United Nations official, he served as the UNHCR representative in Malaysia, Japan, Australia and the Sudan.