The United States and the Israeli-Palestinian Talks

Farah Naaz,Associate Fellow,IDSA

 

Ever since the Cold War started, the American Presidents were willing to defend the US objectives in the Middle East of which the main were to: reduce the Soviet influence in the region; maintain access to Arab oil; protect the territorial integrity of Israel; and bring about the settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict. To protect American interests, it was important to bring peace to the region. As a result, American decisions relating to the Middle East were taken to end the conflicts there. It was with this in view that the US sponsored the Camp David Agreement between Egypt and Israel during the Carter Administration, resorted to the Reagan and Shultz Initiatives during the Reagan Administration and masterminded the Madrid Process during the Bush Administration.

When President Clinton assumed office, he adopted a pro-Israeli attitude. Even during his election campaign, he promised never to let Israel down. Criticising the Bush Administration for giving an equal hand to the Arabs and the Israelis, Clinton stated, "The Bush Administration has gravely harmed our relationship with Israel. It has wrongly pressured Israel to make one-sided concessions in the peace process, ignored the cruel and crippling economic boycott of Israel by its Arab neighbours, and disregarded other road-blocks to peace..."1 Though President Clinton promised to push forward the peace process, he was determined not to impose peace on any party.2 In other words, he was determined not to put any kind of pressure on Israel. The Administration clearly opposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the pretext of ensuring the security of Israel.3

The Clinton Administration witnessed the signing of the Oslo Accords and on September 13, 1993, the Israel-Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) Declaration of Principles (DOP) was signed in Washington, in the presence of President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, PLO Executive Committee Chairman Yasser Arafat, PLO Executive Committee member Mahmud Abbas, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, former Presidents of the United States Jimmy Carter and George Bush, and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. The US and Russia acted as the co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process.4 It was Shimon Peres and Mahmud Abbas who actually signed the Declaration document. The DOP called for:

-- Concluding an agreement by December 13, 1993, on Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho and the structure of the withdrawal;

-- Compelling Israeli withdrawal and transferring authority in Gaza and Jericho to the Palestinians by April 13, 1994; and

-- Elections for an interim self-government authority in the West Bank and Gaza by July 13, 1994.5

The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the implementation of the first stages of the DOP began in Cairo and the Red Sea resort of Taba on October 13, 1993. However, due to the serious differences, for example different definitions on what constituted the geographical area of Jericho, release of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, and violence in West Bank and Gaza, the agreement could not be implemented.6

Arafat and Peres met in Switzerland in January 1994 to resolve the differences that were preventing the signing of an agreement on the implementation of the Gaza-Jericho component of the DOP. Sufficient progress was made for the resumption of talks and an agreement was reached on most of the issues. On the question of control of border crossing between the autonomous zones and neighbouring states, it was agreed that Israel would maintain military control and have a veto over Palestinian visitors. The Palestinians would be allowed to stay in Gaza and Jericho for a maximum period of four months only and would have to apply to the Israeli authorities for any extension of that time. It was also agreed that the territory of Gaza would be divided into three zones: first, Israeli settlements and the Egyptian border area (under Israeli control); second, encompassing the perimeter of the Israeli settlements and the access roads to be jointly patrolled; third, the rest of Gaza Strip, which was to be transferred to the new Palestinian Authority (PA).7 There was no resolution of the dispute over the size of Jericho enclave.

But the peace process suffered a setback again on February 25, 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, an American born adherent of the extremist Kach movement carried out an armed attack on Palestinian worshipers in Hebron. The Rabin government announced its decision to set up a commission of inquiry when the PLO spokesman called for a revision of the DOP to discuss the future of Israeli settlements and for the dispatch of an international protection force to the Occupied Territories. In a bid to save Israel from being let down, this suggestion was dismissed by the US as neither helpful nor useful.8

By the beginning of April 1994, the PLO agreed to resume negotiations with Israel and amidst the unabated violence, the Israeli and PLO officials signed the agreement on the implementation of autonomy for Gaza and Jericho on May 4, 1994 in Cairo.9 In the same month, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) evacuated the Gaza Strip and Jericho area and the Palestinian forces replaced them. For the first time, the PLO succeeded in establishing itself inside Palestine.

In the meantime, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan and it was feared that having achieved peace with Jordan, the Israeli government would not be pressed to pursue the negotiations with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) on implementing the DOP. As feared, the negotiations were deadlocked by autumn 1994. Though an Early Empowerment Agreement was reached between them at the end of August for the transfer of control in the fields of education, tourism, taxation, health and social welfare from the Israeli civil administration to the PNA, it did nothing to resolve the serious differences.

On the other hand, the series of violent incidents intensified when in Israel the Settlement Council of Efrat decided to expand its settlements on the land adjoining the Palestinian village of Al-Khader. When the Palestinian leaders protested that the expansion violated the DOP, the Israeli Cabinet devised a compromise solution that froze building on the initial site but allowed for the construction of new housing on lands next to Efrat. While the PNA could not take any action, the US stand coincided with Israel's and it refused to intervene in the matter on the plea that the dispute was a local matter.10

The US stand remained similar to Israel's when Israel sealed its borders with the West Bank and Gaza Strip due to the killing of the Israeli soldiers at Beit Lid by the Islamic Jihad in January 1995. To support Israel's actions, it gave its approval to the closure, by commenting that free movement into and out of the territories could not be expected until the problem of terrorism had been addressed.11

At the end of April 1995, Rabin supported the construction of 7,000 new homes in East Jerusalem and announced plans to confiscate 130 acres of Arab land to facilitate the project. The US reaction to it was lukewarm and it discouraged the matter being taken to the UN. Madeleine Albright, the US Ambassador to the UN, admitted that the new housing units posed problems as far as the peace process was concerned, but the Security Council was not an appropriate forum for the discussion of the issue.12 In the Security Council convened on May 18, the US exercised its veto on a resolution calling on Israel to rescind its decision. It was the US' 30th pro-Israeli veto since 1972 and its first in five years.13 The veto had been used at the insistence of Madeleine Albright.14

The deadlock over the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the interim stage of Oslo II was broken and the two sides signed the Taba Agreement on September 28, 1995, which set the terms for the second stage of the peace process. The Taba Agreement covered four areas. In area A, six West Bank towns would be placed immediately under the PA's civilian and military control. Hebron which has a small Israeli settlement near the town centre, would be under partial PA control, with Israeli forces protecting the settlers. In area B, which included the majority of the 460 Palestinian villages in the West Bank and contained 68 per cent of the Palestinian population, civilian control would immediately transfer to the PA, while Israel would maintain control of overall security. Area C, which is mostly made up of rural, sparsely populated hinterland, would be evacuated by Israel by mid-1996. Israel would retain full control of area D (the 144 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israel's military installations and Jerusalem) until the final status end in May 1999.15

In accordance with the Taba Agreement, the IDF began its phased redeployment on the West-Bank in mid-October 1995 which was completed by the end of 1995. It opened the way for elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council. In a separate poll to elect the President of the PNA, Yasser Arafat was elected the President.

In Israel, the elections in May 1996, brought the right wing back to power. Binyamin Netanyahu, associated with the nationalist hardliners in the Likud became the Prime Minister. The election of Netanyahu was viewed with great pessimism by the peace process supporters. Netanyahu's pre-election pronouncements included total opposition to the Palestinian self-determination and no change to the status of Jerusalem. He, however, pledged to continue the peace process.

Following the Israeli elections, the Israeli policies ran counter to the Palestinian expectations, Netanyahu announced the establishment of eight new settlements in the West Bank. The Israeli Defence Minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, decided to reintroduce IDF undercover units to the West Bank and to expand their operations to include areas of PNA control. In the first official contact between the PNA and the Netanyahu government, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Levy, informed the PLO leader, that there would be no progress on resolving the outstanding issues of the interim phase period until certain Israeli conditions were fulfilled.16

The implementation of the agreement of September 1995 on re-deployment from Hebron had been postponed. During the electoral campaign, Netanyahu insisted on revising the terms of the agreement before committing himself to redeployment. Discussions over the Hebron deployment were resumed and continued throughout the remainder of 1996. After four months of tortuous negotiations, the Hebron Agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Hebron was signed by Netanyahu and Arafat on January 15, 1997, at Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border.17 According to this, Israel accepted a proposal to complete its final West Bank redeployment by March 1998.

The main aspects of the Hebron Accord were:

* Israeli forces will redeploy from most of Hebron within 10 days of signing the accord.

* The Palestinian Authority will assume responsibility in the areas from which the Israeli forces have withdrawn.

* Israel will remain responsible for the security of Jewish settlers at the city of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

* Israel and the PA will establish joint intervention teams and joint patrols to function in the Heights overlooking a designated area where the Jews of Hebron are living.

* Specific restrictions apply to the number of Palestinian police and the personal arms they are allowed to carry.

* Israel will agree to open two main streets closed earlier for security reasons although they pass through the Israeli controlled area.18

In addition, Israel agreed to begin immediate discussion of the outstanding interim issues of Oslo II, most notably the question of Palestinian detainees, Gaza's airport and a West Bank-Gaza corridor, and the PLA repeated its commitments to combat terror and finalise the revision of the Palestinian National Charter.

As the Hebron Accord was greatly resented by the Israeli rightist critics, Netanyahu, in order to please them, decided to build 6,500 new Jewish settlements at Har Homa (or Jabal Abu Ghneim), a hilltop between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.19 As the decision caused an uproar among the Palestinians and the Arabs, Netanyahu, in a palliative move, offered to build homes for the Arabs. Also, on March 7, 1997, in order to meet its obligations under the Oslo Agreements, the Israeli Cabinet approved a withdrawal of its forces from 2 per cent of the West Bank, but most of the area affected was already under the Palestinian control. While the Palestinians rejected it, the US accepted the Israeli offer.20 Its support for Israel strengthened the Israeli claim to unilaterally determine the scope of its withdrawals. Even on the Har Homa issue, the US did not condemn Israel's actions in strong words. President Clinton said, "The important thing is for these people on both sides to be building confidence and working together and so I would have preferred the decision not to have been made because I don't think it builds confidence, I think it builds distrust and I wish it had not been made."21 As a result of the Israeli settlements at Har Homa, the negotiations were suspended by March 1997.

During Netanyahu's visit to Washington in April 1997, no public criticism was made by the US President. On the contrary, the US announced new funds for Israel's anti-missile defence system.22 The President also pressurised the Israeli leader to resume negotiations with the Palestinians which Israel refused on the ground that it was under no obligation to do so until the Palestinians fulfil their security responsibilities.

In May 1997, a US intelligence report claimed that many of the homes in West Bank and Gaza settlements were lying empty. Following the leak, the Israelis agreed to two confidence building measures suggested by the Clinton Administration: allowing the construction of more Arab housing in Jerusalem and suspending the policy of demolishing dwellings built without a licence.23 Still there was no sign of compromise between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The West Bank and Gaza remained highly volatile and Hebron remained in a state of permanent confrontation. One crisis followed another and Israel announced its intention to build a Jewish settlement in the Palestinian district of Ras al-Amud which aroused concern all over the world.

All this led to the renewed US efforts to save the Oslo process. In mid-July, Clinton sent Thomas Pickering, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, to meet the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. There was also an announcement of Dennis Ross' visit to the region with new proposals. But due to the newly erupted violence by the Islamic Jehad and Hamas' military wing, the resumption of formal negotiations as well as Ross' visit to the region were cancelled. Israel ordered the sealing of the Palestinian controlled areas and kept an anti-activist campaign by the Palestinians against the Islamic Jehad and Hamas as the prerequisite for continuing the Oslo process.

The expectations regarding the progress in the West Asia peace process were raised when President Clinton made an announcement to meet Arafat and Netanyahu on January 20 and 22, 1998. Though little could be expected due to Netanyahu's hardline approach and special efforts were required to tackle the hawks who were not ready for any talk of a land for peace deal, the turning down of the request of the Israeli officials to postpone the meeting by one week, by the Clinton Administration reflected its sense of urgency for further Israeli pullback.

During his meetings, Clinton failed to convince the Israeli leader to place additional territories under the control of the Palestinian Authority. According to the newspaper reports, Clinton had pressed for a pullback from at least an additional 10 per cent of the West Bank which Israel did not accept.24 On the contrary, it offered a withdrawal from less than 10 per cent of the West Bank, in three phases over several months. In other words, it wanted to carry out only one withdrawal from the West Bank matched by the reciprocal Palestinian actions against terrorism, before final status negotiations on a permanent settlement are held.25 Those talks were to determine the final borders to which Israel would withdraw. Arafat insisted on three withdrawals, as Israel had agreed to in earlier accords, and that each one to be credible.26 He, however, agreed to an American proposal that the two other withdrawals (agreed to in the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords) take place after talks on a final settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis begin.

Israel's reluctance in moving the peace process forward was evident in yet another incident when the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, visited the Middle East countries of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. The main objective of his visit was to revive the West Asian peace initiative and the European Union's involvement in it. Though warmly welcomed in other countries, Cook was given a cold shoulder in Israel, the reason being his visit to the Jewish resettlement site at Har Homa which Netanyahu did not want. Explaining clearly the intentions of the Israeli Prime Minister, the Syrian Foreign Secretary, Farouq al-Shara'a said, "What has happened in Israel for Mr. Cook illustrates in concrete fashion that the Israeli government does not care about peace in the Middle East."27

To achieve a breakthrough in the peace process, the Clinton Administration sent its Special Envoy, Dennis Ross, to the region in late March with the US proposal. Ross, during his visit, pressed the Israeli Prime Minister to stop the settlement expansion and also insisted that Arafat step up the PNA's anti-terror network. He called on Israel to withdraw from 13.1 per cent of the West Bank during the second of the three slated interim stage pullbacks from the occupied Palestinian territory, over a period of three months, in exchange for specific Palestinian security measures.28 The plan also urged on the construction of a Palestinian industrial park, the opening of an airport in Gaza and a safe passage linking the West Bank and Gaza. While Arafat agreed to the US plan, Netanyahu refused to accept it. Though Netanyahu did not present any alternative plan to Ross, he told the Jewish settlers at the West Bank that he had presented bridging proposals to the US officials. "We are no suckers. We don't give without receiving."29 Not to much surprise, Ross returned empty-handed. He did not make Netanyahu change his stand of not transferring more than 9 per cent of the West Bank land to the Palestinians. During the talks, Netanyahu did not allow Ross to bring up the question of land transfer and Arafat did not entertain discussions on the security measures.30 It was this lack of progress which made US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright retort, "The peace process is in trouble. We cannot continue this way." She also warned, "One option is simply for us to remove ourselves from the process."31

On the US' suggestion that it might publicise the details of its peace plan, the Israeli government argued that it would put unfair pressure on Israel to agree to terms that would jeopardise its security. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's official lobby in the US, circulated a petition among members of the US Congress urging President Clinton not to publicly pressurise the Israeli government.32 On the other hand, the Palestinians were making efforts to cooperate in the peace process. Their steps to curb militancy made their interest discernible. When the Arab-Israeli tensions rose on April 1, due to the death of master bomb-maker, Mutiyideen al-Sharif, the PNA carried out its own investigations and found that he was killed due to the internal rivalry within Hamas.33 Arafat also warned Hamas to refrain from launching attacks on Israel either.34

Netanyahu and Arafat met during the London talks which had broken down 13 months earlier, after Israel began building a new Jewish settlement at Har Homa. These talks were based on the series of bi-lateral meetings between Madeleine Albright, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the two West Asian leaders and focussed on the US brokered compromise on the extent of the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in accordance with the Oslo Agreement under which Israeli had to redeploy roughly 100,000 troops in three stages. This troop withdrawal had virtually come to a standstill and only about 3 per cent of the West Bank was completely under the Palestinian control. Another 27 per cent was under limited Palestinian control under the Israeli Army. The success of these talks depended on the acceptance of the US proposal which was refused by Netanyahu on the ground that such a withdrawal would compromise Israel's security.

On the eve of the London Conference, Arafat acknowledged that he could accept the Abu Dis35 plan, which was appreciated by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Under this plan, Abu Dis would be set up as the future Palestinian capital and some of the Arab parts of Jerusalem would be allowed to be attached to it and the whole thus formed, called Al-Quds.36

The talks failed to make much headway. While Arafat let out his frustration by saying, "Mr Netanyahu will have to bear the responsibility of the repercussions and the chaos that will ensue because of the breakdown of the peace process,"37 for Netanyahu it was inevitable. His spokesman, David Bar-Illan, showed no disappointment, and was satisfied if the peace process continued elsewhere. The US seemed to gradually lose hope, which was evident in Albright's chief spokesman's statement, "We have no compelling evidence at this point that we are going to be able to bridge these gaps."38 Albright also hinted that if no progress was made towards the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the US might withdraw from the peace process.

Soon after the London talks, the US proposed the holding of the Washington Middle East Summit. These talks too failed, the reason being the same. Netanyahu refused to yield land in ways that threatened his country's security: "We have determined which of those areas we can disengage from."39 Arafat's disappointment was also obvious: "The current Israeli Government is not serious about reaching a just and permanent settlement with security for all."40 He was determined to declare an independent Palestinian state in May next year. "Whether they like it or not...the Palestinian people are bearing all the political, economic, moral and physical tragedies for the sake of achieving their big dream of establishing their own state on Palestinian land with the holy city of Jerusalem as its capital."41

Later, Netanyahu offered to agree to the US demands for a staged withdrawal from another 13 per cent of the West Bank on the condition that the Palestinians give up a further pullback scheduled for later this year. This was rejected by the Palestinians who had agreed to the 13 per cent pullback on the condition that Israel carry out the further redeployment later that year. Netanyahu's intentions were well expressed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who said, "His objectives is to torpedo the peace process."42

In response to the invitation by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the West Asian peace process was restarted on August 4 and then began a series of meetings between Netanyahu and Arafat with Albright playing the mediatory role. The main hope for the breakthrough, as before, lay in the acceptance of a US brokered compromise.

In the new development, the Israeli side proposed to turn 3 per cent of the 13 per cent of land (which the US initiative called for transferring to the PNA) into a nature reserve. According to this proposal, Israel would retain responsibility for the security of this area, while the Palestinians would be prevented from building or living on it.43 The Palestinian leadership rejected this proposal and demanded a complete transfer of land to the Palestinian jurisdiction. According to them, any agreement must include redeployment in two stages, totalling 13 per cent in area C, and 14.2 per cent would be transferred from area B into area A; implementation of the third redeployment stage in accordance with the Hebron agreement; a halt to unilateral measures including expansion of settlements, confiscation of lands; and implementation of the commitments of the interim agreement.44

The approval by the Israeli authorities for the construction of a 132-apartment housing project for Jews in a Palestinian neighbourhood in August was new proof of strengthening their hold on the occupied land. Faisel Huseini, the top PLO official in East Jerusalem, called the decision a very provocative and destructive step and considered it impossible to have peace with the Netanyahu government.45

The recent announcement by President Clinton to intervene in the slated Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations by sending Ross again to the region rekindled some optimism that a breakthrough might be in sight. But during the talks that Ross held in September 1998, there were no signs of a breakthrough. According to the newspaper reports, Israel was tightlipped about any progress. Putting the responsibility on the Palestinians, the Israeli government demanded full reciprocity from them. Netanyahu insisted that no pullback was possible unless Arafat met a long list of Israeli security demands. He stated forcefully that "Israel cannot move forward as long as it fears the Palestinian areas becoming one huge Hamas Islamic terrorist base--a base for fundamentalist extremism that endangers Israel."46 Even the Palestinians found the bridging of gaps difficult.

As long as there are differences to be settled between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the peace process cannot make any progress. The convincing of Netanyahu becomes crucial. The former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, one of the chief architects of the accords said, "Mr. Netanyahu is mistaken from A to Z, because to wage a fight against terrorism, you need to create confidence with the Palestinian Authority. That confidence disappeared after Mr. Netanyahu's 1996 elections."47

In order to maintain stability and its dominant role in the region, the US keeps playing a mediatory role in the Middle East peace process. The historical reasons, as well as the pressure from the Jewish lobby have compelled the US to take the Israeli side in the Middle East peace talks. But too much inclination towards Israel would hamper the progress of the peace process as well as damage the US credibility in the Arab world. On the other hand, if the US puts too much pressure on Israel, it could cause dissension in the American Jewish community and jeopardise domestic political support for the Administration and the Democratic Party. Also, the US does not want to disturb its basic foothold in the Middle East. No matter, how much the US threatens to withdraw from the peace process, it would not do so, for fear of losing its dominating role in the Middle East. Nor would it pressurise Israel too much to yield to the Palestinian demands.

Ever since Netanyahu came to power, the difficulties in the Middle East peace process have increased. Due to his hardline approach Netanyahu wants to concede as little land as possible to the Palestinians, to assure Israel's security.

When Netanyahu assumed office, he pledged to continue implementing some of the previously signed agreements but, at the same time, attached some requirements to them. On the withdrawal of troops from Hebron, Israel insisted on revising the relevant articles in the interim agreement. As a result, the Hebron Agreement was signed and the two sides finally agreed that the Israeli troops would be withdrawn in three phases: March 1997, before the end of December 1997 and before the end of August 1998. But there still remained differences between the two sides regarding the withdrawal area. Israel wanted to retain the right to use Israeli troops and security forces to deal with the threat of terrorism in all the areas thus violating the Interim Agreement.48

On several key issues, the Administrative Charter of the new Israeli government totally repudiated the consensus reached between the Peres government and the Palestinians. First, it opposed the setting up of a Palestine state on the West Bank; second, it insisted that Jerusalem would be under the perpetual sovereignty of Israel; third, the Jewish settlements involved Israel's national defence and should be strengthened, expanded and developed--the Netanyahu government rescinded the decision of the Peres government on the cessation of constructing new settlements and in February 1997, decided to construct 6,500 sets of flats in Har Homa; and fourth, it rejected any right by the Arabs to reclaim any part of the Israeli land on the West Bank.49 In other words, Israel completely deprived the Palestinian refugees of the right to return to their homeland. Israel's negative attitude towards the Palestinian statehood was starkly visible in the remark of an Israeli Cabinet Secretary, Danny Naveh. When the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, addressed Arafat as President, Naveh said, "Arafat is not a President. He is Chairman of the Palestinian Authority. It is not a state. It is an Authority with a Chairman."50

The Palestinians blamed the Israelis for the lack of progress in the peace process. It was this impatience that drove Arafat to threaten a new intifadah (uprising). "We want a Palestinian peace that will lead to a state with Jerusalem as its capital and not the peace of Binyamin Netanyahu,"51 and later drove him to say that he would declare an independent Palestinian state.

The Clinton Administration has adapted its policy to Israel's Likud government. It ignores Netanyahu's failure to move forward on the commitments he had made and had simply overlooked his breach of prior commitments. It has been rightly said, "Rather than lending momentum to the effort, Clinton and his subordinates have been content to allow the negotiations to take their own course."52 It is the connivance of the US that allows Israel to gets away with whatever it does.

Though Albright had hinted that the US might withdraw from the peace process, it can rightly be said that the US interference has not made the situation better as it lacks in its role as an impartial mediator. The US claims that it has influence with both the parties but it uses its influence only on behalf of one. In that case, America's withdrawal is not going to change the situation. Under the sponsorship of the US, the situation has not progressed as desired. For example, first, thirty years after the unanimous adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 242 calling for Israeli withdrawal "from territories occupied in the recent conflict," Israeli armed forces remain in occupation of three-quarters of the West Bank and one-third of the Gaza Strip. Secondly, the Supreme Court of Israel has sanctioned the practices that violate even the most fundamental human rights, including the use of torture, political assassination and holding of hostages, and has also been accused by the Amnesty International on March 17, 1998.53 Thus, the government of Israel has denied human rights to the Palestinians and it is able to do so with the connivance of the US. American partisanship has deprived the Palestinians of any chance of enjoying life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and has also kept Israel away from security and acceptance that they need.

The US Administration needs to put a tremendous amount of pressure on Israel to make it accept the US proposal. But so long as it is under the influence of the Jewish lobby, the US stand is predictable. Its oft repeated threats that it would wash its hands off the peace process also did not produce any result.

The lack of progress has also been attributed to the domestic pressures of all the participants. For example, Netanyahu had been warned by the right wingers in his governing coalition, that they would bring down the government if he gave back more than 9 per cent of the West Bank to the Palestinian control. Arafat is under pressure from Hamas, and the strong Israeli lobby in the US would not allow the US Administration to put too much pressure on Israel.54

However, despite the biased attitude of the US towards Israel, it is due to the US interest in bringing peace to the region that a change has also been noticed in its behaviour towards Israel. It is for this reason, that on certain occasions, the US showed its displeasure to Israel. Albright and National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, have argued for a less passive US role in the peace process. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski also supported this. This change of attitude was reflected during Netanyahu's visit to the US in November 1997, when he did not get an appointment with Clinton.55 Earlier in September 1997, Albright had called for a "time out" on actions, asking for a halt to the building of settlements, including the Har Homa development.56 Again, during Netanyahu's visit to Washington in early 1998, the US President and the Secretary of State made no secret of their frustration with the Israeli Prime Minister, denying him a lunch and a joint news conference at the White House. Netanyahu responded by meeting fundamentalist Christians and Republican leaders hostile to Clinton.57 Later this year, Clinton's refusal to see Netanyahu in Los Angeles was another incident of an unwelcome gesture towards the Israeli leader.58 Though the US Administration is very reserved in its criticism of Israel due to the weight of the Jewish lobby, on various occasions Albright has harshly criticised Israel and held Netanyahu responsible for hindering the peace process.

However, it cannot be denied that negotiations and meetings in themselves are not an end. It is not a question of bringing out new initiatives, but of accepting them. Though talks have been going to between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Palestinians have been reduced to mere negotiating partners and no solution seems to be in sight. The Israeli settlements in the occupied areas and the Hamas militancy continue to increase. The US efforts are carried on in the same way, with a new vigour every time and it is still unpredictable when the solution would see the light of the day.

The US must play a more impartial and balanced role in the negotiations and must pressurise Israel to withdraw its forces from significant portions of the West Bank in order to fulfil its obligations under the Oslo Accords. It is only if the US uses its real pressure and influence on Israel and gives up its connivance that the peace process can hope to achieve progress.

 

NOTES

1. Bill Clinton and Al Gore, Putting People First: How We Can All Change America, (New Delhi: Macmillan India Limited, 1992) p. 121.

2. Ibid., p. 122.

3. Ibid., p. 123.

4. US Department of State, Dispatch, vol. 4, no. 4, September 1993, p. 7.

5. US Department of State, Dispatch, vol. 4, no. 51, December 20, 1993, p. 876.

6. The Middle East and North Africa Year Book, 1998, (London: Europa Publications Limited, 1997), p. 72.

7. Ibid., p. 73.

8. Ibid., p. 74.

9. "Ups and Downs in the Search for Peace," Strategic Survey 1994-95, (London: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 135.

10. n. 6, p. 78.

11. Ibid., p. 79.

12. Ibid., p. 80.

13. Keesing's Record of World Events, vol. 41, no. 5, May 1995, p. 40572.

14. Ibid., p. 40573.

15. "The Middle East," Strategic Survey 1995-96 (London: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 143-144.

16. n. 6, p. 85.

17. Facts on File, vol. 57, no. 2928, January 16, 1997, P. 17.

18. "The Peace Process at a Cross Roads," Strategic Survey 1996-97 (London: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 146.

19. Ibid., p. 147.

20. Augustus Richard Norton, "Clinton's Middle East Legacy: A Scuttled Peace?" Current History, vol. 97, no. 615, January 1998, P. 2.

21. n. 6, p. 88.

22. Ibid., p. 89.

23. Ibid., p. 89-90.

24. The Hindu, January 23, 1998.

25. The Hindu, January 24, 1998.

26. Ibid.

27. The Hindu, March 20, 1998.

28. Facts on File, vol. 58, no. 2992, April 9, 1998, p. 229.

29. Ibid., p. 230.

30. The Hindu, April 1, 1998.

31. Facts on File, n. 28.

32. Ibid., p. 230.

33. Ibid.

34. The Hindu, April 22, 1998.

35. Abu Dis, a village just outside the Jerusalem limits, was within it when the West Bank was under Jordanian control.

36. The Hindu, May 6, 1998.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

39. The Hindu, May 16, 1998.

40. The Hindu, May 20, 1998.

41. Khaleej Times, May 20, 1998.

42. The Hindu, June 29, 1998.

43. Summary of World Broadcasts (SWB) ME 3314, August 25, 1998, p. 16.

44. Ibid., p. 17.

45. Khaleej Times, August 28, 1998.

46. The Jerusalem Post, September 24, 1998.

47. Khaleej Times, September 14, 1998.

48. Xu Xinhui, "A Tentative Analysis of the Middle East Peace Process," Foreign Affairs Journal, no. 44, June 1997, p. 24.

49. Ibid., pp. 24-25.

50. The Hindu, April 23, 1998.

51. The Hindu, April 20, 1998.

52. Norton, n. 20, p. 2.

53. Middle East International, no. 574, May 8, 1998, p. 2.

54. The Hindu, May 6, 1998.

55. Norton, n. 20, p.5.

56. Ibid.

57. The Hindu, January 31, 1998.

58. The Hindu, April 2, 1998.