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Opinion: Gaza, Iran should not divert US from seeking peace

March 14, 2012 2:44 P.M. (Updated: March 15, 2012 1:02 P.M.)
By: George S. Hishmeh
After failing to twist the arms of Barack Obama over Iran's alleged nuclear arms potential, Benjamin Netanyahu thought he could do better with the Palestinians especially those in the Gaza Strip.

But, if anything, the four-day oppressive bombardment by the Israeli Air Force which killed 26 Palestinians and wounded about 80 others, has once again underlined that the number-one issue in the Middle East remains Israel's failure to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians, most of whom lost 78 percent of their homeland since 1948.

Without hesitation, the American president refused to accept the new Israeli "red lines" vis-a-vis Iran and warned the Israeli leader that an Israeli attack at present is risky and will undermine American interests.

Obama stressed that he prefers to apply diplomatic pressure on Iran and that any bombing has to be approved by the US administration. Otherwise Israel will have to go it alone.

Much to Netanyahu's obvious disappointment, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reported this week that a poll showed that 58 percent of Israelis oppose an Israeli strike on Iran without US backing.

Similarly, a American new poll released a few days later reported that only one in four Americans favors Israel conducting a military strike against Iran's nuclear program.

Otherwise, seven in ten (69 percent) favor the United States and other major powers continuing to pursue negotiations with Iran. This view is supported by majorities of Republicans (58 percent) and Democrats (79 percent) and Independents (67 percent). This poll was conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.

In an ill-advised bid to regain his posture, which was seriously damaged within Israel by his inflated arrogance, Netanyahu resorted to turn his guns on the Palestinians of Gaza , the region run by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group.

Back in August 2010, a Palestinian militant named Zuhair al-Qaisi, who is not a member of Hamas, was according to Israel the alleged mastermind behind an attack near Eilat on Israelis present on the road that runs alongside the Egyptian-Israeli border. Eight people

were killed and 25 Israeli soldiers were wounded in the attack.

More than a year later, Israel initiated aerial bombardment of Gaza claiming that al-Qaisi and an aide, Mahmoud al-Hannani, were said to be planning a similar attack.

But a report on Mondoweiss news site explained that "in order to manufacture a violent confrontation, the Israeli military simply concocted a lie that conceals what appears to be political considerations ... since the Israeli army had no proof that the men it assassinated last Friday were involved in the Eilat attacks. "

According to the Washington-based PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) Delegation to the United States "this Israeli escalation has been part of a larger war agenda" of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The intention was seen by the Palestinians as an attempt to "divert from Israeli violations in the Israeli-occupied West Bank," including the establishment of illegal settlements there and "to thwart any efforts at reviving the political process between the two sides."

The official PLO statement continued: "It is time that US officials stop condoning Israeli violations and transgressions. It is appalling to see such countenancing for Israel's right to defend itself when the escalation was triggered by an unprovoked Israeli strike in Gaza.

"It is time for the US administration and members of Congress to stop shielding, from any reproach, a government with such a dismal record of blatant disregard for human rights and breaches of international law, norms, and conventions."

Regrettably, the US reaction was unbalanced.

Much as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the Palestinian people "deserve dignity, liberty and the right to decide their own futures ... a viable, independent Palestine, alongside secure Israel," she chose only to condemn "in the strongest terms the rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel."

Her failure to reprimand Israel for being the party that started the clashes was overlooked.

It is surprising that Clinton or Netanyahu never realized that had a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict been reached, none of these fears prevalent in the Middle East nowadays would be in existence, or even imagined.

This could be the case had the two parties reached agreement on a two-state solution or a one-state agreement. Consequently,

the threat of an Iranian threat would have been nonexistent as it would be extremely unlikely that Iran would bombard a country where Arabs and Jews live side by side or in one entity.

Accordingly, the first logical step in this direction is for Israel to reveal its thinking about a settlement, something she has never disclosed. So it is time for Netanyahu (and his American friends) to start working on this goal.

The author is a Washington-based columnist and a former editor of The Daily Star of Lebanon.
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