Thursday, November 5, 2009

The "Peace Process" - from "Yes We Can" to "No I Won't"

The "peace process" had been headed for the mortuary slab ever since George W. Bush's presidency (with his acquiescence in Ariel Sharon's brutalities at Jenin in the West Bank, his concessions to Sharon in the matter of Israel's retention of its illegal mega-settlements in the West Bank, and his double-teaming with Sharon to eliminate Yasser Arafat and then politically emasculate Mahmud Abbas).  Barack Obama's brave Cairo speech and post-inaugural "outreach" to the Muslim world were thought at first to signal a brand new day in US Middle Eastern diplomacy - the dawn of a new even-handedness that might finally bring Palestinians some semblance of justice and restitution after so many decades of dispossession and occupation.

Instead, Obama, his not-so-sure-of-speech Secretary of State  - she of the "unprecedented concessions" of Netanyahu, and the "Israeli capital" in East Jerusalem misspeak (this in an interview with al-Jazeera; luckily one of her aides caught it in time) -  and a Democratic Congress voting in lock-step with the demands of the Israel lobby have together brought all of the hopes crashing down.  Despite Hillary Clinton's brave words about her own toughness, about forging ahead, this piece by Glenn Kessler in today's Washington Post makes it abundantly and depressingly clear that the Obama administration now has zero leverage, and even less credibility, with which to accomplish anything meaningful in terms of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

What might this mean?
  • huge disillusionment on the "Arab street" in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia - with consequent collateral damage to the leaders of those countries
  • a perception among those same Arab leaders that they'd better abandon any hopes of the Obama administration acting as a fair dealer
  • with Mahmud Abbas now sidelined, perhaps a strengthening of Hamas's appeal
  • with negotiation obviously going nowhere, and Netanyahu determined to enlarge West Bank settlements and judaize East Jerusalem, new fuel for a new intifada in the West Bank
  • with no lifting of Israel's blockade in Gaza, and - again - with negotiation going nowhere, fuel for Gaza's militants to launch attacks against Israel
And if new violence in the West Bank and Gaza are in the offing, let's not forget that the Israeli public by and large
  •  supported the IDF's devastation of Gaza last December
  •  are defiant of the world's condemnation of that operation (and of the UN's - and most of the world's - embracing of the Goldstone report, which documents that devastation), and
  •  would now defy Obama to do anything about a crushing Israeli response to any new violence in Gaza or the West Bank.  (And why wouldn't they be ready to defy Obama, when they know that the US Congress - which is dominated by Obama's own political party - not only has their back, but would most likely cheer them on?)

Let's face it.  As far as the "peace process" is concerned, Obama has gone from "Yes we can" to "No I won't".  To be specific, he won't take the hard stance, make the hard decisions, needed if there is to be any just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  That would entail more than singing kumbaya to the Arab and Muslim world, with whom Mr. Obama expresses such a strong tie.  That will also require saying NO to Israel.  No more weapons, no more financial support, no more settlements, no more diplomatic cover, no more Security Council veto of resolutions that criticize Israeli actions and policy, until Israel makes bona fide effort to create and support a viable, sustainable, fully sovereign Palestinian state.

That will take guts.  That will require taking a stand for justice, for fairness, for the right of occupied peoples to political self-determination, for the right of dispossessed people to have their grievances recognized and to receive some compensation of that dispossession.

That kind of guts also means a willingness to countenance defeat in the next political cycle.  So, in truth, Mr. Obama, yes you can achieve something truly meaningful, maybe world-changing, for Middle East peace if you have the moral courage to act.  No you won't (or at least you may not) get re-elected in 2012 if you do. 

Your stirring campaign speeches in 2008 led me to believe that you believe that some things are more important than elections. 

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