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A false claim is wafting through the press: Obama is hanging tough with Benjamin Netanyahu, he’s going to “twist Israel’s arm” and at long last force the Jewish state into a two-state agreement, settling the Israel-Palestine question for good. There’s even talk that Obama backs the Arab League’s 2002 peace initiative, complete with its main demand: Israel’s withdrawal to its 1967 borders.
There’s no proof for any of this. Obama has said nothing about when, where, and with what boundaries a Palestinian state might be established. Neither did George Bush. The slide from one regime to the next has been seamless on the score of Israel and Palestine as on much else.
In regard to a critical document invoked by Obama in his first policy speech about the region last January — the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative — Obama has not changed an iota, at least publicly. He gave the speech before State Department employees last January, announcing George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy. Most important, the speech delineated the clear outlines of Obama’s Middle East doctrine, as I described in my “The Problem Isn’t Avigdor Lieberman”
Obama’s reference to the Arab Peace Initiative was crucial for what it omitted — the proposal’s first part, the precondition for everything that follows: “Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.” Only after these preconditions have been laid out does the document continue: “Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following….” In “Consequently,” the intent is unmistakable: Once Israel fulfills the crucial condition requiring Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 lines, the Arab countries will do x, y, and z. One of the corollaries following the “Consequently” clause reads: “Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace [emphasis mine]”. Nothing could be clearer. Moreover, the Arab League’s request of Israel, “the context,” expresses the international consensus for the past 30 years, routinely blocked by the US and Israel.
Obama deliberately ignored all of this in his speech. Instead, he patted the Arab League on the head (“The Arab peace initiative contains constructive elements”), calling on Arab states to take “steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, and [stand] up to extremism that threatens us all.” To construe Obama’s remarks as a slip or “mistake,” to suppose that this literate, lawyerly President didn’t actually read the document, would be preposterous. Obama’s choice was a deliberate policy declaration: Israel will continue to do what it is doing, with US protection. The US has found a proxy (and armed it — more on this below). Hamas must “bow its head” to the master’s will. Between the lines that refer to Arab states “normalizing” their relations with Israel, read: the US’s most powerful Arab clients, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, hopefully (though not surely) with Syria in tow.
As for the “peace” which Obama professes to cherish, it would be easy to get to it through negotiation along the real Arab League proposal lines, the international consensus. But three-plus decades of US-Israel rejectionism have fostered only Israel’s expansion and the US’s regional hegemony, through brutal occupation and wars, with the consequences in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon (and, if one includes Iraq in the Gulf War, sanctions and Bush periods, Iraq) well-known to readers of this publication.
What has Obama had to say – let alone do about – all of the Palestinian suffering? He has somewhat tempered his if-rockets-were-falling-on-my-daughters expression of sympathy for Israel with words of the “both sides suffering” variety, taking a slight bow to Gaza’s “humanitarian” crisis (a topic that deserves its own commentary). It’s a mistake to think his intellect – and reverse racism to think his skin color – will serve the dispossessed across the American empire. (Among the “cool” and “aloof” moments which increasingly anger Obama’s voting base was his silence at the UN’s elimination of Israel-Palestine from the Durban Anti-Racism Review Conference). Obama is a President skilled in oratory, with an admirable public relations machine, who can be counted on to exert all the savageries of imperial management. John F. Kennedy was just such a President, with charisma, intelligence, and a slick propaganda mill that still leaves liberals revering “Camelot.” In reality, however, his administration was among the US’s most brutal.
What’s surprising is that left publications have focused so little on Obama’s clear statement of intent in the Arab League proposal reference. It is also surprising that the left press has seldom commented (if at all) on a March 4 address to the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center by Senator John Kerry. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry made very clear the Administration’s “peace” plans:
To start with, we need to fundamentally re-conceptualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a regional problem that demands a regional solution. The challenges we face there – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Middle East peace process – form an interconnected web that requires an integrated approach . . . . That’s why it is vital that we move quickly, with the Arab world and the Quartet, to build Palestinian Authority capacity. [Thanks to Noam Chomsky for drawing my attention to his discussion of Kerry’s role in his “Exterminate All the Brutes,” on Znet.]
The US, together with “the Arab world” (meaning the US’s most powerful Arab clients, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) is to become a united front with Israel against, of course, Iran. The “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” will thus be integrated – or sidelined – within the wider spectrum of the US’s imperial dominance throughout the region. As for the Palestinians, Kerry reiterates that the Administration has found “a legitimate partner for peace” in Abbas – of course there have been no “legitimate” partners to date, Arafat’s compliance at Oslo and his pre-Oslo overtures to Israel being so much disposable trash in the dustbin of history. (Hamas’s repeated overtures to Israel – these have guaranteed truces as long as 30 years in exchange for Israel’s retreat to the ’67 borders, the same requirement as in the Arab League proposal – have been rebuffed by targeted assassinations and last winter’s butchery in Gaza.) Abbas is now shored up with an army. Here’s Kerry at Brookings again:
For years, everyone has talked of the need to give the Israelis a legitimate partner for peace . . . . We must help the Palestinian Authority deliver for the Palestinian people, and we must do it now. . . . Most importantly, this means strengthening General Dayton’s efforts to train Palestinian security forces that can keep order and fight terror. Recent developments have been extremely encouraging: during the invasion of Gaza, Palestinian Security Forces largely succeeded in maintaining calm in the West Bank amidst widespread expectations of civil unrest.
Given the US’s “help” to similar client regimes throughout the world, the “help the Palestinian Authority deliver” phrase is chilling. While one part of the “experiment” with a final solution to the Palestinian problem was underway – Israel’s bombing and shelling of Gaza, possibly as a test for future US strikes in the Middle East in densely populated areas – another part, equally critical, was underway in the West Bank. To protect the population’s “human rights” the “truly professional” Palestinian National Security Force (N.S.F.) crushed West Bank demonstrations, averting the worrisome possibility that in the face of Israel’s slaughter of their sisters and brothers in Gaza, there might be unwelcome disturbances. According to reliable reports, Abbas also has CIA-run forces, Preventive Security and General Intelligence, which promise to be far more brutal than Dayton’s paramilitaries (these fall under State Department aegis).
Thomas Friedman, the US-Israel’s press proxy, reported in the New York Times this past February that after Hamas “took over Gaza in 2007,” the US gave funds to Keith Dayton to do proxy-army training of Palestinians in Jordan: “Schooled in everything from riot control to human rights [sic], the N.S.F. [Palestinian National Security Force] is the only truly professional force controlled by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.”
Only a few of Abbas’s “truly professional” proxy-ancestors are Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua, Suharto in Indonesia, and the proxy forces, professionals in massacre, looting, rape, and assassination, which operated under them. There is, needless to say, no unified Palestinian resistance movement to parallel the FMLN in El Salvador let alone Nicaragua’s Sandinistas. In a Palestine weakened by decades of savage occupation, the US succeeded in fomenting maximal strife between Hamas and Fatah.
As for the “two states” that get Obama’s lip-service, there are only two possibilities. One is the Lieberman-Kadima proposal (Tzipi Livni, among others to Lieberman’s “left,” has endorsed it). It would annex to the West Bank parts of the Galilee containing large Arab populations and call the result a “Palestinian state.” This is the racist solution, which has sometimes been termed “soft transfer”, as I described it on this site.
The other is the land-swap option proposed at Taba, Egypt in 2001 at the end of Clinton’s administration. (There is also the land-swap option of the Geneva Accord crafted by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, after PM Ehud Barak pulled out of the Taba talks.) Israeli security and foreign policy expert Zeev Maoz quotes the joint Israeli-Palestinian January, 2001 statement after Taba:
The sides declare that they have never been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiations following the Israeli elections.
The Brzezinski-Scowcroft proposal savaged by Bill and Kathy Christison in these pages contains a sentence referring to Taba: “Indeed, the outline of an Israeli-Palestinian accord was crafted during the dying days of the Clinton administration.” After the sentence about Taba the authors demur about the difficulties of getting “to yes,” but the allusion is still in the document.
What is the alternative to Taba? Or to the Geneva initiative (in the very unlikely event that the Obama administration were to take it up again)? In the ruins of Gaza people hover on the edges of bare survival (among other ravages of the siege alone, which continues unremittingly, is stunted growth in young children, noted in a recent Lancet report) in the West Bank, California-like suburban settlements ravage the former beauty of Palestine’s hills, slicing and dicing what remains of Palestine’s villages and cities; two armies and brutal vigilantes attack any form of resistance, however peaceful, and the usual suffering (evictions, home demolitions and more) goes on under US-Israel rule.
It is difficult for those who have long yearned for justice for Palestine to admit that the US-Israel are winning. But the conclusion is inescapable.
To recognize this doesn’t mean stopping our condemnation of the ongoing daily savageries against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; or stopping educational work among Americans ignorant of the facts; or valuable “sister city” projects and other person-to-person work underway in, for instance, Cambridge, Massachusetts; or boycott and divestment activities of the sort recently achieved at Hampshire College. But none of that work should cloud our understanding of the very narrow real-world options possible under Obama.
ELLEN CANTAROW has written since 1979 on Israel and Palestine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org