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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

There is nothing just about punishing Palestinians and rewarding Israel's unjust actions

The US can no longer expect the Palestinians to regard it as an honest mediator

On his visit to Israel, Mike Pence clung to and echoed the fairytale wisdom of the American religious right.  Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
On his visit to Israel, Mike Pence clung to and echoed the fairytale wisdom of the American religious right. Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

Visiting Egypt on Saturday, US vice president Mike Pence assured his hosts that Washington “is deeply committed to restarting the peace process” between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Landing in Amman the following day, he reiterated the statement to King Abdullah of Jordan, the custodian of the Al Aqsa Mosque. King Abdullah cautiously welcomed American efforts to “rebuild trust and confidence” in the region following US president Donald Trump’s unilateral decision last year to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This was an opportunity for the US administration to review up close and factor the Arab world’s profound qualms about the status of Jerusalem into Washington’s Middle East policy.

But by Monday, it became evident that Mr Pence hadn’t come to listen to the Arabs or the Palestinians. The purpose of his visit was to hector the Palestinians—and to deliver a biblical encomium exalting Israel and sanctifying its apparatus of oppression. It is difficult to imagine how, after Mr Pence’s speech on Monday to the Israeli parliament, the US can regain even a modicum of trust or goodwill among the Palestinians. How can Washington conceivably expect Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to regard the US administration as an honest mediator when its second most senior official applauds the dispossession of the Palestinians?

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“You have turned the desert into a garden, scarcity into plenty, sickness into health, and you turned hope into a future,” Mr Pence told Israeli lawmakers, neglecting to mention the systemic degradation of Palestinians that accounts for Israel’s prosperity. The Arab world has been unequivocal both in its condemnation of US’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and in its warning that it will impede the fight against radicalisation. Yet Mr Pence clung to and echoed the fairytale wisdom of the American religious right, casting a decision that may already irreparably have shattered the prospects of peace as an irenic move. “By finally recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction,” Mr Pence said. “And fact is the only foundation for a just peace.” Mr Pence’s conception of “just peace”, predicated on rewarding the unjust and punishing the weak, is anything but just. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, which Mr Pence pledged to do, will obliterate whatever residual prospect there remains for the peace process.

It is deeply dismaying that the Trump White House, enamoured of the rightwing regime of Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, cannot appreciate the harm it is causing to Washington’s long-term interests by disregarding Arab and Palestinian aspirations. The gains it has made by finally pledging to hold Iran to account for spreading terror in the region are at risk of being undone by its failure to deal fairly with the Palestinians. Mr Pence’s speech, as the Joint List alliance of Arab parties in the Israeli parliament summed up in a trenchant statement, was a “eulogy at a ceremony of the burial of peace and encouragement for annexation, settlement and the continuation of occupation.”

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