In response to Obama’s generosity
By Daoud Kuttab
April 18, 2013

Israel may say that it wants peace, but the reality that has become clear once US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry left the region is that Israel feels protected by the charm handed to it for free by Obama and ignoring his advise to seriously work on ending the occupation.

A famous Arab saying goes like this: If you are generous to a decent person, you own him, and if you are kind to a nasty person, he rebels.

What we are witnessing now is Israel’s rebellion against its generous benefactor: the US.

Here are a few examples. Before Obama came to Israel, there was discussion about some confidence-building measures. Palestinians were asked to refrain from taking Israel to the International Court of Justice while Israel was asked to freeze settlement activities in order to facilitate the return to peace talks.

The Palestinians complied, Israelis did not.

Another idea was that Israel should refrain from making any settlement announcements and agree to release Palestinians imprisoned before the 1993 Oslo Accords. When then-Israeli president Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat famously shook hands then, the Palestinians were promised to have their prisoners released.

The leaders of those prisoners were allowed back into Palestine, but the rest are still rotting in jail. Now, 20 years later, the Israelis are still dragging their feet about a promise Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres made and which he has the power, as president, to execute.

Not only were these prisoners not released, their condition worsened. Prison visits are barred and medical services are denied or curtailed, to the point that a cancer patient is literally given aspirin.

There is a case to be made about medical neglect and, again, sheer nastiness. Sixty-five-year-old Maysara Abu Humaida, in jail for nearly 20 years, was coughing severely last September; he was diagnosed with an advance-stage throat cancer. He was taken to a hospital clinic for a checkup but not for treatment. Six months after his diagnosis, he died with his feet shackled to the hospital bed.

The least that should have been done to allow him to get proper medical treatment or release him. Palestinian officials say they were expecting Israel to release him, but again, since Israel could not get anything in return, it let him die in jail.

Israelis insist on dealing with issues only when face-to-face negotiations begin. Netanyahu insists that his government (made up of pro-settler parties) will not freeze settlement activities beforehand.

The Obama-Kerry team also suggested that instead of being stuck on the issue of a settlement freeze, talks should begin on borders and security. This seemed logical considering Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to this exact formula during Obama’s first term.

The wisdom behind this idea is that it deals with what Israelis need, security, and with what Palestinians want, border demarcation. Again, the Israelis refused.

An unnamed Israeli source told the Israeli daily Haaretz that dealing with these issues gives Palestinians what they want and gives nothing to Israel. This is strange. Land for peace has always been the basis for peace talks, and one wonders how Israel fails to consider reaching security arrangements in its favour.

The Israeli arrogance is based on the feeling that the relative quiet in the West Bank will last forever. But already there are signs that it will not last long.

Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike are demanding that they be either tried or released and this has captured the imagination of the Palestinian public.

Samer Issawi, who has been refusing to take in any solid food for six months, is protesting his detention without charge or trial. Instead of releasing him, the Israelis are trying to get rid of him by suggesting he voluntarily agree to move permanently to Gaza. In response to European countries’ protests about his continued detention, the Israeli government replied by suggesting that a European country accept to take him.

If Issawi is such a security threat, why would Israel agree to allow him to live in Gaza and not send him to live in a ally European country? It is only logical that Israel should release him or if it does have serious accusations against him, try him.

Israeli officials are totally oblivious to the fact that over three million Palestinians are still living under their brutal military control. Travel restrictions continue; local churches say that 60 per cent of Palestinian Christians were denied permits to visit Jerusalem on Easter holy week.

Gaza remains under an illegal siege and the only port of movement for West Bankers, the King Hussein Bridge, is at times operating at a snails pace.

Attempts to build a Palestinian airport near Jericho continue to be thwarted without any logical reason given and there is no chance that the Gaza international airport (opened by Bill Clinton) will operate soon.

It is clear that by being generous to a nasty person, that person has rebelled. The Obama charm offensive has clearly boomeranged; it is being totally abused and misunderstood as a sign of American weakness.