Friday, September 16, 2011

So, Bibi, Who Ya Gonna Call? O-ba-ma!

Daniel Levy, ever incisive and insightful, in a Foreign Policy analysis that makes plain: The US is squandering whatever reputation and good-will it still might have in the Middle East, with its shameless pandering to Israeli interests during the run-up to the Palestinian petition for statehood at the UN (which, the NYT now reports, will be brought first to the UN Security Council, where the US will veto it).

Whatever the outcome, the United States is guaranteed to be the real loser in all of this. For domestic political reasons the Obama administration is committed to oppose any U.N. initiative not authorized by Israel and to cajole and convince other countries to do likewise. The United States will find itself isolated, blamed for its own vote and the "no's" of others, weakening its Palestinian friends while frittering away further diplomatic capital, and all at such a delicate time in the Middle East. Having previously been aligned with Arab autocracies, the U.S. could have opened a new chapter post-Arab awakening. Instead, with Arab public opinion now a driving force, the United States will further alienate itself from popular sentiment by (again) trampling Palestinian rights. Making matters worse for President Obama, the relationship with Netanyahu is wholly unidirectional. According to ex- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Netanyahu is "ungrateful" and U.S. interests (let alone Obama's own needs) do not figure in his calculations.

Those interests, and America's regional alliances, are being stretched to snapping point by the excesses of Israeli belligerence toward the neighborhood and dismissiveness toward the Palestinians under its current coalition. Democratic Turkey and democratizing Egypt are increasingly unable or unwilling to feign indifference. Israeli hegemony faces new and serious challenges. The unraveling of Israel's regional relations could make New York a sideshow, and a tame one at that. If Israel chooses to take punitive counter-measures against the Palestinians -- withholding tax revenues belonging to the PA, annexing settlements, or responding violently to unarmed marches (and if the Uunited States joins suit by cutting its own PA funding) -- then events could spiral in dangerous and unpredictable ways. The PLO move at the United Nations is not an incitement to violence by any reasonable measure -- but the Netanyahu government's response might become just that.

Watching from the sidelines with a mixture of amusement and bemusement will be America's emerging global competitors from the BRIC countries and beyond. After the recent Congressional debt-ceiling debacle, a U.N. display of the United States tying itself in knots and squandering reputational currency due to its inability to manage relations with a country so in its debt, will offer further evidence of Washington's unreliability as a competent world leader.

(For more detailed analysis of the situation, read the International Crisis Committee's recent report .)

It's a truly sad reflection of the dysfunctionality of the American political system that, in a country where (according to most polls) a majority of its citizens want its leaders to take an impartial stance in promoting a settlement between Israel and Palestinians, their representatives in Congress adopt almost unanimously a stance aligned lopsidedly with the interests of only one party - Israel - and designed to inflict maximum humiliation on an evidently well-intentioned president who, owing to spinelessness, or considerations of political expediency and longevity, or some combination of the two, has opted to back away from his earlier promises (Cairo, 2009) to work for a just and equitable settlement.  The result: US policy and actions that represent a complete caving-in to the dictates of the Israeli government, and to a well-organized, well-funded, vocal, but perniciously ignorant and myopic element of the American electorate: Christian Zionists - who just happen to dominate the Tea Party, a throwback to the nativist Know Nothings of a previous - and very sad - era in American politics.

They call themselves patriots, "real Americans" - yet stood by and guffawed when the prime minister of Israel came to Washington and dissed the president of the US (in his own house!) on his hardly innovating proposals regarding a peace settlement, and they then cheered his address to Congress like teenyboppers at a Beatles concert.

Yet, to whom did the prime minister turn when his country's embassy in Cairo was stormed by real patriots - Egyptian citizens intent on signaling that their country would no longer be content to kowtow in the face of Israel's provocations?  Netanyahu couldn't get the leader of Egypt's military government on the phone during the crisis.  So (channeling "Ghostbusters"), Bibi, who ya gonna call?  O-ba-ma.

And, after absorbing all those body shots from Bibi, Obama came through; the Israelis were permitted to fly in a special military plane to get their diplomats out, undoubtedly because of Obama's intercession.

No matter.  As the UN vote approaches, and it becomes ever more obvious that the General assembly will approve - overwhelmingly - the recognition of Palestine, the Tea Party element of the GOP will scream bloody murder about how Obama let Israel be dissed, how he let down the stalwart Bibi.  Indeed, when Tea Party darling rootin-tootin Rick Perry can celebrate rootin-tootin Israelis as being just like rootin-tootin Texans, how long a jump is it to declaring the Israelis are better Americans than is Obama?

Of course, Texans have a long history of white Anglos dominating - and abusing - darker-skinned cohabitants of their state.  Kinda like the long history of Ashkenazi European-descended ("white") Israelis dominating - and abusing - darker-skinned Mizrahi Jews, as well as Arabs.  Kinda like how the white Christian evangelicals who dominate the Tea Party have a long history of abusing their darker-skinned fellow citizens - especially ones with a middle name like Hussein.



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