03 November 2009

Is Obama abandoning the Palestinians?

The game has gone on for a long time. The Israelis steal more land in the West Bank, the U.S. dutifully chastises them, the Israeli prime minister visits Washington and the U.S. quietly submits to the new reality on the ground. Hope arose that the election of Barack Obama might finally put a stop to this charade and apply the necessary pressure to force Israel into ceasing its colonization and offering a just deal to the Palestinians.

The Palestinians themselves were skeptical. As it turns out they were right to be. In direct violation of what both Israel and the U.S. agreed to in 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has supported Israel's position that it doesn't need to freeze settlement activity as a prelude to resuming peace talks with the Palestinians. According to Clinton, "This offer falls far short of what our preference would be, but if it is acted upon, it will be an unprecedented restriction on settlements and would have a significant and meaningful effect on restraining their growth." So, apparently the new American position is that growth of the settlements is OK as long as it's "restricted" and Israel defines what restricted means. As for the settlements that have been established to date, Clinton, not surprisingly, had nothing to say.

This is a severe slap in the face for Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. According to Alastair Crooke, a senior advisor to Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell, "This pulls the rug out from under everything [Abbas] has stood for." One wonders how many more humiliations he can endure.

The Israeli tail wags the American dog for a variety of reasons: guilt over the Holocaust, the similarity of cultures, the empathy of one people who stole their country from the natives for another people who stole their country from the natives, and so on. But shouldn't Obama, with his background, have been able to rise above this and do justice for an oppressed people?

Perhaps, but now he faces another reason. He desperately needs every vote in Congress to pass a health care bill, his most important piece of legislation, as well as an environment bill, his second most important piece of legislation. And who is the most powerful lobby in Washington, who has the most influence on Congress? Why, the Israeli lobby of course. Obama knows that if he offends Israel, the Israeli lobby could very well undermine his domestic priorities. Politics is all about tradeoffs, and it looks like the Palestinians are being traded off.

The dog continues to wag, under Obama just as it did under his predecessors, leading one to suspect that Israel's colonization of the West Bank will continue until there's no more land worth colonizing.

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