[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 
"self  defense."

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 
Palestinian violence.

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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