When neo-conservative fans of violence speak of "all options," they are threatening nuclear holocaust. This is the policy option of the insane, and I certainly do not advocate a nuclear option for the Levant or any other place on earth. But most other options (almost all of which are excluded by Washington decision-makers) should be on the table in U.S. efforts to achieve a just and peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. The Palestinian-Israeli situation has deteriorated to the point that US rhetoric of any kind is now too little, too late. Action is required.
As reported by Haaretz on March 13:
"In a telephone conversation, Mitchell said the U.S. would make sure Israel stops building in the area," the Palestinian official told the London-based Arabic daily newspaper.
Such words simply no longer cut it. First, it is just another unenforceable promise; second, stopping construction "in the area" is not the issue; stopping construction throughout the West Bank is not even the issue; the issue is the removal of the 500,000 illegal Israeli settlers.
Washington needs a more careful balance between rhetoric and action than we have seen over the past decade or two. This year, in particular, Israel has been changing the reality on the ground under the cover of talking about talking, with the US falling into the Israeli trap one day, trying rhetorically to squirm out of the next.
As Israel changes the situation on the ground by adding houses or settlements, by daily jet fighter violations of Lebanon's border, by police brutality against peaceful demonstrators (now including Israelis alongside Palestinians!), Washington must, to gain the initiative, counter with its own actions on the ground. To do this, it needs to consider dispassionately the enormous range of options available to it.
Further talks with the Netanyahu clique seem a complete waste of time; it is obviously not negotiating with the U.S. in good faith. The situation has passed the point where something symbolic like recalling the US ambassador would suffice, though that would have been an appropriate response to the egregious timing of the insult to Biden (but not an appropriate response to the substantive content of increasing illegal settlement at a time when it should be decreasing). That does not necessarily mean cutting off military supplies or declaring an economic embargo on Israel is needed at this moment. Many less drastic ways to move the peace process out of the gutter of hypocrisy in which it has been mired for a generation are available.
It would be useful to enumerate in a reasonable order substantive steps the US might take to change the reality on the ground in a positive direction.
It now seems time for the US to start talking to any party willing to engage in a cooperative dialogue.
This can proceed on three levels. First, Israelis disenchanted with their government's intransigence and concerned about Israel's long-term security are speaking out loudly; listen to them. Second, Turkey, Brazil, and Japan have all made it clear that they are willing to assist in any genuine effort to achieve a Mideast compromise. Third is the Palestinian level. After all, the issue does concern the Palestinians, so why not talk to them? Extend an invitation to all concerned Palestinian parties to meet with U.S. and allied representatives, making clear that Washington will favor not individuals or groups but all those willing to join together in a Palestinian united front dedicated to establishing an independent, democratic state.
A host of steps are available to Washington, should it decide sincerely to pursue Mideast peace by changing ground truth. The following list, in ascending order of severity, covers just a few of the most obvious:
- Publicly announce the cancellation of all administration participation in AIPAC meetings and state that AIPAC is no longer welcome at the White House.
- Invite key non-government Israeli thinkers to join an advisory board to help Washington define a new policy.
- Negotiate with Hamas.
- Terminate Israeli loan guarantees.
- Observe U.S. law and demand the prosecution of Israeli officials responsible for using U.S. arms for offensive purposes (including violations of Lebanon's border, last year's devastation of Gaza's infrastructure).
- State that it is official U.S. policy to seek, via negotiation, the full inclusion of Iran into Mideast affairs simultaneous with the full independence of Palestine and set up U.S.-Iranian confidence-building measures.
- Withdraw security clearances of all dual U.S.-Israel citizens.
- Require all U.S.-Israeli dual citizens to choose which country to give their loyalty and to give up the other country's passport.
- State that a non-nuclear Mideast is official U.S. policy and support a regional move to set up a multilateral organization to define a Mideast WMD regime and regulate its enforcement.
- Propose to the U.N. the transfer of Gaza to U.N. control.
- Demand, and enforce with U.S. naval vessels and marines, the termination of collective punishment of Gaza and the opening of Gaza to trade & travel.
- Open formal talks with Palestinians to organize a Palestinian united front government.
- Withdraw recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital pending division of the city between Israel and Palestine.
- Demand an Israeli government schedule for the withdrawal of troops from the West Bank.
- Demand an Israeli government schedule for the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank.
- Recognize Hamas control of Gaza.
- Recognize a Palestinian state.
- Propose to the U.N. that its peacekeepers on the Israeli-Lebanese border be armed sufficiently so they can defend the integrity of the border (including against Israeli jet fighter violations).
- Launch a zero-based review of U.S. military aid to Israel, with all such aid put on hold pending outcome of review.
- Increase economic aid to Palestine.
- Terminate all economic aid to Israel.
- Coordinate with the EU economic sanctions.
If the Netanyahu regime chooses to exclude itself from the new dialogue described above involving the U.S., moderate Israelis, Turkey, Brazil, and all Palestinians, then simply leave it be. Let history pass it by.
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