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Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010

How low will Obama go to appease Israel?


SEATTLE — The Middle East policies of U.S. President Barack Obama may well prove the most detrimental yet, surpassing even the rightwing policies of President George W. Bush.

Even those who warned against the overt optimism that accompanied Obama's arrival in the White House must now be stunned to see how low the U.S. president will go to appease Israel — all under the dangerous logic of needing to keep the peace process moving forward.

Former Middle East peace diplomat Aaron David Miller argued in Foreign Policy that "any advance in the excruciatingly painful world of Arab-Israeli negotiations is significant." He further claimed: "The Obama administration deserves much credit for keeping the Israelis, Palestinians and key Arab states on board during some very tough times. The U.S. president has seized on this issue and isn't giving up — a central requirement for success."

But at what price, Mr. Miller? And wouldn't you agree that one party's success can also mean another's utter and miserable failure?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly spent eight hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only to persuade him to accept one of the most generous bribes ever bestowed by the United States on any foreign power.

The agreement includes the sale of $3 billion worth of U.S. military aircraft (in addition to the billions in annual aid packages), a blanket veto of any U.N. Security Council resolution deemed unfavorable to Israel, and the removal of East Jerusalem from any settlement freeze equation (thus condoning the illegal occupation of the city and the accompanying ethnic cleansing).

Even more dangerous than all of these is "a written American promise that this will be the last time President Obama asks the Israelis to halt settlement construction through official channels."

Significant. Achievement. Success. Are these really the right terms to describe the latest harrowing scandal?

Even the term "bribe," which is abundantly used to describe American generosity, isn't quite adequate here. Bribes have defined the relationship between the ever-generous White House and the quisling Congress to win favor with the ever-demanding Israel and its growingly belligerent Washington lobby.

It is not the concept of bribery that should shock us, but the magnitude of the bribe, and the fact that it is presented by a man who positioned himself as a peacemaker (and actually became certified as one, courtesy of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee).

Equally shocking is the meager return that Obama is expected to receive for hard-earned U.S. taxpayer dollars. According to the Atlantic Sentential, this will be "a measly three-month extension of the settlement moratorium that expired in late September."

Acknowledging from the onset that these are mere "midterm maneuvers," Noah Feldman, writing in the New York Times, asks the question: "Can Obama succeed where so many others have not?" He preludes his answer with "Israel and the Palestinian Authority will not, of course, make things easy."

Seriously, Mr. Feldman?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose mandate has already expired, must be living the most humiliating and difficult moments of his not so distinguished career. At one stage he had hoped that the advent of President Obama would spare him and his authority further embarrassment.

Imagining the president would side with his "moderate" position, he placed all his eggs in the Obama basket, even bidding against the democratically elected government of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

He went as far as to halt an international investigation into Israeli crimes in the recent Israeli war on Gaza so as not to frustrate Netanyahu's government or upset the pro-Israeli sensibilities in the U.S. Congress.

How did Abbas and his authority make things "difficult" for the U.S., Mr. Feldman? Would any self-respecting government agree to concessions that are made on its behalf without the opportunity to offer its own input? This is exactly what the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly done under Abbas.

Even so, many Israelis are not happy with the barter. The U.S generously hands Palestinian rights to Israel on a silver platter, and the far-right mentality, which now governs Israeli mainstream politics and society, still finds it unacceptable.

But aside from the arrogant Israeli response and the U.S. media's attempts to find the positive in Obama's latest scandal, questions are raised: What happens now that Obama has finally shown he really is no different from his predecessors? That the U.S. has lost control of its own foreign policy in the Middle East? That, frankly, Netanyahu has proved more resilient, more steadfast and more resourceful than the American president?

Shall we go on making the same argument, over and over again, or has the time finally arrived for Palestinians to think outside the American box? Can Arabs finally venture off to seek other partners and allies who understand the link between peace, political stability and economic prosperity?

It may perhaps be time for them to further their relationship with Turkey, to reach out to Latin America, to demand accountability from Europe and to try to understand and engage China.

The latest U.S. elections have showed that the Obama hype has run its course in the U.S. itself. One can only hope that Palestinians, Arabs and their friends will realize that it was all indeed a hype.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story" (Pluto Press, London).


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