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How Much Really Separates Obama and Netanyahu?

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama have one thing very much in common: both of them have nearly the same vision for the future of “Palestine”. They may not recognize it yet, but sooner or later, whether Netanyahu remains in power or is replaced by someone who speaks Dove-Liberalese better, they will shake hands and agree that the only thing that really separated them in the early months of President Obama’s administration was semantics: the language each man used to describe what he saw for the future of Palestine, or “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” –a phrase that suggests there are two sides each with a grievance that equals or cancels out the other’s and that makes a just resolution so difficult to formulate.

How deeply have we been indoctrinated.

If President Obama’s speech in Cairo signified anything, it was that the likelihood of a dramatic shift in United States’ policy toward Israel in the coming years is almost nil. The rejectionist framework in which both states have pursued their policies for the past 33 years – or since the 1976 UNSC resolution that first acknowledged Palestinian national rights within the context of two states—is slated to continue. If Obama clarified anything in his lengthy, often patronizing, often obsequious speech in Egypt – a country whose leader epitomizes the tyrannical and repressive regimes so often the primary recipients of massive US foreign aid for doing as they are told – it was the fact that no threat to the status quo of the Bush-Clinton-Bush decades is waiting in the wings.

One would never know this by the responses of often much more acute observers of Middle East regional and global affairs. Their responses of praise and excitement over the bold new President and his willingness to challenge the pro-Israel camp in the US owe much to the success of mass marketing and public image-creation that went into the brilliant Obama campaign; one that has brought to us the bona-fide New American Century promised earlier but left undelivered until now: at last we have someone who will liberate us from the scourges of unwanted wars and conflicts; who will restore the lost glory of the “City on the Hill”, that beacon of humanitarian grace and nobility known as the United States of America whose exceptional history sets us apart from the barbarism and depravity of other civilizations.

In broaching the subject of Palestine, Obama reminds us first of the “unbreakable” bond of friendship and interests that tie together Israel and the United States; of the importance of remembering the past history of suffering and persecution as the primary justification for the establishment of a Jewish ‘homeland’. Of course, we must not forget the Palestinian Muslims and Christians who suffered ‘dislocation’ for 60 years, or since the establishment of this Jewish State, and who also long for a homeland. Their suffering, Obama correctly describes, is ‘intolerable.’ He is able to state this, however, because it underscores the political necessity of the two-state vision he intends to implement, one that differs only minimally from the ‘no Palestinian state’ vision of his Israeli counterpart, Binyamin Netanyahu. In the reductive historical context Obama then provides us with in which Israel has suffered from “hostility and attacks” from “within its borders and well as beyond” (Where might “Palestine” be in all this area?) the only solution is the one the US and Israel alone have been rejecting for the past 61 years, namely, two states for two people. What is new and innovative in Obama’s vision is that the ‘two-state solution’ he is aiming for will now conform to the ‘no-Palestinian-state’ requirement of the revisionist Jewish State since Jabotinsky’s day; a solution that Netanyahu and his predecessors (in Israel and the US) have fostered for so long and with such care.

Obama’s brilliance in embracing the self-same rejectionist stance of his predecessors, by employing the language of the two-state solution, is equaled only by Netanyahu’s honesty in rejecting any such reality. For Obama, the Palestinian State he seeks to create can be fostered by Israel’s willingness to cease any further settlement construction. Obama makes it clear that “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” These settlements? What about the ones already existing? The ones that have utterly destroyed the territorial integrity of the West Bank over the last four decades? The ones comprising half a million illegal Jewish settlers – and growing – that are completing the annexation of East Jerusalem as I write; that are serving to justify continued home demolitions on a near daily basis; that have systematically and methodically displaced the people who have lived on this land for millennia? Where is Obama’s plan to restore these people to their land?

Obama goes on to insist on a return to the Road Map, the very document Ariel Sharon’s government rendered meaningless almost immediately by adding 14 ‘reservations’ to it; conditions that maintain the status quo: the cantonization of the West Bank into a series of disconnected ‘island’ villages and towns; the  de facto annexation and militarization of the Jordan Valley; the encirclement of the economy-stripped Palestinian enclaves by the annexation wall whose boundaries incorporate the theft of the best agricultural land and resources in Palestine for Israeli use only. The status quo grid of interstate, “Jewish only” highways connecting the settlement blocs to Israel so that they are inseparable and indeed indistinguishable from the Jewish state itself will not be upset. The maintenance and legitimization of the major settlement blocs in historic Palestine, securing its weakness and fragmentation, is guaranteed to proceed unchallenged unless or until unified national or regional resistance, with the critical support of the American public, can force the facts on the ground to change.

The Palestinian ‘islands’ will remain demilitarized; they will be surrounded by military checkpoints, watchtowers and roadblocks. The Gaza Strip will remain under siege, permanently disconnected from the “West Bank” until the democratically elected Hamas leadership is either wiped out, assassinated to the point of being completely ineffectual, or voluntarily steps down to make room for the Palestinian Authority under Israeli command. Where are Obama’s demands that the racist, colonial-settler state infrastructure be dismantled so that a viable, sovereign Palestinian state with territorial contiguity, national unity and economic viability can succeed?

Reading on in Obama’s speech we find that he (rightly) condemns the resort to violence by Hamas, the party that rules in Gaza whether we recognize it or not. In particularly harsh language he excoriates those who would “shoot rockets at sleeping children, or … blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered. Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build.”

What about what Israel can build –rather than what it can obliterate unopposed? What about the three quarters of a million children of Gaza who were unable to sleep normally during the nightly aerial bombardments of Gaza for three weeks on end; whose trembling bodies were immune to the embraces and desperate attempts at consolation by their parents, themselves terrified as their children asked, “Are they going to kill us?” What about the illegal use of white phosphorous on the densely populated neighborhoods of Gaza City and beyond? The cluster bombs and fleschettes?  The rocketing, fire-bombing and bulldozing of entire neighborhoods? Why didn’t Obama excoriate the Israelis for the unspeakable destruction and suffering it wrought on the imprisoned population of the Gaza Strip for three weeks straight this winter, when the scarcity of water, heat and electricity was at its highest? Why didn’t he rail against the IDF for its attack on hospitals, schools, ambulances, UN buildings and shelters, food warehouses, businesses, factories and family homes?  Why doesn’t he demand that Israel pay for the rebuilding of Gaza rather than the international donor community – which repeatedly pays for Israel’s successive devastations? Where is Obama’s insistence that Israel comply with the UN fact-finding mission on the commission of war crimes during its relentless assault? Why doesn’t Obama suggest Israel resort to peaceful rather than violent means of settling its disputes?  Why doesn’t he mention that while ‘self defense’ against the firing of rockets is understandable, the use of force is illegal and was completely unnecessary? Why was there no condemnation of Israel for breaking the ceasefire and –we now know—of planning Operation “Cast Lead” six months prior to its beginning, or when the ceasefire was still in effect? What other country can unleash the military might of a superpower on a defenseless society, killing 1400 people, 85 per cent of whom were civilians and approximately 400 of whom were children?

Of course, there is one other country whose actions out-do those of its ally: the United States –which would explain why Israel is allowed to pursue the same pattern of destruction and murder with such impunity and, indeed, with the applause of the US Congress, the pro-Israel lobby, and its many friends in the media, academia and elsewhere across the country.

Before moving on to discuss other important topics such as Iran, which has the legal right under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty to complete the cycle of uranium enrichment that would include developing the capacity to produce nuclear weapons (but not necessarily to do so) and to discuss the importance of democracy in the Middle East (from Cairo, remember), Obama urges the Palestinians “to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.”

Perhaps someone ought to point out to him the irony that his next stop after Cairo is not Gaza City or Beirut where he might help to heal the very recent and very real wartime wounds inflicted on these tortured societies, but Buchenwald, a death camp from the Nazi era, located in the now former East Germany? Certainly Obama ought to be the first to practice what he himself preaches by showing compassion to the recent and innocent victims of an entirely illegal and premeditated slaughter than by rushing off for photo ops at one of the mighty symbols of a depraved Holocaust industry? –one whose finely tuned ideology seeks justification for every act of inhumanity based on the grievance of past inhumanity?

Barack Obama has sent Benjamin Netanyahu the message he most seeks, whether Netanyahu recognizes it or not: continue your colonial-settler project as you have been doing; just change the vocabulary you use to describe it. Then nobody will get upset or notice that the status quo will persists. In the meantime Nasrallah and his followers in Lebanon will be shaking their heads in disbelief at the service Obama has just performed on Hizbullah’s behalf.

JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN is the Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; she is also a freelance journalist, a member of the board of ICAHD-USA, founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and has lived and worked in Jerusalem, Gaza City and Beirut. She can be reached at: amadea311@earthlink.net