Saturday, November 07, 2009

Obama and the Middle East.

Robert Dreyfuss has a particularly negative view of Obama's dealings with Israel in an article entitled, "Obama Fails in The Middle East." He calls the recent announcement by Abbas, that he will not seek re-election, "the exclamation point on the utter collapse of the Obama administration's Middle East policy."

He then sets out how he thinks we got here:

First, Obama began a test of strength with Israel over that country's policy of illegal settlements, an expansion of its occupation of the West Bank driven by extremist, right-wing settlers who are fanatical, Bible-believing cultists who think that Israel has some God-given right to that territory. The settler-kooks -- indeed, one of their past leaders was named Rabbi Kook -- are supported by ultra-hardliners in Israel's security establishment, who see the West Bank as strategic depth in Israel's defense posture. What happened after Obama told Israel it had to stop settlements? Nothing. Score: Netanyahu 1, Obama 0.

Next, the Obama administration capitulated, refusing to insist on any penalty for Israel's defiant intransigence. Not even a hint of any retaliation by the United States to enforce what it had called the path to a peace deal. No talk of reducing US aid to Israel, or cutting back on US-Israeli military cooperation, or anything. Score: Netanyahu 2, Obama 0.

Then, while all this was going on, Obama hinted that he might announce, this fall, something like a comprehensive US plan for the Middle East. Everyone knows what a solution looks like: withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank, dismantling of the settlements, an end to the Gaza embargo, the division of Jerusalem, some swapping of land to account for slight changes in borders (especially around the capital), and a formula to account for the Palestinians' right-of-return, involving financial compensation -- plus security arrangements. But months later, Obama has refused to even hint at his own plan for the region, caving in to Israel's demands that all of that be saved for "negotiations." Score: Netanyahu 3, Obama 0.

Finally, the United States cravenly supported Israel over the Goldstone Report on Gaza, the report that accused Israel (and Hamas) of war crimes during the December-January conflict there. Score: Netanyahu 4, Obama 0.

Secretary of State Clinton then put the final icing on the rotten cake, praising Netanyahu, an extremist, far-right ultra-nationalist, for his decision to expand, not halt, settlements. Clinton's blunder, which shocked and stunned Palestinians and Arab leaders, represented the ultimate cave-in to Netanyahu and Co. Final score: Netanyahu 5, Obama 0.
I find it very difficult to pick holes in anything which Dreyfuss has said, as I think I have made almost every one of those points myself over the past few months, Dreyfuss simply summarises it better than I ever could.

I no longer know what the Obama policy is in the Middle East. Oh, I know that he wants a state of Palestine. And I know that officially he wants Israel to stop settlement building. But, I also know that Netanyahu continues to defy him in an almost brutally public fashion and that neither Obama nor Clinton appear willing to call out Netanyahu as the clear obstructionist which he is.

Until Obama and Clinton are willing to put serious pressure on Netanyahu, then nothing will happen. And the present stalemate is a victory for Netanyahu as he will regard simply seeing out the Obama presidency with no formation of a state of Palestine as a huge success.

Abbas is stepping down because moderates like him have no chance of success unless they are backed up by positive actions on the side of the Israelis which will convince Palestinians that terrorism is counter productive. And only the Americans can force the Israelis into taking the kind of actions which are needed here.

At the moment that simply is not happening.
Abbas said that he was "surprised" -- bitterly angry and really pissed off, is more accurate, I am sure -- by Clinton's comments on Israel's settlements policy. And Clinton, asked about Abbas' move, delivered an insouciant fuck-you to Abbas: "We talked about his own political future. I look forward to working with President Abbas in any new capacity."
I know that Clinton has since sought to "clarify" her remarks, but the fact that she needed to do this at all shows that this White House is moving dangerously off message.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the others repeated ad nauseam that Saddam had WMD and needed to be taken out. They did so with no proof of any kind but remained so relentlessly on message that they made the Iraq war inevitable. In it's own sick fucked up way, it was sort of admirable. Those guys knew how to sell.

The Obama White House need to remain just as relentless on the subject of illegal Israeli settlements. Everyone understands that message and all but the most pro-Israeli supporters can clearly see the rampant illegality and unfairness of what the Israelis are doing.

Clinton has done real damage to the credibility of Obama's entire Middle East policy. And the White House's knee jerk reaction to The Goldstone Report is easily one which could have been made by the Bush administration.

We wanted - and were promised - change. And, after a great opening from Obama, we are still waiting for some meat to be put on those initially optimistic bones.

Abbas has clearly lost faith. Some of the rest of us continue to hold on to our initial hopes, but we are going to have to see some kind of action soon. Praising Netanyahu for promising to steal Palestinian land at a slower rate than he would like is simply pathetic. Indeed, it is not only pathetic, it is actually demoralising and spineless.

We expected much better than this from the Obama administration. From initially marking him an A+ on this subject, he has quickly dropped to a C-. "Needs to do better" the report card would read. "And quickly", I would add.

Click here for Dreyfuss's article.


daveawayfromhome said...

And the worst thing is, the U.S. could so easily force change, especially in economic hard times, simply by closing its purse-strings a bit. They wont, though, any more than China will punish North Korea.

Kel said...

It breaks my heart, Dave. Obama is the man who gets this. He knows what needs to be done and yet we get this spineless bullshit.