In the perennial Palestinian-Israeli crisis, Barack Obama decided to enhance his 2012 re-election chances by giving his pro-Israel credentials a much-needed boost. By the same token Obama scuttled his chances of improving America’s image in the Arab world.
The Palestinians are no nearer to achieving statehood and U.N. membership. And the land for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues to shrink steadily as the ban on expanding Israeli settlements was lifted last spring.
New Jewish settlements aren’t authorized but the existing 141 Israeli settlements that house 320,000 in the West Bank — and another 215,000 in East Jerusalem — increase by several hundred dwellings at a time.
Last July 18, Israel issued bids to build 336 apartments in West Bank settlements. The Ministry of Construction and Housing spokesman said developers were being asked to compete to build 294 apartments in Beitar IlLit and 42 more in Karnei Shomron.
Area C is Israel’s designation for 60 percent of the West Bank with a Palestinian population of about 150,000 (out of 2.4 million) and where almost all Israeli settlements are located, including the road network that links them, and which Palestinians aren’t allowed to travel.
Residents of Khallet Zakariya, located in Area C south of Bethlehem, complained last month to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that Israeli authorities are demolishing their homes and settlers destroying their livelihoods in an effort to force the community to relocate.
Mohamed Khalil, 55, said Israeli settlers “ruined” a little more than an acre of his crop of grapes and plums and “spray painted” in black on the wall of his home a death warning to get out.
Khalil also told an OCHA rep that officials from the Civil Administration, the Israeli governing body that operates in the West Bank, came to see him with an offer to relocate his community of some 350 people to an area west of Bethlehem called Nahlin. He said he declined to abandon the land that his father cultivated.
Ido Hevroni, a resident of Alon Shvut (population: 3,000), south of Khallet Zakariya, says there is “peace between his community and Palestinian families” and that he is against “any illegal structure, Palestinian or Israeli.”
With Jewish settlement Bat Ayin located directly west and settlement Rosh Zurim directly to the north, residents of Khallet Zakariya complain there is a strategy to force them out to allow settlement expansion.
These vignettes of daily life in the West Bank demonstrate that the U.S. pledge of a “viable and contiguous” Palestinian state isn’t about to materialize.
The post-U.N. outlook now is for a third “intifada” or Palestinian insurrection, not suicide bombings as in the past, but demonstrations by Palestinian youth up and down the length of the Wall of Separation — a 420-mile-long electrified and fortified electronic barrier that snakes in and out of the West Bank and cost more than $2 billion to build. The 1967 border with Israel is 120 miles long.
Palestinians tested this new form of intifada last May — and got worldwide television news coverage. Israeli soldiers breaking up these demonstrations produced the kind of scenes that inflamed Arab streets.
It was under Israeli pressure that Facebook deleted a Web site that called for a third Palestinian intifada after it had quickly clocked 300,000 supporters.
It is this original 1967 border that Obama suggested become the basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with minor adjustments and compensation for any loss of land — and which Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu categorically rejected.
About 50 percent of the West Bank population is affected by the Wall through loss of land or isolation through de facto annexed areas. It also sits astride the West Bank’s water aquifer.
By rejecting the Palestinian demand to be recognized by the United Nations as a full-fledged member state, Obama lost what little goodwill he had recovered from his support for the NATO operation to dethrone Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and from the way he tipped the balance against long-time U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
By autumn, the Arab Spring was already shimmering like a desert mirage. Gadhafi was turning into an Arab Scarlet Pimpernel, the hero of the Reign of Terror that followed the start of the French Revolution.
The new military garrison chief for Tripoli is a man who was tortured in Thailand under the CIA’s rendition program. Abdelkarim Elhaj said with a sarcastic smile he isn’t holding it against Obama but he would like to see those involved brought to justice.
And in Egypt, the sight of Mubarak on a gurney being wheeled into a military court where America’s close friend for 30 years is accused of corruption, as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist extremists prep their election campaigns, confident they’ll win 50 percent of the vote next November, Obama must be asking himself where he went wrong.
Netanyahu is convinced he has the correct game plan vis-a-vis the Palestinians. He says some are ignoring that Fatah, the moderate Palestinians, and Hamas, whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel, reconciled in May 2011.
The deal included an agreement to form a unity government and to have elections within a year. Israel made clear it would reject any deal that included Hamas.
For Hamas and other hard-liners, their idea of a permanent frontier is simple — the Mediterranean Sea. Hence, Netanyahu’s steadfast refusal to budge — and to go on expanding Jewish settlements.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is editor-at-large at UPI and the Washington Times. This column was syndicated by UPI.