Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Obama at the UN: an Embarrassment to Himself, and to the US

The NYT's report on Mr. Obama's speech to the UN today pulls no punches: Obama's lofty, silky rhetoric were not enough to mask the abject failure of his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

For Mr. Obama, the challenge in crafting the much-anticipated General Assembly speech on Wednesday was how to address the incongruities of the administration’s position: the president who committed himself to making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians a priority from Day One, who still has not been able to even get peace negotiations going after two and a half years; the president who opened the door to Palestinian state membership at the United Nations last year ending up threatening to veto that very membership; the president who was determined to get on the right side of Arab history ending up, in the views of many on the Arab street, on the wrong side of it on the Palestinian issue.

The Arab Spring quandary, in particular, has been enormously troublesome for Mr. Obama. White House officials say that he has long been keenly aware that he, like no other American president, stood as a potential beacon to the Arab street as the ultimate symbol of the hopes and rewards of democracy. But since he is the president of the United States, he has had to put American interests first.

So Mr. Obama’s entire 47-minute address appeared, at times, an effort to thread the needle meant to balance his efforts in support of democratic movements against his efforts to stand behind Israel, America’s foremost ally.

Obama wants to have it every which way he can: as warrior for peace and human dignity, as fan of Palestinian statehood and Arab democracies, but also as ultimate guarantor of Israel's security and Israel's status as the US's foremost ally in the Middle East.

But in two and a half years as president, he has succeeded only in bowing before the dictates of Israeli domestic politics, as well as those of US congressmen held in (often willing) thrall by the powerful pro-Israel lobby and its Christian Zionist/evangelical/Islamophobic tag-team partners.  He continues to insist that only the US can act as a fair and honest broker between the two sides, and that those sides can hope to achieve a settlement of their differences only by returning to the negotating table.  Meanwhile, Israel's backers rail at the Palestinian leadership for refusing to accept Mr. Netanyahu's always-open invitation to sit down, even when they and any other reasonably sentient observer know that, in Netanyahu's world, such talks are nothing more than an opportuniy for Israel to insist on the same conditions it has been insisting on for years, call it "negotiation," and all the while, keep on expanding settlements in the West Bank, colonizing East Jerusalem, blockading the unfortunate Palestinians of Gaza, and in general make a two-state solution to the conflict impossible.

The only thing worse than Obama's feckless "leadership" on this issue is the solution that Texas governor Rick Perry - a prime contender for the Republican presidential nomination - is advancing: that the US adopt as its own the "Greater Israel" policy of the Netanyahu/Lieberman government: complete the colonization of the West Bank, eliminate any further consideration of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and cement that new US position by moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  In his view - as he stated yesterday at a press conference - in a Perry administration, if you want to work for the US State Department, you'd better plan to be working in Jerusalem.

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