08 May 2009

Who will run U.S. Middle East policy - Obama or AIPAC?

U.S. President Barack Obama has indicated he may do the only thing that will bring peace to Palestine and justice to the Palestinians. He will put pressure on Israel to agree to a fair settlement. During his election campaign, Obama said he regarded the lack of a resolution to the conflict as a "constant sore" that "infect[s] all of our foreign policy." It is indeed that serious and it has infected more than American foreign policy. It was a contributing factor to 9/11 and to Islamic hostility toward the U.S. generally. Recently, Obama's national security adviser, General James Jones, has said the new administration would be more "forceful" with Israel.

This is promising, but the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has other ideas, and this is a group to be reckoned with. It has sent a veritable army of lobbyists to Washington to convince members of Congress to sign a letter to the president dissuading him from a tougher approach to Israel. AIPAC may be the most powerful lobby group in the United States. When it holds a conference, half of Congress attends. Critics claim it has unseated members who, in its eyes, have been too critical of Israel. Its letter was in fact written by two influential Congressmen, Steny Hoyer, Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives, and Eric Cantor, the Republican whip.

The letter, although calling for peace, in effect insists on allowing Israel to set the pace of negotiations. Israel, which steals more Palestinian land every day and continually intensifies the segregation of the Palestinians, is of course in no hurry to change the status quo. Asking the Palestinians to wait on the pleasure of the Israelis is reminiscent of Martin Luther King's words in Letter from a Birmingham Jail about requests for blacks to have patience: "'Wait' ... rings in the ear of every Negro ... This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.'" It rings similarly in the ears of Palestinians.

So will Obama emulate the impatience of Martin Luther King and demand justice for the Palestinians now or will he succumb to the political muscle of AIPAC and ask them to wait. This may be the most important foreign policy decision of his term.

No comments:

Post a Comment