Obama on Israel-Palestine
- From: PakistanPal <pakistanpal@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 03:52:20 -0700 (PDT)
Barack Obama is recognized to be a person of acute intelligence, a
legal scholar, careful with his choice of words. He deserves to be
taken seriously -- both what he says, and what he omits. Particularly
significant is his first substantive statement on foreign affairs, on
January 22, at the State Department, when introducing George Mitchell
to serve as his special envoy for Middle East peace.
Mitchell is to focus his attention on the Israel-Palestine problem, in
the wake of the recent US-Israeli invasion of Gaza. During the
murderous assault, Obama remained silent apart from a few platitudes,
because, he said, there is only one president -- a fact that did not
silence him on many other issues. His campaign did, however, repeat
his statement that "if missiles were falling where my two daughters
sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that." He was referring
to Israeli children, not the hundreds of Palestinian children being
butchered by US arms, about whom he could not speak, because there was
only one president.
On January 22, however, the one president was Barack Obama, so he
could speak freely about these matters -- avoiding, however, the
attack on Gaza, which had, conveniently, been called off just before
Obama's talk emphasized his commitment to a peaceful settlement. He
left its contours vague, apart from one specific proposal: "the Arab
peace initiative," Obama said, "contains constructive elements that
could help advance these efforts. Now is the time for Arab states to
act on the initiative's promise by supporting the Palestinian
government under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, taking
steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, and by standing up to
extremism that threatens us all."
Obama is not directly falsifying the Arab League proposal, but the
carefully framed deceit is instructive.
The Arab League peace proposal does indeed call for normalization of
relations with Israel -- in the context -- repeat, in the context of a
two-state settlement in terms of the longstanding international
consensus, which the US and Israel have blocked for over 30 years, in
international isolation, and still do. The core of the Arab League
proposal, as Obama and his Mideast advisers know very well, is its
call for a peaceful political settlement in these terms, which are
well-known, and recognized to be the only basis for the peaceful
settlement to which Obama professes to be committed. The omission of
that crucial fact can hardly be accidental, and signals clearly that
Obama envisions no departure from US rejectionism. His call for the
Arab states to act on a corollary to their proposal, while the US
ignores even the existence of its central content, which is the
precondition for the corollary, surpasses cynicism.
The most significant acts to undermine a peaceful settlement are the
daily US-backed actions in the occupied territories, all recognized to
be criminal: taking over valuable land and resources and constructing
what the leading architect of the plan, Ariel Sharon, called
"Bantustans" for Palestinians -- an unfair comparison because the
Bantustans were far more viable than the fragments left to
Palestinians under Sharon's conception, now being realized. But the US
and Israel even continue to oppose a political settlement in words,
most recently in December 2008, when the US and Israel (and a few
Pacific islands) voted against a UN resolution supporting "the right
of the Palestinian people to self-determination" (passed 173 to 5, US-
Israel opposed, with evasive pretexts).
Obama had not one word to say about the settlement and infrastructure
developments in the West Bank, and the complex measures to control
Palestinian existence, designed to undermine the prospects for a
peaceful two-state settlement. His silence is a grim refutation of his
oratorical flourishes about how "I will sustain an active commitment
to seek two states living side by side in peace and security."
Also unmentioned is Israel's use of US arms in Gaza, in violation not
only of international but also US law. Or Washington's shipment of new
arms to Israel right at the peak of the US-Israeli attack, surely not
unknown to Obama's Middle East advisers.
Obama was firm, however, that smuggling of arms to Gaza must be
stopped. He endorses the agreement of Condoleeza Rice and Israeli
foreign minister Tzipi Livni that the Egyptian-Gaza border must be
closed -- a remarkable exercise of imperial arrogance, as the
Financial Times observed: "as they stood in Washington congratulating
each other, both officials seemed oblivious to the fact that they were
making a deal about an illegal trade on someone else's border -- Egypt
in this case. The next day, an Egyptian official described the
memorandum as `fictional'." Egypt's objections were ignored.
Returning to Obama's reference to the "constructive" Arab League
proposal, as the wording indicates, Obama persists in restricting
support to the defeated party in the January 2006 election, the only
free election in the Arab world, to which the US and Israel reacted,
instantly and overtly, by severely punishing Palestinians for opposing
the will of the masters. A minor technicality is that Abbas's term ran
out on January 9, and that Fayyad was appointed without confirmation
by the Palestinian parliament (many of them kidnapped and in Israeli
prisons). Ha'aretz describes Fayyad as "a strange bird in Palestinian
politics. On the one hand, he is the Palestinian politician most
esteemed by Israel and the West. However, on the other hand, he has no
electoral power whatsoever in Gaza or the West Bank." The report also
notes Fayyad's "close relationship with the Israeli establishment,"
notably his friendship with Sharon's extremist adviser Dov Weiglass.
Though lacking popular support, he is regarded as competent and
honest, not the norm in the US-backed political sectors.
Obama's insistence that only Abbas and Fayyad exist conforms to the
consistent Western contempt for democracy unless it is under control.
Obama provided the usual reasons for ignoring the elected government
led by Hamas. "To be a genuine party to peace," Obama declared, "the
quartet [US, EU, Russia, UN] has made it clear that Hamas must meet
clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce
violence; and abide by past agreements." Unmentioned, also as usual,
is the inconvenient fact that the US and Israel firmly reject all
three conditions. In international isolation, they bar a two-state
settlement including a Palestinian state; they of course do not
renounce violence; and they reject the quartet's central proposal, the
"road map." Israel formally accepted it, but with 14 reservations that
effectively eliminate its contents (tacitly backed by the US). It is
the great merit of Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, to
have brought these facts to public attention for the first time -- and
in the mainstream, the only time.
It follows, by elementary reasoning, that neither the US nor Israel is
a "genuine party to peace." But that cannot be. It is not even a
phrase in the English language.
It is perhaps unfair to criticize Obama for this further exercise of
cynicism, because it is close to universal, unlike his scrupulous
evisceration of the core component of the Arab League proposal, which
is his own novel contribution.
Also near universal are the standard references to Hamas: a terrorist
organization, dedicated to the destruction of Israel (or maybe all
Jews). Omitted are the inconvenient facts that the US-Israel are not
only dedicated to the destruction of any viable Palestinian state, but
are steadily implementing those policies. Or that unlike the two
rejectionist states, Hamas has called for a two-state settlement in
terms of the international consensus: publicly, repeatedly,
Obama began his remarks by saying: "Let me be clear: America is
committed to Israel's security. And we will always support Israel's
right to defend itself against legitimate threats."
There was nothing about the right of Palestinians to defend themselves
against far more extreme threats, such as those occurring daily, with
US support, in the occupied territories. But that again is the norm.
Also normal is the enunciation of the principle that Israel has the
right to defend itself. That is correct, but vacuous: so does
everyone. But in the context the cliche is worse than vacuous: it is
more cynical deceit.
The issue is not whether Israel has the right to defend itself, like
everyone else, but whether it has the right to do so by force. No one,
including Obama, believes that states enjoy a general right to defend
themselves by force: it is first necessary to demonstrate that there
are no peaceful alternatives that can be tried. In this case, there
A narrow alternative would be for Israel to abide by a cease-fire, for
example, the cease-fire proposed by Hamas political leader Khaled
Mishal a few days before Israel launched its attack on December 27.
Mishal called for restoring the 2005 agreement. That agreement called
for an end to violence and uninterrupted opening of the borders, along
with an Israeli guarantee that goods and people could move freely
between the two parts of occupied Palestine, the West Bank and the
Gaza Strip. The agreement was rejected by the US and Israel a few
months later, after the free election of January 2006 turned out "the
wrong way." There are many other highly relevant cases.
The broader and more significant alternative would be for the US and
Israel to abandon their extreme rejectionism, and join the rest of the
world -- including the Arab states and Hamas -- in supporting a two-
state settlement in accord with the international consensus. It should
be noted that in the past 30 years there has been one departure from
US-Israeli rejectionism: the negotiations at Taba in January 2001,
which appeared to be close to a peaceful resolution when Israel
prematurely called them off. It would not, then, be outlandish for
Obama to agree to join the world, even within the framework of US
policy, if he were interested in doing so.
In short, Obama's forceful reiteration of Israel's right to defend
itself is another exercise of cynical deceit -- though, it must be
admitted, not unique to him, but virtually universal.
The deceit is particularly striking in this case because the occasion
was the appointment of Mitchell as special envoy. Mitchell's primary
achievement was his leading role in the peaceful settlement in
northern Ireland. It called for an end to IRA terror and British
violence. Implicit is the recognition that while Britain had the right
to defend itself from terror, it had no right to do so by force,
because there was a peaceful alternative: recognition of the
legitimate grievances of the Irish Catholic community that were the
roots of IRA terror. When Britain adopted that sensible course, the
terror ended. The implications for Mitchell's mission with regard to
Israel-Palestine are so obvious that they need not be spelled out. And
omission of them is, again, a striking indication of the commitment of
the Obama administration to traditional US rejectionism and opposition
to peace, except on its extremist terms.
Obama also praised Jordan for its "constructive role in training
Palestinian security forces and nurturing its relations with Israel"
-- which contrasts strikingly with US-Israeli refusal to deal with the
freely elected government of Palestine, while savagely punishing
Palestinians for electing it with pretexts which, as noted, do not
withstand a moment's scrutiny. It is true that Jordan joined the US in
arming and training Palestinian security forces, so that they could
violently suppress any manifestation of support for the miserable
victims of US-Israeli assault in Gaza, also arresting supporters of
Hamas and the prominent journalist Khaled Amayreh, while organizing
their own demonstrations in support of Abbas and Fatah, in which most
participants "were civil servants and school children who were
instructed by the PA to attend the rally," according to the Jerusalem
Post. Our kind of democracy.
Obama made one further substantive comment: "As part of a lasting
cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow
of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regimeÉ" He did
not, of course, mention that the US-Israel had rejected much the same
agreement after the January 2006 election, and that Israel had never
observed similar subsequent agreements on borders.
Also missing is any reaction to Israel's announcement that it rejected
the cease-fire agreement, so that the prospects for it to be "lasting"
are not auspicious. As reported at once in the press, "Israeli Cabinet
Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who takes part in security
deliberations, told Army Radio on Thursday that Israel wouldn't let
border crossings with Gaza reopen without a deal to free [Gilad]
Schalit" (AP, Jan 22); ÔIsrael to keep Gaza crossings closed...An
official said the government planned to use the issue to bargain for
the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by the Islamist
group since 2006 (Financial Times, Jan. 23); "Earlier this week,
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that progress on Corporal
Shalit's release would be a precondition to opening up the border
crossings that have been mostly closed since Hamas wrested control of
Gaza from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in
2007" (Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 23); "an Israeli official said
there would be tough conditions for any lifting of the blockade, which
he linked with the release of Gilad Shalit" (FT, Jan. 23); among many
Shalit's capture is a prominent issue in the West, another indication
of Hamas's criminality. Whatever one thinks about it, it is
uncontroversial that capture of a soldier of an attacking army is far
less of a crime than kidnapping of civilians, exactly what Israeli
forces did the day before the capture of Shalit, invading Gaza city
and kidnapping two brothers, then spiriting them across the border
where they disappeared into Israel's prison complex. Unlike the much
lesser case of Shalit, that crime was virtually unreported and has
been forgotten, along with Israel's regular practice for decades of
kidnapping civilians in Lebanon and on the high seas and dispatching
them to Israeli prisons, often held for many years as hostages. But
the capture of Shalit bars a cease-fire.
Obama's State Department talk about the Middle East continued with
"the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and PakistanÉ the central
front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism." A few
hours later, US planes attacked a remote village in Afghanistan,
intending to kill a Taliban commander. "Village elders, though, told
provincial officials there were no Taliban in the area, which they
described as a hamlet populated mainly by shepherds. Women and
children were among the 22 dead, they said, according to Hamididan
Abdul Rahmzai, the head of the provincial council" (LA Times, Jan.
Afghan president Karzai's first message to Obama after he was elected
in November was a plea to end the bombing of Afghan civilians,
reiterated a few hours before Obama was sworn in. This was considered
as significant as Karzai's call for a timetable for departure of US
and other foreign forces. The rich and powerful have their
"responsibilities." Among them, the New York Times reported, is to
"provide security" in southern Afghanistan, where "the insurgency is
homegrown and self-sustaining." All familiar. From Pravda in the
1980s, for example.
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