dinsdag 2 november 2010

What Obama could have said in his televised interview on Israeli television


In his first interview, broadcast on Israel's Channel 2 TV July 8, 2010 [1], President Obama missed the opportunity to contribute to a somewhat more realistic perception among the Israeli electorate, which is constantly presented the image of Palestinians as "the worst enemies Israel has ever known. Enemies whom Israeli leaders classified as the personification of the devil because they would aspire to drive us (Israelis) in the sea." [2] Such an exercise in public diplomacy could have provided some support to critical voices such as Ilan Pappe, Hanna Yablonka, Or Kashti and Gideon Levy [3]. For the sake of argument, here are the answers that the president - in a capacity of a truly impartial honest broker - could or perhaps should have given.

The Israelis have seen so many failed attempts at a peace process. Can a peace agreement be reached in the first term of your presidency?
I see opportunities. But the Israelis should perhaps give the past some due consideration. The enmity of their neighbors that they appear to see, is that real? Doesn’t any Palestinian enmity result from the ever expanding occupation of their land and the way Israel treats them? I do not endorse the rockets fired by the Palestinians, but what alternative is there for them to resist an Occupant who is armed to the teeth? And did the peace efforts proceed fairly? That is debatable.

If the founders of Israel were aware today of the massive American support for Israel, they would be pleasantly surprised. But they would also realize that Israel could only come into being with the blessing of the international community. That fact creates obligations, requires respect for international law, which Israel continually defies. Israel can only do so with the blessing of the U.S. But that blessing is not infinite. No country in the world is above the law. I feel most people in Israel do not fully realize that. I will not enumerate the UN resolutions, judgments of the International Court in The Hague and other key elements of international law that Israel flouts, with our support.

Is Benjamin Netanyahu the man who can bring peace? Are there any frictions between you and the prime minister? Do you ask Israel to extend the settlement freeze after September?
There are differences of opinion. The prime minister knows my opinion about the settlements. Which incidentally is consistent with that of all my predecessors. I perceive Prime Minister Netanyahu as a statesman who wants peace and prosperity for his country. I think he is ready to take risks, even if it may cost him his cabinet. It is evident that there is no alternative. I gave him to understand that there will come a time when America will cut back its support to Israel seriously. So the best way forward for Israel is to sign for peace. That includes a withdrawal to the 1967 borders, negotiations over adjustments and assistance in the creation of a viable, sovereign Palestine. With its own airspace, sea port, adequate water wells and a corridor between Gaza and the West Bank. With its own border control, its own police and its own defense. Israel should not worry: the U.S. will guarantee Israel's security and if necessary arrange for a UN peacekeeping force.

If the colonization of occupied territory continues, a two-state solution is simply impossible. Israel cannot simply erase the Palestinians. That would leave only the one-state solution, a secular state in which Israelis and Palestinians peacefully coexist, with equal rights and duties for all citizens. I hear the Israeli government is considering a loyalty oath to the Jewish and democratic state of Israel that new residents would have to have to take. I think Israel cannot possibly be both a Jewish and a democratic state. That would amount to an apartheid state and that is out of date. America was born of immigration, just like Israel. Our society comprises people of all ethnic backgrounds who smoothly live together. To us, a loyalty oath to a Christian America would be inconceivable.

There are people who feel like you don't have a special connection to Israel. How do you respond to that?
It's interesting, this is the thing that surfaced even before I was elected President. Ironically, I've got a Chief of Staff named Rahm Israel Emmanuel. My top political advisor is somebody who is a descendent of Holocaust survivors. My closeness to the Jewish American community was probably what propelled me to the U.S. Senate. I sympathize with the Jewish environment. I see a relationship between the freedom movement of African Americans and the quest for a safe home for the Jews in Israel. But I remain my own man and as President I won’t be dictated to by anyone. By supporting Israel, I have hitherto followed the policy of most of my predecessors. But I am becoming ever more convinced that president Eisenhower was right [4]. That was the only American president to recognize that UN resolutions must be respected by everyone. So, in 1956, after the Suez War, Eisenhower advised the Israelis to evacuate the Sinai. And Prime Minister Ben-Gurion followed that advice.

I have as much sympathy for the Palestinians as for the Israelis. The Palestinians should not fall victim to the European guilt complex about the Holocaust crimes against the Jews, now should they? One must realize that what the Holocaust was for the Jews, is the Nakba [5] for Palestinians. That idea is widespread in the Muslim community and that is dangerous for Israel and the West. As I said, there is no chasing of the Palestinians. America will not allow a second Nakba. My outreach to the Muslim community is designed to break the perception that we are the friend of their enemy and so an enemy. I want to break the perception that we have double standards.

Some Israelis have the fear that their best ally in the world might abandon them. How long are you going to give the Iranian President?
In every speech that I've ever given I have talked about the unbreakable bond to Israel. And I mean that, Israel can count on it. But let us not exaggerate. The Bible may say that Jews are the chosen people, but in a secular world, to me the Bible is no civil code, nor a notarial act. I think for God all people are chosen. There is no people superior to any other people, we don’t want to return to a situation such as that of the Herrenvolk [6] from the last century, do we? In Cairo, I have confirmed that I have compassion for the case of the Palestinians and that is also something that I mean. It is obvious to me that they have their rights, too. It is about time that we help them to exercise their rights.

As regards Iran, I am concerned about a potential nuclear capability by that country. But one should remember that Iran feels encircled and threatened. And that it is Israel, heavily armed with conventional and nuclear arms, that brings on an imbalance of power in the region. Iran has not forgotten how we invaded neighboring Iraq without international mandate and on dubious grounds, kept the country occupied for years and interfered in all sorts of things. It is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. Rest assured, we will do everything we can to prevent that from happening, but perhaps we must also take Israel's nuclear weapons into the equation. Once a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East in place under U.S. and UN guarantees, those can be dispensed with, can’t they? I think the least that should happen is for Israel to provide transparency about its nuclear weapons, sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and allow international inspection.

Are you concerned that Prime Minister Netanyahu might try unilaterally to attack Iran?
You know what, I think that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is sufficiently strong. We try to coordinate on issues of mutual concern. And that approach is one that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to. Without consultation with America and without our support in logistics and intelligence, an Israeli attack on Iran is a risky venture. Such an attack will not remain unanswered, with incalculable consequences. The world is not waiting for yet another war in the Middle East, and America most certainly not. Quite apart from whether that would solve anything. I for one, I'm going squarely for diplomacy.

During your campaign, I thought there is no man on Earth that is capable of living up to all those expectations. Do you feel that burden every day?
Governance is different from campaigning. It’s hard. It’s complicated. It involves making choices. At any given stage there are going to be some people who are disappointed. But what keeps me hopeful is that the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that there’s a common humanity, a common set of aspirations that people have for their children. I think there’s a core decency to people that we sometimes do not realize, and that the general trajectory of history is in a positive direction. But it takes time. And so my job is to do my small part to move the ball forward. One of my favorite phrases is from Martin Luther King, who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I think that's consummate with all ideologies. The sense that if we are working hard, if we apply principles of equality and repairing the world, that it’s possible for us not to create a perfect world, but one that's a little more just, a little more fair, a little better for our children. I continue to believe that.

Can you tell us what is the thing you miss most about your life before the presidency?
Taking walks. Without having Secret Service and helicopters over you that’s not possible anymore. When I was first in Jerusalem, I visited the Wailing Wall, but unfortunately let the opportunity slip to visit the Temple Mount [7], the Dome [8] and the Al-Aqsa Mosque [9], in the wake of Ariel Sharon. My second visit to Jerusalem took place during my presidency, when I could no longer redeem my neglect to visit these Muslim shrines. Such a visit would not be taken kindly in today’s Israel and be made the most of in the press. I hope to be able to make up for that neglect one day.

[1] Laura Rozen: “Obama’s interview with Israel TV
[2] Peres 1993: 75; see also James Zogby: "How Israel's Propaganda Machine Works"
[3] Paul Lookman: "Israëlische bevolking onkundig van etnische zuivering van 1948"
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower
[5] Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe (1948)
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_race
[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Mount
[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome_of_the_Rock
[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Aqsa_Mosque

This article was first published October 30, 2010 in Dutch as ”Wat Obama voor de Israëlische televisie ook had kunnen zeggen”.

2 opmerkingen:

Yermi Brenner zei

In order to convince the Israeli crowd opinion, Obama would need to present peace as an historic opportunity, and explain in simple yet emotional words why it is in Israel's interest to help the establishment Palestine. It should be done in a speech, talking directly to Israeli people, and not an media interview.
I think he hasn't done it so far because he is - like me - skeptic about the possibility of success.

Paul Lookman zei


Good to hear from you. Obama directly and unhindered speaking to the Israeli population is of course the best option. But one has to question how he views the “political implications” at home and abroad.

I devoted several articles on (former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia) Chass Freeman’s remarks to staff of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which he launches a few interesting ideas for a break through. You will find his speech at http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/speeches/america-s-faltering-search-peace-middle-east-openings-others, and my four articles on my blog daily from 23-26 september.

Would appreciate your comments!