With Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Shalim comments on Obama administration’s abandonment of demanding the Israel freeze settlement expansion before the resumption of peace talks.
Watch the show here or read part of the transcript:
AMY GOODMAN: Avi Shlaim in Boston, as you look at what happened in New York, the meeting of Obama, Abbas and Netanyahu, the significance of it, what you think needs to happen right now?
AVI SHLAIM: The significance of the meeting is that it indicated personal commitment by the American president to pushing forward the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. We’ve had a peace process for decades, but it’s been a process rather than an actual outcome of peace. So, that is the significance of the meeting. It is an attempt by the American president to kick-start the peace process, which has been dormant for eight or nine years.
But it didn’t achieve anything, except the handshake between the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders. And they’ve already started blaming each other. I allocate the blame of the—for the failure fairly and squarely to Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israelis are saying that the Palestinians are stalling and delaying. This is completely and utterly preposterous. It is Israel, by its policy of settlement expansion, which is the main obstacle to any real progress.
And the Israelis have refused to agree to total settlement freeze, which is what President Obama has asked for. And therefore it is clear what he should do next, which is make American support, economic, military and diplomatic support for Israel, conditional on a complete settlement freeze.
ANJALI KAMAT: Avi Shlaim, you’ve been following Israeli-Palestinian relations for several years now. What hope do you hold out for the possibility of real US pressure on Israel, given the power of the pro-Israel lobby over Congress? Stephen Walt, the co-author of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, says in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “Obama and special envoy George Mitchell are negotiating with one hand tied behind their backs, and Netanyahu knows it.”
AVI SHLAIM: One thing is clear: the asymmetry of power between Israel and the Palestinians is such, it is so great that the two sides would never come to an agreement on final status between them. America has to address the balance between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have made enough concessions. When they signed the Oslo Accord back in 1993, they agreed to give back their claim to 78 percent of mandatory Palestine, and they settled for a state on the remaining 22 percent of mandatory Palestine—that is, Gaza and West Bank. So the Palestinians cannot make any more concessions.
If we are going to have a settlement of this hundred-year-old conflict, America has to push Israel into a settlement. That is what no American president has done in the past, partly, as you say, because of the power and influence of the Israel lobby. But the fact that no American president has exercised the full leverage that is available to him doesn’t mean that it cannot be done. It can be done.
America gives Israel money—to be precise, $3 billion a year. It gives Israel arms. And it gives Israel advice. Israel takes the money. It takes the arms. And it rejects the device. So what President Obama needs to do is to make American economic aid and military aid to Israel conditional on Israel taking note of American wishes for the settlement of this conflict.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Shlaim, what you’re saying is extremely significant, given who you are, leading scholar, renown in Israel and around the world, served in the Israeli military, now you teach at University of Oxford in Britain. Do you support the BDS movement, the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement against Israel?
AVI SHLAIM: I do not support the academic boycott of Israel, because I reject it in principle. I’m a believer in free speech, including free speech for Israeli academics. So I’m, in principle, opposed to an academic boycott of Israeli academics and Israeli universities.
On the other hand, I do support economic sanctions against Israel, because what it is doing is illegal. It is acting illegally. The settlements on the West Bank are illegal, all of them, without any exception, and therefore it is quite right and justified for the American community to—for the international community to put pressure on Israel, to apply pressure on Israel to end the occupation.
And America is, of course, the leading actor within the international community, but there is also European Union, the twenty-seven members of European Union. They also ought to apply economic sanctions against Israel, because Israel has a highly beneficial trade association agreement with EU. And the preamble to this agreement says that Israel must respect the human rights of the Palestinians within its territory, within—under Israeli occupation. Israel systematically violates the human rights of the Palestinians, and therefore EU would be fully justified in suspending this trade agreement until Israel abides by its obligations to respect human rights.
ANJALI KAMAT: Well, on that note—
AVI SHLAIM: And we have—last week, we had an important report by the UN Human Rights Council, led by Judge Richard Goldstone, an inquiry into the Israeli war in Gaza last December. And it found that there was a pattern of Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity, not one or two, but a systematic pattern of war crimes. And the conclusion is that Israeli commanders should face individual criminal responsibility.
It is perfectly reasonable for the American president to turn to Benjamin Netanyahu and say, “This report is very disturbing. It reveals unacceptable behavior on the part of Israel and on the part of Hamas. This is no way to behave, if your aim is peace. And we would like to see a definite change in the pattern of Israeli behavior towards the Palestinians.”…