Stephen Zunes : Israel and Palestine
For those of us who hoped that President Barack Obama would usher in a new era supporting international law, the United Nations, and Israeli-Palestinian peace, 2011 proved to be a profoundly disappointing year.
An ad on my Facebook page from barackobama.com reads, “Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich say they would start foreign aid to Israel at zero. Reject their extreme plan now!”
This struck me as odd for two reasons:
First, it is disingenuous and misleading. The actual position taken by these Republican presidential candidates is that all foreign aid should initially start at zero as means of reducing the deficit, to be immediately followed by the resumption of aid on a case-by-case basis. As they themselves have acknowledged, they would immediately resume aid to Israel and perhaps even increase it. Ironically, U.S. “aid for Israel” goes almost exclusively to U.S. arms manufacturers, with which the Republican candidates have a close relationship.
The Palestinians declared an independent state back in 1988, which has been recognized by more than 130 of the world’s nations. The Obama administration, however, insists that it is still too early for Palestine to be admitted into the United Nations.
During the Bush administration, I wrote more than a dozen annotated critiques of presidential speeches. I have refrained from doing so under President Barack Obama, however, because – despite a number of disappointments with his administration’s policies — I found his speeches to be relatively reasonable. Although his September 21 address before the UN General Assembly contained a number of positive elements, in many ways it also contained many of the same kind of duplicitous and misleading statements one would have expected from his predecessor.
Up until the mid-20th century, Western attitudes regarding national freedom essentially went like this: the independence of white Western nations (Great Britain, France, the United States etc.) was a given. Independence for nonwhite, non-Western nations (such as those in Africa, the Middle East and Asia), however, could only be under conditions granted by the occupying powers. The time at which these nations could be free, their specific boundaries and the conditions of their independence could only be reached through negotiations between the colonial occupiers and representatives (if approved by the colonial powers) of the conquered peoples. It was not the purview of the League of Nations, the United Nations, or any other international legal authority to adjudicate such matters, so went the argument, since the rights of those in the colonies were limited to what was willingly agreed to by the colonizers.
The Obama administration appears to have given a green light to an Israeli attack on an unarmed flotilla carrying peace and human rights activists — including a vessel with 50 Americans on board — bound for the besieged Gaza Strip. At a press conference on June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Campaign by saying it would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”
As Israeli opposition parties, peace and human rights activists, and editorialists denounced their prime minister’s intransigence in the face of President Barack Obama’s peace initiative, Congressional Democrats here in the United States have instead joined their Republican counterparts in lining up to support the right-wing Israeli leader’s defiance. As Benyamin Netanyahu arrogantly rejected Obama’s modest parameters for a peace settlement in a May 20 speech before a joint session of Congress – a rare honor for a foreign leader – Democrats joined Republicans in giving him no less than 29 standing ovations, more than were given to Obama during his State of the Union Speech earlier this year.
Although President Barack Obama’s May 19 address on U.S. Middle East policy had a number of positive elements, overall it was a major disappointment. His speech served as yet another reminder that his administration’s approach to the region differs in several important ways from that of his immediate predecessor, but he failed to consistently assert principled U.S. support for human rights, democracy, or international law.
The US veto of a mildly worded United Nations Security Council resolution supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and reiterating the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied territories leaves little doubt that, in certain critical respects, President Barack Obama shares his predecessor’s contempt for international law. All fourteen of the other members of the Security Council voted for the resolution — which was cosponsored by a nearly unprecedented majority of UN members — not only situating the United States as an extreme outlier in the international community, but placing President Obama to the right of the conservative governments of Great Britain and France.
The inspiring triumph of the Egyptian people in the nonviolent overthrow of the hated dictator Hosni Mubarak is a real triumph of the human spirit. While there will likely be continued struggle in order to insure that the military junta will allow for a real democratic transition, the mobilization of Egypt’s civil society and the empowerment of millions of workers, students, intellectuals and others in the cause of freedom will be difficult to contain.