In his speech in Cairo last Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama noted that the “situation” between Israel and Palestinians was a “major source of tension” that must be addressed.
His addressing of that issue began with a reemphasis of “America’s strong bonds with Israel”, which “is unbreakable.”
The “aspiration for a Jewish homeland”, he said, “is rooted in a tragic history” of anti-Semitic persecution and the Holocaust that, he correctly noted, cannot be denied.
But the implied logic here is that since the Jewish people suffered so horribly in the past, they therefore were entitled to the state of Israel, which, by logical extension, means they therefore were somehow entitled to unilaterally proclaim Arab lands their own and forcibly expel Arab Palestinians from their homes or terrorize them into fleeing of their own accord.
This is not a new argument. Towards the end of the British Mandate over Palestine, the newly created United Nations established a special commission to examine the question of Palestine. The commission consisted of 11 member nations, none of which was an Arab country.
Some of its members reasoned that the suffering of the Jews should not be tied to the Palestine question. It was not, after all, the Arab Palestinians, but the Europeans, who were responsible for their persecution and mass murder. And injustices against one people do not justify further injustices against another. And if European persecution entitled the Jews to a state, why should it be the Arabs and not the Europeans who hand over their land for that purpose?
But this reasoning was rejected and the commission did associate the Jewish suffering with the Palestine question, beginning with tours of displaced persons camps in Europe. It proceede to adopt a framework that explicitly rejected the right of the Arab majority to self-determination and the end result was a recommendation passed to the General Assembly that would have taken away Arab lands and given more than half of the territory of Palestine to the minority Jews.
The logic that because of their suffering, the Jews somehow had a right to confiscate Arab land and expel inhabitants of the newly created state of Israel in order to accomplish the vision of a “Jewish state”, necessarily consisting of a Jewish majority, is embedded in U.S. policy. It manifests itself in the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s “right to exist”.
It is unconscionable to the Palestinians and to the Arab world, and rightfully so, that they should ever recognize that Israel had a “right” to take their land and expel their people, that they must recognize the legitimacy of these actions before the U.S. and the world outside will even consider hearing their own aspirations for statehood and end to occupation and the suffering that comes with it.
Obama recognized the plight of the Palestinians in his address. “On the other hand,” he said, “it is undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.” He acknowledged their “pain of dislocation” and the “daily humiliations” of occupation.
“The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable”, he said, “And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”
“It’s easy to point fingers”, he continued; “for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond.”
Thus, while recognizing the injustice of “displacement” suffered by the Palestinians, Obama’s recognition of their plight is limited to this event over 60 years ago and to mere “humiliations” under the ongoing occupation, and not, unlike with Israel, “constant hostility and attacks throughout its history”.
One could take the example of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip for three weeks in December and January, which had been in the planning throughout Israel’s cease-fire with Hamas, the group governing Gaza.
Intending to make war on Gaza, Israel needed a pretext, and so did everything in its power to ensure that the cease-fire would become unsustainable and to elicit a violent response from Hamas or other militant groups. This included stepping up operations against Hamas and other groups in the West Bank, refusing to end the siege of Gaza that had brought the people of Gaza to and kept them on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe, and violating the truce with military actions against Palestinians within the Gaza Strip.
The response was predictable, and anticipated by the Israeli leadership. The escalation in incidents of rocket firings in retaliation for Israel’s constant hostility and attacks was then used as the pretext for “Operation Cast Lead”, targeted not against Hamas but against the people of Gaza themselves.
Israel’s punishment of the Palestinians included continuing their suffering under the siege, including firing upon convoys of humanitarian aid to prevent aid agencies from doing their work and deliberately destroying the U.N. warehouse where this aid was stored.
It included heavy bombardment of populated areas, including with the use of white phosphorus, incontrovertibly a war crime.
Homes and schools and hospitals were the targets of Israeli attacks, all carried out with the full support of the United States, which provided much of the military hardware and weaponry used, which finances Israel with billions in annual aid, and which used its influence in the Security Council to delay the passing of a cease-fire resolution just as it had used its veto power to block a cease-fire resolution during Israel’s assault on southern Lebanon in 2006.
Judging from Obama’s speech, such “constant hostility and attacks” by Israel against Palestinians do not exist. The Palestinians suffer merely emotional “humiliation”, not physical suffering and death, just as they suffered “displacement” in 1948, but not deliberate ethnic cleansing.
Having established this framework, Obama continued to talk about “the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map”, which are further instructive as to what U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Arab conflict actually is.
Obama offered nothing new here, but merely reiterated the framework of the Bush administration, saying that “Palestinians must abandon violence.” As under Bush, no such condition is placed upon the Israelis, despite Israel being responsible for violence against Palestinians on an incomparably more massive scale than Palestinians have committed against Israelis. Violence is a “dead end” for Palestinians, but for Israel it is an essential tool fully backed by the U.S.
“Hamas does have support among some Palestinians,” Obama suggested, implying most Palestinians do not support Hamas; a suggestion belied by the fact that Hamas gained power by being democratically elected to power in 2006.
To punish the Palestinian people for their choice in the election, the U.S. cut off aid while Israel stepped up operations and crippled the ability of Hamas to govern by kidnapping and imprisoning much of its leadership.
The U.S. then proceeded to pressure President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Hamas government and replace the elected Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, which led predictably to a civil war between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah that resulted in the explusion of Fatah from Gaza and Hamas gaining complete control of that territory.
Abbas proceeded to illegally appoint his own Prime Minister in the West Bank and unilaterally extended his own term as President, all with U.S. backing. The truth was just the opposite, but the standard refrain from the U.S. and the American media is that Hamas violently overthrew Fatah in a “coup”.
Continuing, Hamas has “some” support, “but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities”, Obama said. “Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
As for Israel, it “must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.” But to accept Israel’s “right to exist” is to reject the “right to exist” of Palestine, and Israel’s creation was dependent upon the rejection of the right of the majority Arabs to self-determination. Moreover, given the nature of U.S. policy and support for Israel, such talk in favor of Palestinian statehood is meaningless.
Equally meaningless is Obama’s rhetoric that “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” But neither does the U.S. recognize Israeli settlements as illegal. They are rather in practice termed an “obstacle to peace” in meager acquiescence to the international consensus on the illegality of the settlements and occupation, and on the creation of a viable Palestinian state as the solution for the conflict.
And the U.S. goes on financing Israel with aid that, if not used to fund settlement activities directly, allows Israel to divert other resources to continue settlement expansion. And the U.S. goes on offering the military and diplomatic support that allows the occupation and settlement activities to continue.
So far during his presidency, Barack Obama has offered absolutely no indication that this U.S. policy of support for Israeli crimes against the Palestinians that effectively terminate the possibility that a viable Palestinians state might emerge is going to change.