Israel and Palestine
Here’s a far more sober analysis of the US President’s visit to Israel/Palestine.
Sam Bahour is no fool, and neither is he a pessimist. As a Palestinian American though, he inevitably feels pain every time he hears Obama speak of the US’s unconditional support for Israel.
Why shouldn’t American support of Israel have conditions and require that certain humanitarian standards be met, as is the case with every other country on the planet? Why indeed?
Obama fails in the Mideast
As I watched President Barack Obama’s helicopter pass above my home, just before landing at the Palestinian Presidential Compound next to Ramallah, I just shook my head in disappointment, first as an American, then as a Palestinian. I thought: “Another U.S. president, on another high fanfare visit, carrying the same, failed political messages.”
It was difficult to follow Obama’s visit on TV. In normal practice when dignitaries come to town, Israel disrupts the satellite signals that feed our televisions. Nevertheless, I was able to tune in to a single Arabic channel, broadcast from Lebanon, that was unaffected by this.
Peeling away all the protocols, red carpets, formalities and artificial photo opportunities, I focused on what was coined “the policy speech.” President Obama gave it in Israel at a conference center to an audience of Israeli students. The president crafted a message directly to Israeli citizens, bypassing the right-wing Israeli prime minister who, until today, continues to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements, despite America’s and the world’s disapproval.
The message to Israel was clear: there is no better ally to Israel than the U.S. He went on and on about how Israel will always be backed by the U.S., no matter what. Militarism won the day.
To Palestinians, and the majority of the world, that message no longer makes sense. Why support Israel as a military occupier that continues to build Jewish-only settlements? Why support Israel when it (as the U.S. State Department has documented) structurally discriminates against non-Jews, both Christian and Muslim, inside Israel? Why support Israel when it refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes? In short, if Israel has become a rogue state and is moving (as Israeli leaders have acknowledged) toward a form of apartheid, why should the U.S. be there to fund it, arm it, use its veto to protect it from the United Nations, diplomatically cover for it, and do business with it?
Given that Israel is costing U.S. taxpayers over $3 billion annually and has put the U.S. in a weaker position in the Middle East because of its intransigence, it is past due that every American demand of their government to withdraw its resources and political clout from entities that are moving the region away from peace, instead of closer to it.
Just before Air Force One landed at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel, President Obama’s limousine, the armored vehicle known as “The Beast,” broke down after being wrongly filled with diesel instead of gasoline. A new one was flown in and no disruptions to the schedule occurred. Nevertheless, perhaps this limousine ordeal carried a larger message: whether “The Beast” or a global superpower, it is crucial that issues are filled with accurate and appropriate substances, otherwise, sooner rather than later, they will start with a sputter and end with a total breakdown.
The U.S. has filled the peace process, for the last 20 years, with Israeli-designed falsehoods, only to bring us to a total breakdown today. I was hoping (but not holding my breath) that President Obama would shift gears on this trip and come with a message to the Israelis that the world’s superpower is now going to fill the process with accountability. That did not happen, and will not, until average Americans say, “Enough is enough.”
Sam Bahour describes himself as a Palestinian-American business consultant from Youngstown living in Al-Bireh/Ramallah, Palestine.
What follows is a press release from Gush Shalom – the Israeli ‘Peace Bloc ‘ publisehd on March 19, 2013
All that our leaders avoided saying throughout the elections campaign, Obama said – and got a prolonged applause from the representatives of Israel’s young generation
It is a badge of shame to almost all political leaders in Israel . The President of the United States had to come to Jerusalem and say all the things which our politicians avoided saying with all their force. President Obama said it clearly and unequivocally – and won a standing ovation and prolonged applause from the representatives of Israel’s younger generation.
For years “peace” had become a dirty word in the Israeli discourse. It fell to President Obama to remind us that peace is possible and necessary, that we do have a partner for peace, that the Palestinians are here and cannot be ignored and that Israel must end the occupation, for reasons of morality and justice but also and especially for the the sake of Israel’s own future.
It’s a shame for those who thought it possible to establish a government in Israel focusing on an “internal civilian agenda” - on recruiting the Ultra-Orthodox to the IDF, as if this is the existential issue facing us, and to forget the occupation and the settlements, peace and the Palestinians. The best which these “new politics” could produce is empty chatter of “negotiations” whose failure is assured in advance and therefore would not break up the present government coalition. With the challenges directly ahead, this would prove a meaningless folly.
Contact: Adam Keller , Gush Shalom Spokesperson +972-(0)54-2340749
It seems that the American President, in his attempt to please everybody in Israel/Palestine, is pleasing no one.
Israelis remain unconvinced that the weakened US military will be able to provide any real support should there be a real outbreak of hostilities with Iran. The Palestinians remain unconvinced that Obama is willing to apply any leverage to see a ‘two-state solution’ come into being.
Palestinians still waiting for Obama to prove commitment to two state-solution
Many Palestinian lives and much political capital could have been saved over the last four years if President Obama had shown the determination to facilitate two-state solution negotiations. Now, rather than calling for the resumption of a meaningless ‘peace process,’ we Palestinians expect real action on the ground.
By Nabeel Sha’ath | Mar.20, 2013
Unfortunately, after that landmark speech, President Obama appeared to give up on his goal. This meant going back to business as usual: Putting pressure on an occupied people and rewarding the occupying power. In the past four years, Israel has added almost 50,000 settlers to the Occupied State of Palestine, almost 3000 attacks have been conducted by settler terrorists and over 1000 Palestinians have been killed. We could have saved lives and political capital if President Obama had shown the determination to create the right environment for meaningful decisions leading to a two-state solution.Four years ago, Mr. Obama was elected President of the United States of America. He won the hearts of Palestinians and other peoples of the world with his principled positions, vision and courage. Later on, he stood up in Cairo and gave us hope. His moral convictions showed us that he understood our quest for freedom, justice and peace. His strong statements, especially his request that Israel cease all settlement activity, gave us hope that the U.S. could help us to achieve these ideals in reality. Both Palestinians and Israelis who believe in a two-state solution saw President Obama as a real opportunity for change.
We have tried every possible venue to get closer to peace, but we have been always met with Israeli intransigence and a lack of commitment to implement its obligations. It’s been Israel’s unilateral actions, mainly settlement construction and the imposition of an apartheid regime, that have undermined the entire goal of the peace process to a point that leave very few people optimistic.
Israeli unilateralism turned the peace process into a smoke-screen to cover its systematic policy of colonization. Today, in the Occupied State of Palestine, we have homes that are being demolished and families evicted by an occupying power at the same time that the number of settlers went up almost three times since the beginning of the peace process, with a total of over half a million settlers today.
What has allowed Israel to get away with its severe violations? It is an unprecedented culture of impunity that keeps treating Israel as a state beyond the law. But it is also the fact that rather than peace, Israel’s goal is to increase colonization as much as possible. The two-state solution is not part of the agenda of Israel’s government and that’s a primary reason why negotiations failed.
When last year we went to the United Nations we aimed to revive hope. This courageous and rightful step meant, for Palestine, a reaffirmation of our rights in a non-violent manner. Recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border meant also to create a positive initiative to open a meaningful political horizon by salvaging the internationally endorsed two-state solution.
We felt that after twenty years of Israeli violations to every single agreement, it was time for the international community to participate in the resolution of the conflict, whilst aiming to respect and honor the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. It is in this spirit that we have committed as well to respect all our obligations, international treaties and international law in general.
But instead of welcoming this step, Israel led an unprecedented campaign of colonization with over 11,500 settlement units approved within a very few months following the UN vote. This act isn’t only a war crime, but it is also in open defiance of the stated U.S. policy regarding Israeli settlements. Acts like this, including approving hundreds of settlement units during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit, are Israeli messages to the U.S. and the rest of the world that it is not interested in peace: So far, Mr. Netanyahu has been able to get away with it.
Unfortunately, President Obama is not able to visit Palestine for more than a few hours. On March 21st, he will meet with President Abbas. He will be respectfully welcomed by our President and our people. We understand that he wants to listen, read and see for himself.
It would have been a great opportunity for President Obama to visit more of Palestine and see the current reality twenty years after the beginning of the peace process. Starting by the fact that we would have love to welcome him at Orient House, the closed PLO headquarters in Occupied East Jerusalem. He would also see segregated roads, just one example of one of the worst combinations possible: Apartheid under a belligerent occupation.
Next week marks the beginning of Holy Week for millions of Christians around the world. In Palestine, the oldest Christian community will be separated from their spiritual heart, Jerusalem, by Israeli checkpoints, walls and fences aimed at consolidating the illegal annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem. President Obama is welcome to see this reality and understand that the window of opportunity is closing. We don’t need another twenty years of negotiations to change this reality. We need tough and courageous decisions before it is too late.
Racial segregation, including those enforced on public transportation, was a dark period in U.S. history. This is happening today in Palestine, a symptom of how severe the current situation is. Rather than calling for resumption of a meaningless “peace process,” we expect real action on the ground. Such action should lead to ending the Israeli government’s impunity as well as to take the political steps needed. The future of millions of Palestinians and Israelis as well as the rest of the peoples of the region as a whole depends on the U.S. administration’s will to push for justice and peace.
For decades Palestinians have been waiting for a miracle. Maybe President Obama’s visit to the Holy Land can provide us with one. Maybe the bells of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem will ring once he visits this Friday announcing clear goals and actions to bring an end to decades of occupation, segregation and colonization. This is the road to justice, security and peace.
Dr. Nabeel Shaath is the Fatah Foreign Relations Commissioner and former Palestinian foreign minister. He was a member of the Madrid Peace Delegation and later was involved in negotiations with Israel that led to the signing of the Oslo Agreements. From 1993-1995, he served as the head of the Palestinian negotiation team, participating in the talks at Camp David (2000) and Taba (2001). He has also represented Palestine at the World Economic Forum.
Surely this was always one of the key rationales behind Palestine’s push for an upgrade to ‘non-member state’ status with the United Nations. Now Palestine is able to take Israel to court!
The quoted official Israeli response is dismissive to the point of contempt! ‘The lady protesteth too much, methinks!’ Evidently this has been what Israel has been fearing!
Tribunal calls on ICC to probe Israeli ‘crimes’ in Palestine
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) called Sunday for the International Criminal Court to investigate “crimes” committed by Israel in the territories as it wrapped up four years of investigation, AFP reports.
Meeting in Brussels, the people’s tribunal, which has no legal status but aims to draw international attention to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, said it would “support all initiatives from civil society and international organisations aimed at bringing Israel in front of the International Criminal Court”.
Since Palestine was awarded observer status at the UN in November, it can now file complaints against Israel with the ICC.
The tribunal also called on the ICC to recognise Palestinian jurisdiction and for an extraordinary session of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid, set up for South Africa, to this time examine the Israeli case.
Previously presided by the French resistance hero and Holocaust survivor Stephane Hessel, who died on February 27, the RToP is modelled on the Russell Tribunal on Vietnam, a private investigative body which examined American foreign policy during the Vietnam War, named after the British philosopher Bertrand Russell.
RToP members include prominent rights activist Angela Davis and ex-Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters.
Since it was set up in 2009, the tribunal has gathered evidence from experts and witnesses to make 26 recommendations on Sunday, in its fifth and final session after previous meetings around the world.
These include “further criminal investigations of corporations aiding and abetting Israeli violations” and the “establishment of an international committee of former political prisoners to campaign on prisoner issues”.
Members of the tribunal also criticised Israel’s main ally, the US, but also the UN and the European Union for policy that was “complicit” in what it says are Israel’s violations of international law.
The tribunal also called for a boycott on imports of goods produced in West Bank settlements.
Israel dismissed the conclusions which it said had no real weight.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP: “They can write what they like, they only represent themselves. It’s a private body with no legal or political weight and has moral weight only among its members.”
“It has no political or legal significance, it is an ideological and propaganda document that people write for their like-minded friends.”
It would be interesting to know the reasoning behind the results in this survey. Why do Americans want ‘out’ of Israel/Palestine? Do they think they need their President focusing on domestic issues or is Israel/Palestine just all too hard?
The even more significant question is ‘what would it take for the American politicians to lose interest in Israel/Palestine? One suspects that even a vast and vocal majority called for disengagement, Congress would be unlikely to listen.
Israel can often be a third-rail in American politics. In 2002, George W. Bush became the first president in U.S. history to support a so-called “two-state solution.” When Barack Obama followed that up in 2011 by supporting Israel’s pre-1967 borders as a starting point for that solution, it wasn’t anything new, even though the reactions might have been. What does this have to do with the United States? Americans are increasingly asking that question.
From the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
A new poll shows that most Americans support Israel, but do not want the U.S. to take the lead in an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Fifty-five percent of Americans, according to the ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday, sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinian Authority. Nine percent sympathize more with the P.A., 14 percent sympathize with neither side and 18 percent had no opinion on the question.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents, though, said the U.S. should leave peace talks to the Israelis and Palestinians, while 26 percent said the U.S. should lead the negotiations.
Leaving the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the Israelis and Palestinians, though it might sound like common sense (and apparently more than two-thirds of Americans agree) is not something any mainstream presidential candidate has ever suggested.