Deconstructing Obama’s Rhetoric on Palestine

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the appointment of George Mitchell as the
special envoy to the Middle East, President
Obama spoke to the urgency of a lasting
ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and
made a commitment “to seek two states living
side by side in peace and security.” Both
goals are laudable but the language employed is disingenuous
and dishearteningly reminiscent of past declarations.
The speech offers a pledge to Israel, advice to the Palestinians,
and a justification of the American position for the
rest of the world: “Let me be clear: America is committed to
Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to
defend itself against legitimate threats… no democracy can
tolerate such danger to its people… neither should the Palestinian
people themselves, whose interests are only set back
by acts of terror.” The President, then, demands that Hamas
“recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence, and
abide by past agreements, if it wants to be “a genuine party to
peace.” A fair demand only if it were asked of Israel as well.
Mr. Obama portrays Israel as a victim of aggression who,
by protecting its people against rocket throwing Hamas, is
championing the democratic values that they share with the
West. He then implies that Palestinians don’t appreciate the
benefits of democracy because they seem to have rallied
behind Hamas. In one sentence, he ignores two obvious
facts: Israeli democracy applies largely to its Jewish population,
treating the Palestinian citizens as second class; Palestinian
democratic aspirations and experiments have repeatedly
been crushed by deliberate Israeli and American
actions (these assertions will be discussed in future articles).
In reality, the threat to Israel’s security is the direct consequence
of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Both al-Fatah and
Hamas have committed themselves to a two-state solution to
the conflict, in accordance with the national aspiration of the
Palestinian people and spelled out in the National Reconciliation
Document of 2006. In addition, Hamas has demanded
on several occasions that Israel end its military operations in
Gaza and the West Bank in return for a stable truce, but Israel
insists on receiving an unconditional recognition of its right
to exist and continues to expropriate land in the West Bank
and East Jerusalem, rendering a two-state solution unviable.
Palestinians continue to be subjected to humiliation,
poverty, unemployment, indefinite imprisonment without
trial, and violence. They are also helpless witnesses to the
rapid loss of their land to illegal and hostile Israeli colonies,
road blocks, Israeli-only roads, and recently the Wall of
Annexation. Whether President Obama admits it or not, an
unconditional commitment to what Israel considers to be
vital to its security can only perpetuate the injustices done to
the Palestinians. A disturbing example is the cutting off of
the fertile Jordan Valley from the rest of the West Bank,
allowing only the long-time residents who carry Israeliissued
papers to remain in the area and evacuating the others.
Israeli officials maintain that this area cannot be returned
to the Palestinians because this would expose Israel to
attacks from Arab countries as well as al-Qaeda-type groups.
According to Israeli Peace Now, the population of the Israeli
colonies in the West Bank increased from 139,974 in 1996
to 261,879 in 2006, 270,000 in 2007, and 285,000 in
2008. The number of new structures in settlements and outposts
grew by 69 percent in 2008 over the 2007 figures. The
daily Haaretz reports that these increases far exceed the natural
Israeli population growth (%1.6) and are more than
double the growth rate in any region of Israel. The Israeli
government spends at least $560 million a year on subsidies,
infrastructure and education for the Jewish settlements
in the West Bank, in addition to the off-the-record military
cost of controlling the Palestinians. Why all the trouble if in
near future these Illegal Israeli settlements are to be evacuated?
Why protect the militant settlers who commit various
crimes against the Palestinians and their property, when it’s
known that they have pledged never to leave and call their
populating efforts “the most important Zionist endeavor of
our generation, the settlement of Judea and Samaria”? The
answer seems to be that Israel has no intention of returning
any of the settlements it has financed and built. The Israeli
information and human rights organization, B’Tselem,
maintains that, eventually, about 40% of the West Bank
would be permanently annexed to Israel. What would be
the fate of the Palestinians living in these areas? Perhaps they
will be moved to a cramped Palestinian state in the Middle
of the West Bank or sent to Jordan and Egypt to live among
their ‘fellow Arabs.’
The colonization of East Jerusalem has been progressing
more blatantly. In 1980, against all international laws,
Israel’s parliament declared that “Jerusalem, complete and
united, is the capital of Israel.” Israel continues to reject
any compromise in this regard while Palestinians insist on
establishing their capital in East Jerusalem. A Washington
Post investigation reveals that the Israeli government and
private Jewish groups have been moving Jewish residents
into Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. The Post
also refers to a report prepared by the Israeli State Attorney’s
Office and published in the newspaper Yedioth
Aharonoth, which concludes that almost every major ministry
has assisted in the construction, expansion and maintenance
of illegal settlement outposts. In addition, intimidation
and unavailability of legal documents are used to
expel Palestinians from their homes and work places. Even
as George Mitchell is holding talks with Israeli officials, the
Municipality of Jerusalem is in the process of evicting
1500 Palestinians from their homes, under the pretext that
their residences were built without Israeli permission.
What an irony to demand that the occupied people apply
for legal documents from their illegal occupiers.
The Annexation Wall, which Israel and the U.S. refer to as
a separation wall to presumably protect Israel, is another
obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The
Wall unjustifiably cuts through the West Bank and robs
many Palestinians of their gardens, orchards, and the
source of their livelihood. Discussed widely in Israeli media
but ignored in the U.S. is the common understanding that
Israel is intent upon annexing this 12% strip of fertile land
under any final status agreement with the Palestinians.
In order to have a real change in the U.S. policy, leading to the
establishment of a viable Palestinian State and the security of
Israel, we need to demand that the new administration
become an honest broker in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and
end America’s unconditional support of the state of Israel. The
long-term interest of all the parties involved, including the
American people, depends on the U.S. playing thisvital role.
President Obama must dissociate himself from any plan
which offers the Palestinians a truncated state, consisting of
isolated cantons with little or no control over vital natural
resources. We should demand that the President’s mantra of
change apply to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lest the conflict
outlives his presidency with yet more tragic consequences.

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