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Obama Fails in the Mideast

Ramallah.

As I watched President Barack Obama’s helicopter pass above my home, just before landing at the Palestinian Presidential Compound next to Ramallah, I just shook my head in disappointment, first as an American, then as a Palestinian. I thought: “Another U.S. president, on another high fanfare visit, carrying the same, failed political messages.”

It was difficult to follow Obama’s visit on TV. In normal practice when dignitaries come to town, Israel disrupts the satellite signals that feed our televisions. Nevertheless, I was able to tune in to a single Arabic channel, broadcast from Lebanon, that was unaffected by this.

Peeling away all the protocols, red carpets, formalities and artificial photo opportunities, I focused on what was coined “the policy speech.” President Obama gave it in Israel at a conference center to an audience of Israeli students. The president crafted a message directly to Israeli citizens, bypassing the right-wing Israeli prime minister who, until today, continues to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements, despite America’s and the world’s disapproval.

Clear message

The message to Israel was clear: there is no better ally to Israel than the U.S. He went on and on about how Israel will always be backed by the U.S., no matter what. Militarism won the day.

To Palestinians, and the majority of the world, that message no longer makes sense. Why support Israel as a military occupier that continues to build Jewish-only settlements? Why support Israel when it (as the U.S. State Department has documented) structurally discriminates against non-Jews, both Christian and Muslim, inside Israel? Why support Israel when it refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes? In short, if Israel has become a rogue state and is moving (as Israeli leaders have acknowledged) toward a form of apartheid, why should the U.S. be there to fund it, arm it, use its veto to protect it from the United Nations, diplomatically cover for it, and do business with it?

Given that Israel is costing U.S. taxpayers over $3 billion annually and has put the U.S. in a weaker position in the Middle East because of its intransigence, it is past due that every American demand of their government to withdraw its resources and political clout from entities that are moving the region away from peace, instead of closer to it.

Larger message

Just before Air Force One landed at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel, President Obama’s limousine, the armored vehicle known as “The Beast,” broke down after being wrongly filled with diesel instead of gasoline. A new one was flown in and no disruptions to the schedule occurred. Nevertheless, perhaps this limousine ordeal carried a larger message: whether “The Beast” or a global superpower, it is crucial that issues are filled with accurate and appropriate substances, otherwise, sooner rather than later, they will start with a sputter and end with a total breakdown.

The U.S. has filled the peace process, for the last 20 years, with Israeli-designed falsehoods, only to bring us to a total breakdown today. I was hoping (but not holding my breath) that President Obama would shift gears on this trip and come with a message to the Israelis that the world’s superpower is now going to fill the process with accountability. That did not happen, and will not, until average Americans say, “Enough is enough.”

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Youngstown living in Al-Bireh/Ramallah, Palestine.

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Sam Bahour is managing partner of Applied Information Management (AIM), a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group, and chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. Twitter: @SamBahour

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