At the precise moment US President Barack Obama’s Air Force One touched down at Ben Gurion Airport on March 20, persisting illusions quickly began to shatter. And as he walked on the red carpet, showered with accolades and warm embraces of top Israeli government and military officials, a new/old reality began to sink in: Obama was no different than his predecessors. He never had been.
On the day of Obama’s arrival, Israeli rights group B’Tselem released a disturbing video. It was of Israeli soldiers carrying out a ‘mass arrest’ of nearly 30 Palestinian children on their way to school in the Palestinian city of al-Khalil (Hebron). The children pleaded and cried to no avail. Their terrified shrieks echoed throughout the Palestinian neighborhood as they tried to summon the help of passersby. “‘Amo’ – Uncle,” one begged, “for God sake don’t let them take me.” Nonetheless, several military vehicles were filled with crying children and their school bags. But what made the release of the video truly apt is the fact that it was released on the day president Obama was meeting Israeli children at a welcoming ceremony at the home of Israeli President Shimon Peres.
“Their dreams are much the same as children everywhere,” he said, referring to Israeli children, of course. “In another sense though their lives reflect the difficult reality that Israelis face every single day. They want to be safe, they want to be free from rockets that hit their homes or their schools.”
Many Palestinians immediately pointed out the moral discrepancies in most of Obama’s statements throughout his stay in Israel. Still, his visit was ‘historic’, declared numerous headlines in the US and Israeli media.
However, aside from the fact that it was his first trip to Israel as a president, it was barely momentous. His unconditional support for Israel has been tedious and redundant, predictable even. Those who have followed his unswerving pro-Israel legacy – including his visit to Israel as a presidential candidate in 2008, his talks before the Israeli lobby group AIPAC and many other examples – could barely discern a shift, except perhaps, in the total disinterest in political sensibility and balance.
He truly delivered in Israel. This was to the total satisfaction of the Israeli Prime Minister and his pro-settler government, which was assembled shortly before Obama’s arrival. Obama spoke as if he were entirely oblivious to the political shift to the extreme right underway in Israel. Indeed, the new Israeli government is more right-wing than ever before. The extremist Jewish Home party has three important ministries, including Jerusalem and Housing, and the ultra-nationalists of Yisraeli Beiteinu have been awarded the tourism ministry. It means that the next few years will be a settlement construction bonanza, ‘ethnic cleaning’, and greater Apartheid.
“It’s good to be back in The Land (Israel),” Obama said in Hebrew, at the Tel Aviv airport. “The United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.”
It is believed that for four years, Obama has failed to live up to the nearly impossible expectations of Israel. Israel requires a president with good oratory skills—for example, to emphasize the ‘eternal’ bond between his country and Israel, as Obama did—who is able to sign big checks and ask few questions. Obama has of course done that and more. Aside from the $3.1 billion in financial support, he has rerouted hundreds of millions of US funds to bankroll Israel’s air defense system, the Iron Dome, whose efficiency is questionable at best.
Obama’s past transgressions, as far as Israel is concerned, is that he dared ask the right-wing government of Netanyahu to temporarily freeze settlement construction to restart the stalled – if not dead – peace process. Of course, there is the widely reported matter of Obama’s lack of fondness of Netanyahu, his antics and renowned arrogance. But that matters little, since Israel’s illegal settlements continued to thrive during Obama’s first term in office.
Expectedly, Netanyahu was gloating. He has managed to assemble a government that will cater mostly to extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank and also masterfully managed to humble the US president, or at least quash his ambitions that the US is capable of operating independently in the Middle East, without Israeli consent or interests in mind.
Now that Jewish colonies are flourishing—with occupied East Jerusalem area E1 being another major exploit—Netanyahu is once more aspiring for a war against Iran, one that would not be possible without US funding, support, and likely direct involvement. “Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said while standing near the mostly US-funded Iron Dome. “Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself, by itself against any threat.”
Obama did in fact spare a few, although, spurious thoughts for Palestinians. “Put yourself in their shoes—look at the world through their eyes,” he said to an Israeli audience. “It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day.”
One would even applaud the seeming moral fortitude if it were not for the pesky matter that the US had voted against a Palestinian state at the United Nations last November and tried to intimidate those who voted in favor. And of course, much of the horror that Palestinian ‘eyes’ have seen throughout the years was funded and defended by US money and action. If Obama is trying to resurrect the myth that the US is a well-intentioned bystander or an ‘honest broker’ in some distant conflict, then he has utterly failed. His country is fully embroiled in the conflict, and directly so. Many Palestinian children would still be alive today if the US government had conditioned its massive support of Israel by ending the occupation and ceasing the brutality against Palestinians.
In a joint press conference in Ramallah, alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama even demanded Palestinians drop their condition (proposed by Obama himself) of a settlement freeze in order to return to the so-called peace talks. “That’s not to say settlements aren’t important, that’s to say if we resolve the (main) problems, then settlements will be resolved,” he said. “If to begin the conversation we have to get everything right from the outset … then we’re never going to get to the broader issue,” Obama added. The broader issue, according to the US president is “how do you structure a state of Palestine,” which again, Obama voted against last year, and passionately so.
Aside from resounding rhetoric about peace, Obama is finally towing the Israeli line exactly as Netanyahu and the lobby would expect of him, or of any other US president. He has little to offer Palestinians, or Arab nations, but much to expect from them. Arab states must seek normalized relations with Israel, and Palestinians must “recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state, and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security,” he lectured in Jerusalem on the second day of his trip, reported CNN online. The obvious danger here lies in the fact that Israel oftentimes conflates ‘security’ and its ‘right to defend itself’ by mass arresting children on their way to school in Hebron, or by inflicting or supporting wars against other nations—Lebanon, Iraq and now Iran.
Obama will eventually get back to his Oval Office desk, ready to resume work as usual. This will include the signing of many papers concerning additional funds, loans, military technology transfers and much more for Israel. Palestinians meanwhile will carry on with their long fight for freedom, without his noted oratory skills.
Meanwhile, the families of the 30 children kidnapped by the Israeli army in Hebron will have many days ahead of them in Israeli military court. But that, of course, is a different matter, of no concern to Obama and his many quotable peace antics.