President Obama’s new defense secretary, Leon Panetta, has bought into the myth that Israeli inflexibility is the source of the Palestinian conflict. He is publicly saying that the ball is in Israel’s court, and it is now the Jewish state’s responsibility to advance the peace process. He warns that it is becoming more isolated, and Israel must be a better partner in the region. In other words, Israel is to blame.
On Sunday, Panetta said, “[T]he question you have to ask: Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena? Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength.”
In what the Associated Press called an “edgy warning,” he said that Israel must try to rescue its relations with Turkey and Egypt. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan interpreted Panetta’s statement to mean that the U.S. was taking Turkey’s side in its confrontation with Israel. Playing off of Panetta’s words, Erdogan said, “Israel has chosen isolation by losing a friend like Turkey.” Erdogan has reduced Turkey’s ties to Israel because of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s refusal to apologize for the controversial Gaza flotilla raid last year. Panetta also said that the U.S. should not cut the amount of taxpayer money given to the Palestinian Authority to retaliate for its provocative bid for U.N. membership.
“There is a need and an opportunity for bold action on both sides to move towards a negotiated two-state solution,” Panetta said during his press conference with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He urged both sides to restart negotiations, without acknowledging that Israel has always been willing to negotiate. On Sunday, Israel said it wanted to restart direct negotiations, just as Panetta insisted. As a matter of fact, Netanyahu offered to immediately meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his speech at the U.N. on September 23.
“In two and a half years, we met in Jerusalem only once, even though my door has always been open to you. If you wish, I’ll come to Ramallah. Actually, I have a better suggestion. We’ve both just flown thousands of miles to New York. Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s met here today in the United Nations,” Netanyahu said.
If Abbas had said what Netanyahu did, the international community and world media would have been electrified. Yet, Netanyahu was met with a collective silence. On the same day as his speech, Al-Jazeera interviewed a member of the Fatah Central Committee. The official, Abbas Zaki, unequivocally stated that negotiations based on two states are only an interim, practical step towards destroying Israel. “Everybody knows that the greater goal cannot be accomplished in one go,” he said.
“If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, evacuates the 650,000 settlers, and dismantles the wall—what will become of Israel? It will come to an end,” Zaki said. He previously said the same thing as the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon in May 2009. And he admitted that the Palestinians were keeping quiet about this strategy.
“If we say that we want to wipe Israel out…C’mon, it’s too difficult. It’s not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself,” he said.
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