maandag 24 oktober 2011

The Israel-Palestine conflict, an impossible dilemma for Obama?

    

After Obama's promising speech in Cairo on June 4, 2009, his administration’s Middle East policies have quickly reverted to the old pattern: unconditional support for Israel. Obama's speech at the UN, on the eve of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ application for full UN membership, was beneath contempt. Abbas had ignored a US warning that it would veto the move. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused Obama of speaking "gibberish" in his UN address [1]."In spite of the shameful monopoly of the mass information media and the fascist methods of the United States and its allies to confuse and deceive world opinion, the resistance of the people grows, and that can be appreciated in the debates being produced in the United Nations," Castro wrote on Cuban government website www.cubadebate.cu.

Meanwhile, the number of UN member states extending diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine has risen to 131, with only 62 UN member states not having done so. Apart from some small island states, the unwilling are almost all Western countries, including all five colonial powers that were founded on the ethnic cleansing or genocide of indigenous populations, plus all eight former European colonial powers. According to John V. Whitbeck, the international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team, the current American strategy to defeat the State of Palestine's UN membership application is to try to deprive Palestine of the required nine affirmative votes in the Security Council. [2] Washington is putting pressure on all five European members (including Bosnia & Herzegovina, which has recognized the State of Palestine) and Colombia (the only South American state which has not recognized the State of Palestine) to abstain, leaving only eight affirmative votes and thus making America's lone negative vote not technically a "veto".

To Whitbeck this is not only a naïve strategy but also a dangerous one. Not only because of the new Palestinian intransigence, but also because an American veto would be neither a big deal nor a bad thing. It would unequivocally confirm that the US is enslaved to Israel and definitively rule out America from the ancient “Middle East peace process" game. Thus, the US could no longer control and manipulate the process on Israel's behalf, thereby finally giving peace a fair chance. Should the US successfully torpedo the Palestinian application, it cannot deny the observer status to a Palestinian State. Such a decision would be taken at the UN’s General Assembly, where the veto does not exist. State observer status would confer on the State of Palestine virtually all the same benefits as member state status, including right of access to the International Criminal Court, where it could sue Israelis for war crimes, including settlement building, and crimes against humanity.

An American veto in the Security Council, followed by an upgrade to state observer status by the General Assembly might actually be the best result for Palestine. As full UN member it would still have to deal with the American stranglehold on any "peace process", but as an observer it could count on the support of the emerging "BRICS" powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all current members of the UN Security Council which have recognized the State of Palestine and announced to vote for Palestinian membership). A BRICS-EU alliance could mobilize the true international community behind a genuine and urgent effort to actually achieve peace with some measure of justice.

America's unanimous European abstention strategy, if successful, would have catastrophic consequences. While the Muslim world expects the worst from the United States, it does not yet see Europe as its enemy. If Palestine's membership application were to be defeated by a united Western front, the world would be confronted by a fundamental clash of the "West against the Rest", resurrecting memories of the most arrogant and contemptuous periods of Western imperialism and colonialism and confirming the belief, already widespread in the Arab and Muslim worlds, that the Judeo-Christian world is at war with the Muslim world. It is, of course, within the power of one man to prevent this scenario from playing out. “Is the loss of votes and campaign money really more important to America's multi-racial president than preventing a long-running clash of civilizations, cultures, races and religions and promoting a more peaceful, just and harmonious world?” Whitbeck wonders.

Other observers come to a different analysis. American emeritus professor of political science Jerome Slater believes that Obama is in an impossible dilemma. [3] Slater points out that Obama is absolutely not in a position to put pressure on Israel by, for example, ending US economic and military support. Congress would simply refuse to support him. Moreover, any such attempt would run the risk that the next presidency and both houses of Congress will come under the control of a Republican party that is dominated by know-nothings and the lunatic fringe. In Slater’s view, such a scenario is unbearable to contemplate and could result in the worst crisis in American history since the Civil War. Slater fears that Israel is so far gone that even a reelected Democratic president and both houses of Congress controlled by Democrats could not move it in the right direction. On the contrary, the withdrawal of American support might well result in an Israel that would become even more irrational and violent than it already is. One must also wonder if a breakthrough is really what Obama wants to achieve. After all, on taking office, why did he appoint the controversial Dennis Ross [4] as his primary adviser on Israel? Jerome Slater appears to be extremely pessimistic about any resolution of the conflict whatsoever. He even believes that international sanctions - that could topple South Africa’s apartheid regime - might backfire in the case of Israel.

The professor sees things too pessimistic. The right-wing Netanyahu-Lieberman administration, which blocks any reasonable compromise with the Palestinians, exists by virtue of the Israeli electorate. Unfortunately, Israeli voters are routinely brainwashed with propaganda and vote traditional, or "with their feet." That's the area that needs to be worked on. A courageous Obama should be willing to risk his reelection and put all his cards on the "education" of the Israeli electorate. For starters, this Harvard magna cum laude graduate lawyer could address the Knesset, telling the members that no country is above the law. He could also appear on Israeli television, hammering out the same message, thus riding on the back of the social protest. Such "born again" US President could easily recruit wealthy sponsors to fund a comprehensive, long-term PR and advertising campaign in Israel. The Israeli media cannot refuse - initially perceived as questionable - bought TV commercials. An intelligent campaign could adjust the views of the Israeli electorate and massage voting behavior in the right direction. New elections could bring a new coalition to power which might prove more inclined to give the peace process a fair chance.

Can we expect this American president to take such a bold initiative? If we are to believe Scott Wilson, who covers the White House for the Washington Post, the answer is "no". Wilson feels Obama is a political loner, a technocrat. Beyond the economy, the wars and the polls, the president has a problem: people. The president has no entourage, no “Friends of Barack” to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise. [5] The president believes he has insufficient power to face Israel and AIPAC [6] down. Obama is fearful of serious electoral consequences should he take up the gauntlet. Unfortunately, his re-election seems to be his prime concern, to the detriment of the plight of the Palestinians and peace in the Middle East.

(this article was first published in Dutch as “Het Israël-Palestina conflict: staat Obama voor een onmogelijk dilemma?” on October 10, 2011)

[1] Jeff Franks: “Fidel Castro calls Obama U.N. speech "gibberish"
[2] John V. Whitbeck: America’s Dangerous Game at the UN
[3] Jerome Slater: “Obama's Impossible Dilemma--And Ours
[4] In their 2006 paper The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, John Mearsheimer, political science professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, named Ross as a member of the "Israeli lobby" in the United States, see Wikipedia: “Dennis Ross
[5] Scott Wilson: “Obama the loner president
[6] Wikipedia: “American Israel Public Affairs Committee    

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