x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

What will it take for Israel to compromise?

The US effort to force compromises from the Israelis in the peace process has followed an all carrot and no stick approach. So far, it has failed.

All carrot and no stick: the US effort to force compromises from the Israelis in the peace process has followed this approach. So far, it has failed. 

While Israeli settlers continue to build on land in the West Bank, the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas cannot return to the negotiating table in good faith. To get the parties back to the table, the Americans made a generous offer. In return for a 60-day moratorium on settlement construction, the US offered the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu updates to Israel's military hardware, access to US satellite systems to provide early warning of an attack, and a pledge to veto "anti-Israeli" resolutions at the United Nations. The package was rejected.

This was just the latest instance where Israel, though it may be America's permanent ally, has shown little consideration for America's permanent interests in the Middle East and abroad. Israel's intransigence damages America's credibility. Barack Obama made a principled argument to the UN General Assembly last month that "international law is not an empty promise". There were "consequences" for violating it, the US president demanded. While Mr Obama was speaking about Iran's nuclear programme, those same principles must also apply to Israel.

The United Nations and the European Union have repeatedly stated that settlements are a violation of international law. Mr Obama has declared them illegitimate. The weight of the international community and the US president's own position appear to matter less to Mr Netanyahu than keeping his political coalition together. 

It was hoped that certain members of the Obama administration were uniquely qualified to reject these types of excuses. In particular, Mr Obama's former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, with an unvarnished record of support for Israel and understanding of the country's politics, was thought to have the credibility to hold Israel to account. Mr Emanuel recently resigned. Jim Jones, Mr Obama's national security advisor, who advocated a toeing a stronger line with Israel, also left the White House last week.

Mr Netanyahu appears unwilling to bend. The Americans appear unable to make him. It is no wonder then that Mr Abbas floated the idea before the Arab League this week that he may seek US and international support for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood should settlements continue. The Arab league and the Palestinian Authority agreed to allow the United States one more month to forge a diplomatic solution. Perhaps it is time for Mr Obama to realise that more than carrots will be required for Israel to compromise.