While most of us here are rightly worried about the not-too-subtle American threats being hurled in our direction, it was pathetic to see America’s much vaunted leader, President Barack Obama, abandon all pretence at fairness and justice during his address to the United Nations last week.
The very same person who had espoused lofty ideas in his earlier addresses, stands so diminished by dismal failures and harsh ‘ground realities’ that he can no longer risk displeasing the powerful pro-Israeli lobby. In fact, over the years, Israel’s influence in the US, especially its relationship with the Republican Party, has become so enmeshed with domestic politics as to disturb even many mainstream American politicians. This is evident from the fact that while Obama’s approach is viewed by national security specialists as weak and inadequate, his main rival, Governor Perry characterises it as “naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous”. There are others such as Presidential hopeful, Michele Bachmann, who declared that supporting Israel was a religious duty for all good Christians.
Moreover, its stranglehold on American politics has led Israel to fail to recognise the historic transformations taking place around it. It is not only the toppling of such erstwhile friends as the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak, but turmoil in the status quo-oriented Syria and in pro-US countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan, which should have woken it up to the fact that, America was no longer in a position to make these states do its bidding when it came to Israel.
But Israel’s tragedy, in the words of Haaretz newspaper is, “a leadership that refuses any change or reform ... demonstrating utter passivity in the face of dramatic changes in the region”. Tom Friedman, an avid supporter of Israel was left to lament that though he has “great sympathy for Israel’s dilemma, but Benjamin Netanyahu is not giving America anything to work with”. Even more telling was former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s warning, though a hardliner himself, that the Israeli leadership’s attitude may force “future Palestinian leaders to abandon the idea of two states and seek a one state solution, making reconciliation impossible”.
Obama’s inability to move the peace process forward has led to the perception among Arabs, as former president Carter warned, that the US policy amounts to “acquiescing on the occupation”, and, therefore, she could no longer play the role of an honest broker. Not surprisingly, it led the usually pliable Abu Mazan to the inevitable conclusion that continued dependence on the US was a dead end, while placing Palestine’s destiny in the hands of the Quartet equally futile. He was, therefore, left with no option but to go the UN route, which is where Israel too, had obtained its statehood. Had the original two-state UN solution designed to establish separate countries for Jews and Arabs in Palestine been implemented, much of the conflict and bloodshed witnessed over the past 60 years may well have been avoided. After having mortgaged their future to American power and promises for decades, the Palestinians see their UN membership application as a desperate attempt to save the two state solution, in the face of ever encroaching Israeli settlements, as well as to jolt the negotiations back to life.
President Abbas’s official request for UN membership is admittedly symbolic and only the beginning of a long and tortured diplomatic process. It, nevertheless, represents a huge challenge to the international community, particularly the United States. It would, therefore, be deeply regrettable, were President Obama, who came to office vowing to usher in a new era of sincere outreach to Muslims and who has vigorously welcomed the Arab spring, to smother Palestinian aspirations, either with use of the veto — a weapon so liberally used by his predecessors — or by other diplomatic subterfuges. The US must avoid making this historic mistake. For once, let Obama demonstrate that he can stand up for what is morally right, eschewing what may be politically expedient.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2011.