Tag Archives: Palestine

In Palestine, a gap between words and actions

Stephen Walt, repeating much of what I wrote last week, reminds his readers what really happened during Obama’s much-heralded tour of Israel:

Obama also offered rhetorical support for Palestinian aspirations, and his speech went further than any of his predecessors. He spoke openly of their “right to self-determination and justice” and invited his Israeli listeners “to look at the world through their eyes.” He also told them “neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer” and said “Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.” He reiterated his call for direct negotiations — though he no longer suggests that Israel stop building more settlements — and he called upon his youthful audience to “create the change that you want to see.”

But that’s all he did. He did not say that a Palestinian state would have to be fully sovereign (i.e., entitled to have its defense forces). He did not give any indication of where he thought the borders of such a state might lie, or whether illegal settlements like Ariel (whose presence cuts the West Bank in two) would have to be abandoned. He did not say that future American support for Israel would be conditional on its taking concrete steps to end the occupation and allow for the creation of a viable state (i.e. not just a bunch of vulnerable Bantustans). On the contrary, his every move and phrase made it clear that Israelis could count on the United States  providing generous and unconditional support to the vastly stronger of the two parties. He made no mention of a special envoy or an “Obama plan.” In short, he did not announce a single concrete policy initiative designed to advance the vision of “two states for two peoples” that he first laid out in the almost-forgotten Cairo speech of June 2009.

Walt’s conclusion:

For realists like me, in short, halting a colonial enterprise that has been underway for over forty years will require a lot more than wise and well-intentioned words. Instead, it would require the exercise of power. Just as raw power eventually convinced most Palestinians that Israel’s creation was not going to be reversed, Israelis must come to realize that denying Palestinians a state of their own is going to have real consequences. Although Obama warned that the occupation was preventing Israel from gaining full acceptance in the world, he also made it clear that Israelis could count on the United States to insulate them as much as possible from the negative effects of their own choices. Even at the purely rhetorical level, in short, Obama’s eloquent words sent a decidedly mixed message.

Because power is more important than mere rhetoric, it won’t take long before Obama’s visit is just another memory. The settlements will keep expanding, East Jerusalem will be cut off from the rest of the West Bank, the Palestinians will remain stateless, and Israel will continue on its self-chosen path to apartheid. And in the end, Obama will have proven to be no better a friend to Israel or the Palestinians than any of his predecessors.

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The two-state solution is dying

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais.)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais.)

My piece for The Morningside Post is up:

Indeed, Obama was right to decry the injustice of the occupation. But much of the blame for the perpetuation of what he termed the “grinding status quo” should rest squarely upon the president himself. Lacking from tonight’s speech was any semblance of a serious framework for peace talks, never mind for peace. A settlement freeze, once the centerpiece of Obama’s roadmap for peace negotiations, was never even timidly mentioned in passing.

Thus the cycle of endless backtracking is completed. Under Jimmy Carter, settlements were illegal. Under Ronald Reagan, they became an “obstacle to peace.” Now, as per Obama’s speech tonight, they are simply “counterproductive.” The progressively more muted rhetoric matches the devolution of the peace process from actual negotiation into something resembling kabuki theater.

And theater is precisely what it is: the continued half-hearted affirmations of the two-state solution by successive American presidents belie their rapidly vanishing interest in taking the steps necessary to achieve it.

Book Review – Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East

brokers of deceitRashid Khalidi, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (Beacon Press: 2013)

 

On Wednesday, Barack Obama will travel to Israel for his first official visit as President of the United States. The day after he arrives, he will deliver a speech to Israeli students at the International Convention Center that is expected to tread conventional ground regarding the peace process while gently reminding his audience that respecting Arab public sentiment on the occupation is a necessary condition for achieving a two-state solution.

Such modest objectives may seem anathema to true believers in Middle Eastern peace. But they are perfectly in keeping with the “peace process” industrial-complex portrayed by Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi in his new book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

“I want to examine here…the veil that conceals how the policy of the United States toward the Palestine question has actually functioned to exacerbate rather than resolve this problem,” writes Khalidi in his introduction. Central to this disguise is the use of deliberately misleading language that wraps the decades-long stalemate in the ennobling lexicon of progress, before smothering it in the bureaucratic technobabble of “road maps” and “facts on the ground.” (If this sounds familiar, the bloodied remains of innocent drone strike victims have now attained the similarly reverential status of “collateral damage.”) Indeed, the all-encompassing term “peace process,” which Khalidi deems an “Orwellian rubric” obscuring “decades of futile initiatives,” is itself a figment of erstwhile imaginations warped beyond recognition by enough conferences, talks, and accords to fashion world peace several times over.

A question naturally presents itself: why bother with this charade at all? For Khalidi, much of the answer can be found in the goals of the various parties. He defines a successful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one entailing complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a “just resolution” for Palestinian refugees, and national autonomy for the Palestinian people. That all of these outcomes have failed to materialize is a product of Israeli and Palestinian deficiencies, of course. But it is also an indictment of American foreign policy on the subject, which has unfailingly taken Israel’s side as the prospects for peace slide with increasing urgency into history.

The reasons for the American-Israeli two-step and the United States’ consequent inability to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are threefold, Khalidi argues. The oil-exporting Gulf states have exerted almost no pressure on the United States over the plight of the Palestinians, domestic politics (especially the overwhelmingly hawkish Israel lobby) has prevented a change in strategy, and American policymakers demonstrate virtually no sympathy for the political and psychological duress of the Palestinians. On this last point, Khalidi quotes Richard Nixon, who in 1973 confided to Henry Kissinger: “You’ve got to give [Arabs] the hope…You’ve got to make them think that there’s some motion; that something is going on; that we’re really doing our best with the Israelis.”

“Doing our best,” it is no surprise to learn, meant something quite different to the Americans than it did to their Palestinian interlocutors. Behind Nixon’s Machiavellian scheming lay a rather simple truth: the domestic constituency for Palestinians was nonexistent, while Israel’s supporters regularly raised an unholy clamor. Forty years later, the Oval Office has occasionally changed hands but the calculation remains maddeningly identical. If anything, the din of the hawks has grown even louder: Khalidi accurately notes that an “increasingly formidable constellation of obstructionist forces” confronted Obama’s every timid attempt at course correction. Continue reading Book Review – Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East

Palestine’s United Nations bid

Fatima Ayub explains the factors that will decide how European countries vote tomorrow, when Palestine’s request to become a United Nations non-member observer state is officially voted upon:

As much as possible, the European Union tries to project a common position at the U.N., but often fails when it comes to resolutions involving Israel and Palestine (the vote on the Goldstone Report resolution in 2010 was a notable moment). Though the 2011 statehood bid was never put to a vote at the Security Council, European members were expected to vote against it there. But in the subsequent vote where the PA sought and received membership to UNESCO in October 2011, the European vote was significantly split. Eleven countries (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia and Spain) voted yes, another eleven abstained (Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom) and five voted no (Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden).

This year’s resolution, despite being something of an anticlimax, has prompted much handwringing and mixed messaging from European governments. Denmark, France, Spain Norway and Switzerland (the latter two are not EU member states) have declared their support. It’s reasonable to expect that the states who supported the UNESCO bid will also vote yes, with the exception of Belgium who have declared they will abstain. And the Netherlands can be expected to move from the ‘no’ to the ‘yes’ category after a change of government earlier this year. The United Kingdom and Germany were wavering, declaring they would support the resolution with given public assurances that the PA would seek unconditional negotiations with Israel and forego applications to the International Criminal Court. At the time of this writing, the Palestinians have not agreed to condition their bid, which would curtail the meaningful gains of the upgrade, so Germany and the U.K. are at best likely to abstain.