[Marxism] What Obama missed in the Middle East
Dbachmozart at aol.com
Dbachmozart at aol.com
Thu Jul 24 20:16:08 MDT 2008
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 24 July 2008
When I and other Palestinian-Americans first knew Barack Obama in Chicago in
the 1990s, he grasped the oppression faced by Palestinians under Israeli
occupation. He understood that an honest broker cannot simultaneously be the
main cheerleader, financier and arms supplier for one side in a conflict. He
often attended Palestinian-American community events and heard about the
Palestinian experience from perspectives stifled in mainstream discussion.
In recent months, Obama has sought to allay persistent concerns from
pro-Israel groups by recasting himself as a stalwart backer of Israel and tacking
ever closer to positions espoused by the powerful, hard-line pro-Israel lobby
AIPAC. He distanced himself from mainstream advisers because pro-Israel groups
objected to their calls for even-handedness.
Like his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, Obama gave staunch backing
to Israel's 2006 bombing of Lebanon, which killed over 1,200 people, mostly
civilians, and the blockade and bombardment of the Gaza Strip, calling them
Every aspect of Obama's visit to Palestine-Israel this week has seemed
designed to further appease pro-Israel groups. Typically for an American aspirant
to high office, he visited the Israeli Holocaust memorial and the Western
Wall. He met the full spectrum of Israeli Jewish (though not Israeli Arab)
political leaders. He traveled to the Israeli Jewish town of Sderot, which until
last month's ceasefire, frequently experienced rockets from the Gaza Strip. At
every step, Obama warmly professed his support for Israel and condemned
Other than a cursory 45-minute visit to occupied Ramallah to meet with
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians got little. According
to an Abbas aide, Obama provided assurances that he would be "a constructive
partner in the peace process." Some observers took comfort in his promise
that he would get engaged "starting from the minute I'm sworn into office."
Obama remained silent on the issue of Jerusalem, after boldly promising the
"undivided" city to Israel as its capital in a speech to AIPAC last month, and
then appearing to backtrack amid a wave of outrage across the Arab world.
But Obama missed the opportunity to visit Palestinian refugee camps, schools
and even shopping malls to witness first-hand the devastation caused by the
Israeli army and settlers, or to see how Palestinians cope under what many
call "apartheid." This year alone, almost 500 Palestinians, including over 70
children, have been killed by the Israeli army -- exceeding the total for 2007
and dwarfing the two-dozen Israelis killed in conflict-related violence.
Obama said nothing about Israel's relentless expansion of colonies on
occupied land. Nor did he follow the courageous lead of former President Jimmy
Carter and meet with the democratically elected Hamas leaders, even though Israel
negotiated a ceasefire with them. That such steps are inconceivable shows
how off-balance is the US debate on Palestine.
Many people I talk to are resigned to the conventional wisdom that aspiring
national politicians cannot afford to be seen as sympathetic to the concerns
of Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims. They still hope that, if elected, Obama
would display an even-handedness absent in the campaign.
Without entirely foreclosing the possibility of change in US policy, the
reality is that the political pressures evident in a campaign do not magically
disappear once the campaign is over. Nor is all change necessarily for the
One risk is that a President Obama or President McCain would just bring back
the Clinton-era approach where the United States effectively acted as
"Israel's lawyer," as Aaron David Miller, a 25-year veteran of the US State
Department's Middle East peace efforts, memorably put it. This led to a doubling of
Israeli settlements in the West Bank, an upsurge in violence and the failed
2000 Camp David summit where Clinton tried to pressure Arafat into accepting a
bantustan. A depressing feature of Obama's visit was the prominent advisory
role for Dennis Ross, the official in charge of the peace process under
Clinton, and the founder of an AIPAC-sponsored pro-Israel think-tank.
Whoever is elected will face a rapidly changing situation in
Palestine-Israel. A number of shifts are taking place simultaneously. First, the consensus
supporting the two-state solution is disintegrating as Israeli colonies have
rendered it unachievable. Second, the traditional Palestinian national
leadership is being eclipsed by new movements including Hamas. And, as western and
Arab governments become more craven in the face of Israeli human rights
violations, a Palestinian-led campaign modeled on the anti-apartheid strategy of
boycott, divestment and sanctions is building global civil society support.
Finally, the demographic shift in Palestine-Israel toward an absolute
Palestinian majority in all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be complete in
the next three to five years.
Making peace in this new reality will take leaders ready to listen and talk
to all sides in the conflict and to consider alternatives to the moribund
two-state solution, such as power-sharing, confederation or a single democratic
state. It will require, above all, the courage, imagination and political
will to challenge the status quo of Israeli domination and Palestinian
dispossession that has led to ever more violence with each passing year.
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of _One
Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli- Palestinian Impasse_
(http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/store/548.shtml) (Metropolitan Books, 2006). This
essay originally appeared in The Guardian's "Comment is Free" and is republished
with the author's permission.
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