Relations between Israel and America are rock-solid to be shaken by minor setbacks. It’s this immutability that has caused anger among Arabs. Washington has a policy of blindly supporting every action of Israel, which has emboldened the latter to blatantly violate international laws in its treatment of Palestinians.
But this predictability and resistance to change in relations have received a jolt – for the better. Realism and a sense of fairness seem to be entering America’s relations with its ally. When the recent John Kerry-brokered peace talks collapsed, the US secretary of state was blunt in his criticism of Israel which was seen as responsible for the failure of the peace bid. Now Washington has shown its independence with another action: its willingness to work with the unity government in Palestine formed after reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli officials have condemned the Obama administration in unusually vitriolic terms for its support of the unity government, but Kerry defended the decision instead of trying to appease the Jewish state. He said the new Palestinian government didn’t have any Hamas members in cabinet posts and had pledged to abide by peaceful principles, including the recognition of Israel.
The current strain in relations between the two doesn’t indicate a prolonged rupture, nor does it speak of a shift in US policies, but it offers huge opportunities for Palestinians to work with Americans in their struggle for freedom. Israel is under intense pressure from the West over its continuing settlement expansion and recalcitrance. This policy has its costs, especially with the ‘boycott Israel’ movement gathering momentum. The Palestinians need to work assiduously to pile pressure on the Netanyahu administration.
Israel has retaliated to the unity government move and its US approval by announcing plans to build some 3,000 more settler homes in the occupied territory. Israeli officials said that in addition, Netanyahu had ordered planning to proceed for a further 1,500 settler dwellings. With such illegal moves, which have invited widespread condemnation, the Israeli government is pushing itself into a corner, and will have to ultimately reap the consequences.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for elections in West Bank and Gaza within six months. The government that takes shape after the election will be watched closely for its policies. Israel is determined to thwart the formation of any government in which Hamas has a presence, while Washington is expected to take a more cautious approach. Hamas and Fatah must realize that the Palestinian struggle is going through a critical phase and a unity government offers a rare opportunity to open a chapter. For the same reason, they should pursue policies that will help them win more friends and take them closer to their objective.