Siegman: Israel always wanted territory not peace, and US is its ‘captive’

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Zaid Jilani and Ali Gharib at Think Progress interview Henry Siegman, former head of the American Jewish Congress, on the Palestinian statehood resolution and the failure of the peace process:

Siegman: [T]the United States has taken the position that the only way to make any progress in this situation is a renewal of the peace process, getting [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas to talk to each other. If there is anything to be learned from years of disappointment and failure, it’s that the so-called peace process is simply a vehicle for Israel to pretend there is some potential for progress even as on the ground they are making it impossible because of their settlement project. There is a basic dishonesty here. The United States, instead of saying, “This is a fraud,” says instead Israel wants to see a two-state solution, and thus provides a cover for Israel to expand its settlements on the ground and make an outcome absolutely impossible.

So it’s in that sense that I’m saying the U.S. is the major obstacle. Because for years the assumption has been that the United States is uniquely in a position to bring about an agreement because of its leverage with Israel. But it turns out the U.S. is captive to Israel’s plans.

As a snapshot, where do you see things? Do you think the Palestinians can get a resolution recognizing their statehood through the U.N.?, The question is: Even if they do get it through, what have they got?

Nothing will change on the ground as a result of the vote at the U.N. The U.N. can’t force Israel to do anything, and the U.S. certainly won’t do so, so why are the Israelis so upset about this? Why are they running around the world asking people to vote against this? Because it’s a vote that affirms a border. That, too, is why Netanyahu went wild when President Obama called for a border based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. He called Obama before his speech and tried to convince him not to say it. That’s unprecedented.

The reason Palestinians are going ahead with this even though they know nothing will change on the ground in the short term is that Israel will be put on notice that the international community endorses a border on the 67 lines with territory swaps.

…Only when the cost gets serious enough will Israel make a deal and set that border. Indeed, the international community has tried to impose a cost, but the United States has prevented it.

But America’s ability to provide cover for such Israeli behavior will increasingly diminish. That’s one of the consequences of the Arab Spring. Some of the dictators who have been dancing to the American tune won’t be doing that any longer — which is something that Israelis have to think about as well.

…The reality is that Israeli governments — even before Bibi Netanyahu — have opted for territory over peace. From the very beginning in 1967, Israel’s goal has been to prevent a border being drawn between them and the West Bank. The goal has been to retain permanent control over the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli governments — and especially the current one — believe that peace is not nearly as important as territory….

I think the Palestinians have a shot at getting the Gen Assembly to affirm their right to statehood based on the ’67 borders subject to land swaps. They do have a shot at it even if they do not get as much support from Europeans as they are hoping to get. ..

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