Monday, January 11, 2010

Obama and Palestine: What Changed?Will Obama's Message Be "No, We Can't"?


Obama and Palestine: What Changed?Will Obama's Message Be "No, We Can't"?

By  Mohammad Yaghi

Senior Policy Analyst


There is no doubt that Obama is a gifted President; he is a writer and an eloquent speaker, but that is not enough to diffuse the problems that divide America and the Muslim world.(Reuters Photo)

There is no exaggeration to say that Arabs and Muslims have followed very closely the last American presidential election. In their hearts and minds, they have hoped that Obama would be elected. His message for change during his election campaign has raised hopes that America under his presidency would finally change course and employ even-handed policies on issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, human rights, and democracy in the Middle East.

However, one year after the election, the hope for change has changed into desperation, and Obama's policies proved to be another version of his antecedent.

There have been several reasons that enhanced the Arabs and Muslims expectations from the Obama Administration. During his presidential campaign, Obama severely criticized the Bush Administration for occupying Iraq, expanding the war on terror, and using torture in Guantanamo detention.

Obama also attacked Bush for his disregard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and for his ignorance to international institutions that divided the world and contributed to the decline of America's global leadership.

Moreover, Obama has started his term by true effort to reach out the Muslims and Arabs. From the Turkish Parliament, he declared in April 2009 that the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.

Two months later, he spoke to the Muslim world from Cairo University. In his speech, Obama considered violent extremism, the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, and the spread of nuclear weapons in Middle East the major sources of tension between Muslims and America, promising that he will work hand-in-hand with Muslim countries to diffuse them.

On the issue of democracy, although he said that his country would not impose it on any state, he affirmed his government's support for states that reflect the will of people.

Remarkable Reconciliatory Rhetoric

Obama spoke bluntly about "dislocating" the Palestinians from their homeland due to the establishment of Israel. 
The two speeches were considered by many political observers reconciliatory toward Arabs and Muslims, for at least three reasons.

First, Obama did not hold Muslim states responsibility for the deteriorated relations between America and the Muslim world.

Instead, he admitted that his country has used Arabs and Muslims as proxies during the Cold War and that it had interfered in their affairs, including changing the elected government of Iran in 1953 and occupying Iraq in a war of choice that divided the entire world, promising to leave Iraq without military bases in 2012.

Obama also recognized the contribution of Muslim scientists and scholars to the world's development and civilization; something, the current regimes in the Arab world have never mentioned.

Second, Obama spoke bluntly about "dislocating" the Palestinians from their homeland due to the establishment of Israel, considering the settlements in the land occupied by Israel in 1967/June War "illegitimate" violating previous agreements with Palestinians, and must be stopped.

This language was considered new, since no American president before him has linked the suffering of Palestinians with the creation of Israel.

In addition, Obama considered that "the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza" plays against Israel's security requirements, requesting Israel to enable  Palestinians to live in dignity.

Third, although Obama denied Palestinians the right to resist the occupation by violent means, he recognized openly their right of resistance, calling for them to consider, as an alternative, the peaceful resistance of black Americans for civil rights and Southern Africans against apartheid.

Regardless of this good beginning, Obama's policies, after one year in the White House, seems to be no different from that of his predecessor.

More than "Bushian" Policies in the Arab-Israeli Conflict
The Obama Administration ignored recommendations from an American bipartisan group to facilitate the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

For the starter, Obama maintained Bush's policy in regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. According to Mahmud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, George Mitchell, the US special envoy for Middle East has informed him several times that the PA had fulfilled its obligations in the Road Map.

However, he failed to convince Israel to live up to its obligations, including freezing settlements in the West Bank and East Al-Quds (Jerusalem).

Instead of translating this failure into pressure on Israel, the Obama Administration demanded Ramallah Authority to engage in peace talks with Israel government without conditions. According to Abbas, this negotiation would only serve as a cover for Israel to continue confiscating the Palestinian lands for expanding the settlements.

Moreover, despite the PA security coordination with Israel to uproot Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank which has increased during the last year (five of Hamas members were killed in the PA prisons since 2007), Israeli-PA cooperation does not benefit the Palestinian cause.

Moreover, in spite of Abbas' acceptance to postpone the Goldstone Report of the UN Human Rights Council, which accused Israel of committing war crimes during its invasion to Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, the Obama Administration has rewarded Abbas by asking him to follow an open-ended peace process that serves only the Israeli interests.

During the so-called peace process, Israel doubled its settlements on the Palestinian land, built the Separation Wall that isolated Al-Quds (Jerusalem) from the rest of the West Bank, minimized the cost of its occupation, and benefited from every dollar donated to the Palestinian Authority. 

In addition, the Obama Administration ignored important recommendations from an American bipartisan group to facilitate the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas in order to pursue a realistic peace process that has chances for success.

The group included well-known names, such as Obama's economic recovery adviser, Paul A Volcker, former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and James Wolfensohn who served as the president of the World Bank and the Quartet envoy for Gaza disengagement.

This position, which insists of ignoring an elected Palestinian group from peace talks, has prevented so far the Palestinian internal reconciliation. According to Abbas, any agreement with Hamas before the later acceptance to the Quartet conditions will expand the economic siege to the West Bank.

As for the siege on Gaza, the Obama Administration has simply ignored it, and worked quietly with the Egyptian regime to reinforce it. In the last few weeks, news reports have revealed that the Egyptian Government is constructing a 10 km-underground-steel wall to eliminate the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, considered the major source for the Palestinian economy since the blockade imposed on Gaza in June 2007.

Many news reports have said that the underground wall is funded and constructed under the supervision of the US Administration.

On the Syria-Israel peace track, the Obama Administration left the decision for Israel to determine when and how much should America be involved.

That is why Senator Mitchell has reached Syria only twice during his monthly trip to the Middle East in the last year and that is why the Obama Administration refrained from investing in the Turkish channel to resume talks between the two sides.

This is again the same position of the previous administration when Bush asked Israel to play down the negotiation with Syria to keep it isolated.

Supporting Non-Democratic Regimes
Obama has said that he was against a free election in the Palestinian territories, because it may lead to legitimize Hamas.  

Indeed, the only departure from Bush's policies is related to the questions of human rights and democracy.

Unlike Bush whose rhetoric about freedom and democracy in the Middle East has embarrassed Arab regimes and led for opportunities of more political participations, Obama Administration has ignored completely these subjects.

To mention a few, the Obama Administration has never criticized the Egyptian Government for arresting thousands of its oppositions in 2009.

According to the London-based Arab Organization for Human Rights, 15 were tortured to death in Egypt in the first four months of this year.

The Obama Administration remained silent about the fraud presidential election in Tunisia in last October, and it ignored completely the king of Jordan's decision to dissolve the parliament.

This position can be understood in light of Obama's policy to restore stability in the Middle East to ensure a full cooperation of Arab regimes to facilitate America's wars in the Middle East.

This echoes Bush's policy in his last two years following the success of opposition in the parliamentary election in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, in several occasions Obama has said that he was against a free election in the Palestinian territories, because it may lead to legitimize Hamas.  
There is no doubt that Obama is a gifted President; he is a writer and an eloquent speaker, but that is not enough to diffuse the problems that divide America and the Muslim world.

For that to happen, the Obama Administration needs substantial policies that aim at ending the Israeli occupation to the Arab lands and abandoning its support of repressive regimes in the Arab world, and it must be truly open to accept the will of people in any fair and decent election.

Mohammad Yaghi is a Palestinian writer and political Analyst. He holds Master Degree in American Studies and worked with not-for-profit organizations including the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the American Center for the Study of Presidency and he is a reviewer for Global Integritys Reports on Corruption.  

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Comment: Much basic wisdom and a sound analysis here. Strange to hear it from this source. Sometimes people across the ocean can see the U.S.A. President better than its own people. Without prejudice and false assumptions.

Venceremos Unidos! Education for Liberation!




 "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible,
make violent revolution inevitable."
~ President John F.Kennedy ~ Assassinated
November 22, 1963


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

See Freedom House's new report on the global erosion of freedom here at: