Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state arrived Monday in Marrakech, Morocco, to meet ministers of the Arab League. Her agenda focuses on press freedom issues in Morocco. She will also touch on the peace process in the Middle East; an affair on which the Arab League and the United States are not seeing eye to eye, since Washington relaxed pressures to get Israel to freeze all settlements in the Palestinian territory.
“I am telling you that all of us, including Saudi Arabia, including Egypt, are deeply disappointed,” Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League said Monday on the sidelines of the League’s Ministerial Council in Marrakech. The meeting’s theme surrounds the issue of Jewish settlements. During her visit to Jerusalem Saturday, Hillary Clinton supported Israel’s proposal to partially freeze the settlements and also asked the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to accept the revival of the peace process, without making the Israeli settlement freeze a precondition, as was the case in the past.
And yet, only a few months ago, Washington had ordered Israel to freeze all settlements not only in the West Bank, but also in East Jerusalem. The Obama administration then called on the State of Israel to not only admit the principle of a Palestinian state, but also suspend all new home constructions east of the Green Line [[The Green Line or the 1949 Armistice Line marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. The exact borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state are subject to negotiation between the two parties. The Palestinians want a complete end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and use the phrase to mean a return to the pre-4th June 1967 borders. Between 1949 and 1967, the city was divided into Israeli controlled West Jerusalem, and Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem. Israel currently claims sovereignty over the entire city, and claims it as its capital, after capturing East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war.]] Tel Aviv refused to yield to those demands. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister has, at his best, only limited the expansion of settlements to the constrution of 3,000 homes already authorised by his government. Netanyahu does not want to recognise houses built in the annexed Arab East Jerusalem as settlements.
Risk of failure
The inadequate revision of the demands made by the United States is a clear victory for Israeli Prime Minister. Binyamin Netanyahu emerges as the victor in this recent Israeli-Palestinian drama, considering that the initial U.S. pressure had put him in a rather awkward position. He ran the risk of shattering his fragile right wing coalition, which was formed after his election earlier this year, if he yielded to U.S. pressure. On the other hand, he has been constantly perceived as an obstacle to the resumption of peace talks.
Monday in Marrakech, Hillary Clinton tried to justify the change of position from United States. “The Israelis have responded to the call of the U.S., the Palestinians and the Arab world to stop settlement activity by expressing a willingness to restrain settlement activity,” she said. She added that the offer from the State of Israel “falls far short of what our preference would be but if it is acted upon it will be an unprecedented restriction on settlements and would have a significant and meaningful effect on restraining their growth.”
The arguments have failed to convince many observers. ““…no other country on the planet does the United States kneel and plead like this… But Israel the occupier, the stubborn contrarian that continues to mock America and the world by building settlements and abusing the Palestinians, receives different treatment…” wrote Gideon Levy, columnist of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz. ” The initial American position was totally unrealistic… They finally understood that this is what they can get and no more” concessions from Netanyahu, who is heavily supported by his countrymen, explained Ephraim Inbar, director of the right wing Center for Strategic Studies at Begin-Sadat’s Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, quoted by the daily Le Parisien.
On its part, the Arab League does not intend to resume the peace negotiations as suggested by Washington, without a total freeze on settlements. Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, made the massage known to Barack Obama during their meeting at the White House last August. King Mohammed VI of Morocco was expected to reiterate the same position with Hillary Clinton Monday during their tête-à-tête at Ouarzazate, south-east of Marrakech. He was to emphasize the need for a return to peace in the Middle East, to create an “independent Palestinian state, viable at all levels,” according to a government source quoted by the French National television.
On Monday, the secretary general of the Arab League spoke about the risk of failure in the American led mediation. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is expected Wednesday in Egypt where she will meet with Hosni Mubarak, again, to deliberate on the same issue.