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Obama and the Middle East

Is There Hope for a Two-State Solution?

by NASEER ARURI

Perhaps it is more appropriate to begin with the question of whether a two-state settlement has ever been possible and/or viable at anytime at all since 1948. This essay begins by delineating the salient factors which dealt a severe blow to the two-state solution. The long diplomatic paralysis and the impediments to a two-state solution, are embedded in the “peace process” itself, and in the ongoing Zionist consensus that pre-1948 Palestine from the River Jordan to he Mediterranean Sea should be a single state under exclusive Israeli sovereignty. In fact, the real function of the “peace process” has been to Shelter Israel from the threat of peace. The peace process is a misnomer that has enabled Israel to escape its obligations to the Palestinian people under international law. Instead, such obligations have been effectively replaced by Israeli decrees presented as American peace initiatives.

As long as the termination of the Israeli occupation is not on the active Israeli agenda, and as long as the political forces in Israel are united in their rejection of a contiguous, viable and practicable Palestinian state, Peace will not be at hand. As long as this consensus aims to destroy the political and national existence of the whole Palestinian community, and deny it the possibility of self-determination, there will be no more than one Israeli state in historic (mandatory) Palestine. This policy, known as “politicide,” may also include partial or total ethnic cleansing. The late Israeli professor, Tanya Rienhart, wrote that “the only two choices the Israeli political system has generated for the Palestinians are apartheid or ethnic cleansing (transfer). Apartheid is the ‘enlightened’ Labour party’s program (as in the Allon or Oslo plan), while the other pole is advocating slow suffocation of the Palestinians, until the eventual ‘transfer’ (mass expulsion) can be accomplished. This is what Israel has been doing to the Palestinian people, persistently since 1948 —destroying the very fabric of the Palestinian nation. Why has peace been such a threat to Israeli leaders?

For Israel, the danger of a permanent peace emanates from a perceived “demographic threat.” Not long after 2010, Palestinian Arabs living under Israeli control will become a majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean for the first time since 1948. At present, the number of Palestinians living there, under Israeli control, is approximately five million, compared to 5.1 Israelis. Short of giving the Palestinians equal rights in one state, Israel is left with three options: acquiescing in the establishment of a separate sovereign

Palestinian state, expelling much of the Palestinian population, or keeping them confined in apartheid-style cantons, which in essence is Sharon’s plan of 1981, endorsed by Bush junior in April, 2004 when the latter said that the settlement blocs were “facts on the ground,” strongly implying that the occupation was here to stay. Bush had, in effect, recognized a permanent Israeli occupation of the remaining 22 percent of what Israel did not conquer in 1948. That is certainly contrary to a two-state solution.

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, notorious supporter of Israel, was extremely blunt with Netanyahu’s government after seeing how Palestinians in the West Bank have reverted back to the age of the donkey and cart while Israel’s colonial settlers enjoy driving on super highways for Jews only. She has warned Netanyahu to get off the sidelines" with respect to Palestinian peace efforts. In House testimony held during April, 2009, Clinton said: "For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-à-vis Iran, it can’t stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand.” Robert Wood, the spokesman, reiterated the Obama administration position thus: “The important objective for us is to get this process back on track so that we can get to this two-state solution that we think is in the best interests of not only the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the United States and the rest of the world. He has conveniently forgotten, however, that normalization requires terminating the occupation in accordance with resolution 242. A bundle of fragmented Palestinian enclaves existing on the periphery of an expanding Israeli metropolis which continues to encroach on Palestinian land would make the two-state solution totally unfeasible.

OBAMA AND THE MIDDLE EAST

No peace process will succeed unless there is a sharp break from the Clinton and Bush administrations habits of acting as Israel’s “attorney,” unconditional apologist and defender, arms supplier and financier.  In his speech to the Muslim world from Cairo University on June 4, 2009, President Obama made some significant departures from George Bush’s policy, which if translated into action could change the untenable and intolerable status-quo. For example, on the settlements, he said: “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.”

With a seemingly tough claim of even-handedness, Obama committed his administration and himself as a person to a two-state solution whereby Palestine and Israel could live together as coequal. He said: “It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people, Muslims and Christians, have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they have endured the pain of dislocation…. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

Needless to say, however, a two-state solution requires a tough American policy towards Israel, an endeavor which Obama will find thorny and problematic. These conditions of full sovereignty seem remote as we consider the present milieu (May, 2010) in the region, and particularly the ongoing crises in relations between the Obama Administration and Netanyahu’s regime. These crises were precipitated at the end of March 2010 during a visit to Israel by Vice-President Joe Biden, a self-proclaimed devoted Zionist. Biden was met by the unexpected announcement by the Israeli Interior Minister of his government’s intention to build 1600 units in occupied Arab Jerusalem. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton described the announcement as an “insult,” while, White House senior Advisor, David Axelrod described the situation as an “affront” to the United States. Journalist Pat Buchanan titled his article on the subject, “The Poodle gets kicked.” Akiva Eldar, noted Israeli journalist, titled an article in Ha’aretz(March 28, 2010) “Netanyahu and Obama at Point of No Return:” He wrote:” The strife between Israel and the United States concerns something far bigger than the proximity talks with the Palestinians. As far as President Barrack Obama and his senior advisers are concerned, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to blame for nothing less than damaging the standing of the U.S. in the Middle East and the Muslim world.

Roger Cohen echoed a similar concern when he wrote the following in the New York Times( March 15, 2010): “You can’t have rapprochement with Muslims while condoning the steady Israeli appropriation of the physical space for Palestine. You can’t have that rapprochement if U.S. policy is susceptible to the whims of Shas, the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party in Netanyahu’s coalition that runs the Interior Ministry and announced the Biden-baiting measure. The Israeli right, whether religious or secular, has no interest in a two-state peace.”

After the contacts between Netanyahu and Obama became acrimonious in Washington, and as AIPAC was publicly urging the Obama Administration not to push Netanyahu towards the settlement freeze, Netanyahu decided to return to Israel on March 25 after a disastrous meeting with the US President. According to press reports, Obama humiliated Netanyahu by leaving the meeting abruptly: ”I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls”, said Obama, adding “I’m still around…Let me know if there is anything new.” The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz (March 29, 2010) described the situation aptly thus: “The Prime Minister leaves America disgraced, isolated and altogether weaker than when he came.”

Obama’s Vice-President, Biden was no less antagonized by Netanyahu’s behavior. When he was embarrassed by the announcement of the 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, the administration reacted. According to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Biden engaged in a private and angry exchange with the Israeli Prime Minister. Biden has reportedly told Netanyahu the following: “This is starting to get dangerous for us…. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace. [It] could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism." The message couldn’t be plainer: Israel’s intransigence could cost American lives…”

Linking US national security thus to Palestinian-Israeli peace thus adds a new and a significant dimension to the subject at hand. Whereas Obama knows that he cannot take on the Israeli lobby alone, particularly when Nancy Pelosi and her Congressional troops stand ready to provide Israel with whatever it needs, he may speculate that the Israel lobby could find its match only when the US “military lobby” is mobilized.

And yet, the Washington conference on nuclear weapons hosted by Obama on April 12 and 13, 2010 provided another test of Obama’s resolve to deal with Israel when US national interest is at stake. When asked about Israel’s nuclear program at the Washington conference, Obama at first refused to address the Israeli dimension, preferring, instead, to talk about the US and its commitment to reducing American nuclear weapon stockpiles.

But despite that initial refrain from including Israel in his calling for compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Obama hinted broadly that the US is calling on all nations to sign the NPT, emphasizing that he is following US policy.

Within a few years, Palestinians are likely to constitute a majority in all the territories controlled by Israel today. Already, the prospects of a workable and durable two-state solution have been ruled out. Will the President use the financial resources the US provides Israel as a means of enforcement and pressure? Most likely, no.  Finally, if the process fails, will the President be prepared to give a full accounting of why it failed? Again, most likely, no. Perhaps a single state based on the equal protection of the law (as in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution) could emerge as the only humane alternative to the insufferable status-quo.

NASEER ARURI, is Chancellor Professor (Emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He is the author of Dishonest Broker, published by South End Press, Cambridge, MA.

 

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