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April 12, 2013

On Obama's visit to the Middle East

Reuel S. Amdur

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Off to the Middle East to bolster a non-existent peace process. One wonders why Obama bothered.

He chose to address an audience of young people in Jerusalem, as a way of putting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.  He told the audience that they need to put themselves in the shoes of the Palestinians.  He spoke of the occupation and referred to the Israel Defense Forces as “a foreign army.”  He addressed the fact of settler violence.  But all that is spitting in the wind.  Netanyahu has just completed the formation of the most anti-Palestinian cabinet ever.  The only way he can possibly have any impact on Israel’s behavior toward Palestine would be to cut Netanyahu off at the pockets.  That is not about to happen.

Obama opened his speech by once again emphasizing America’s deep and unconditional support of Israel.  And while his remarks criticized the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, he by no means expressed the same regard for Palestine.  The United States is hardly even-handed between Israel and Palestine, not in words and certainly not in financial terms.

In meeting with Palestinian officials Obama called on the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  The United States does not do that, nor is it how governments recognize each other.  They recognize each other de facto or de jure—by fact or by right.  Not as Jewish, Socialist, Christian, or any other ism.  Would Obama want his country recognized as a Christian state?  Israel demands this kind of recognition for two reasons: to strengthen its argument against the right of return and to put an additional block in the way of any peace settlement so it can continue to steal land. 

While Obama opposes the settlement expansion, he now calls on PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate without making a settlement freeze a precondition.  Somehow Netanyahu’s preconditions must have slipped his mind, even though he made them clear.  When he addressed the US Congress, he indicated the kind of Palestine he would accept: no control over its own boundaries, no Palestinian army, and the settlements to remain in place.  These remarks were met by wild applause on all sides.  Does the word Bantustan come to mind?  But that is not all.  He has since added a new precondition.

Israel is now in the process of establishing control over the so-called E1 land outside Jerusalem, which will effectively cut the West Bank in two. In response to international criticism—as well of course to Palestinian outrage—he remarked defensively that this expansion should not be of concern because that land would remain in Israel after a peace settlement.  Negotiations with no preconditions?

Peace negotiations could only be futile because while talks were underway, Israel would continue to steal Palestinian land.  That has always been the pattern in previous negotiations.

You cannot get a dead horse to move by beating it, and Obama made no progress whatever on raising the peace process from the dead.  He did, however, make progress in other areas.  With the specter of an uncertain outcome in Syria and Iran’s atomic aspirations, Obama’s diplomacy got Netanyahu to apologize for killing Turkish protesters on the ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza, and Turkey reciprocated by dropping criminal charges against Israeli naval officers.  The hope is that Turkey might play some role in putting the brakes on Iranian nuclear ambitions.  Israel and Turkey are both concerned about what will happen in Syria, which borders them both.

Obama also seems to have calmed Netanyahu down, convincing him to put off for a year any thought of a preemptive attack on Iran to prevent it developing nuclear weapons.  Of course, neither nuclear-armed United States nor nuclear-armed Israel is prepared to call for a nuclear-free Middle East. 

On second thought, perhaps Obama got somewhere in his visit to Israel.  Only it has nothing to do with the Palestinians.

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