Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Obama, Oslo Reactionary
P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | 1/26/2009
“It will be the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and its Arab neighbors,” President Obama said last week. . He also remarked: “Just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so, too, is a future without hope for the Palestinians.”
A day earlier Obama had made his first phone call as president to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. And on Wednesday this week, his new-old Middle East envoy George Mitchell is already due here to meet with Israeli and PA leaders.
In other words, Obama means business. Yet each of his above-quoted statements has something fundamentally wrong with it.
First, by saying his administration will “actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and its Arab neighbors,” Obama is saying he has an agenda for Israel. But is it Israel’s agenda?
Of course, at least out of diplomatic propriety, all of Israel’s current prime-ministerial aspirants—from Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni on the Center-Left to Binyamin Netanyahu on the Center-Right—will say that it is. They’ll say how delighted they are that Mr. Mitchell has come for a visit and that Mr. Obama is so eager to work with Israel in solving its problems.
On February 10, though, Israel is holding elections, and all the polls say a Center-Right bloc led by Netanyahu will win. That will mean most Israelis have become skeptical enough about a “lasting peace” between Israel and its Palestinian and other Arab neighbors that they see “aggressively” pursuing such an outcome—certainly at this stage, with Hamas ruling Gaza and a weak, corrupt PA, its collapse to Hamas prevented only by the Israeli security forces, ruling the West Bank—as out-of-sync with reality.
In other words, Obama has announced an agenda for Israel even though, for one thing, he’s not Israel’s president, and for another, it’s not Israel’s agenda. In this Obama is continuing the practice of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who in June 22 announced his “road map” for Israeli-Palestinian peace to which Israel later attached 14 reservations that were subsequently ignored.
What gets lost in the shuffle is that Israel is supposed to be a sovereign country with the right to set its own policy. If Obama, as many expect, ends up clashing with Netanyahu, he’ll actually be clashing with an Israeli electorate that, having experienced the results of 15 years of “Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking” up to the latest rocket bombardments, supports leaders who stand for a more cautious, security-conscious approach.
To this electorate—and to Israeli democracy itself—Obama’s promise to “actively and aggressively seek” an outcome that, if pursued rashly and heedlessly, can spell grave security consequences for Israel is, in effect if not in intent, an expression of contempt. Obama’s words connote that Israel is a mere instrumentality of U.S. policy, its elections meaningless, its people’s hard-earned experience irrelevant.
As for Obama’s statement that “Just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so, too, is a future without hope for the Palestinians”—the first discordant bell it rings is that of moral equivalency. This is so de rigueur that it might not seem worth mentioning. It is, however, worth noting that constantly insinuating to a people subjected to relentless terrorism that they are themselves guilty of something equivalent to terrorism is a form of psychological abuse—even if Obama’s is one voice in a very large chorus.
More specifically problematic in Obama’s assertion, though, is the word “hope.” It is, of course, a stand-in for “statehood”; Obama is saying that a future without statehood for the Palestinians is something as “intolerable” as rocket fire on innocent civilians.
Meanwhile it was reported on Friday that “during the past few days, the PA security forces arrested more than 30 Hamas supporters and figures in different parts of the West Bank…Sources close to Hamas said the majority of the detainees were being held in PA security installations where some of them had been ‘brutally tortured’ by their interrogators. The sources said that Islamboli Badir, the son of slain Islamic Jihad official Riad Islamboli, required medical treatment after being tortured with electrical shocks by members of the PA’s General Intelligence Service….”
And on Sunday it was reported that “Col. Radi Assidah, the Palestinian Authority’s security commander in the Jenin area, said over the weekend that his force is protecting and providing shelter to Islamic Jihad fugitives…Assidah said the Islamic Jihad men arrived about five months ago at the headquarters of the PA security forces in Jenin to seek sanctuary until their cases with Israel were resolved…Assidah also revealed that the PA government of [Abbas’s Prime Minister] Salaam Fayad was paying the wanted Islamic Jihad men monthly salaries….”
Brutal torture of detainees on the one hand; sheltering and paying the salaries of terrorists on the other, and this while the PA is a largely autonomous entity but not yet a state. What’s the relevance to the future Palestinian statehood that Obama proclaims a fundamental goal and a moral imperative? It’s that such phenomena—torture of detainees, support of terrorists—are widespread in Arab states. Is there really a moral compulsion to create another one?
Indeed, if according to Obama’s diagnosis the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are suffering from a lack of hope, should statehood be presumed to be the antidote? Are the masses of oppressed, poverty-stricken Arabs in Egypt, for instance, leading lives of fulfillment? And with Arab statehood having led, in cases like Iraq, Algeria, Sudan, and others, to nothing short of large-scale atrocities, can Obama be sure that his “hope,” isn’t a recipe for calamity, especially with horrific abuses already occurring in the ostensibly moderate Palestinian Authority?
These and other problems with Palestinian statehood have recently led figures like former Israeli National Security Council head Giora Eiland, former Israeli chief of staff and current Likud Knesset candidate Moshe Yaalon, and Senator Sam Brownback to propose alternatives to that old, hackneyed, harmful notion. Some of those alternatives, too, like bringing in Jordan and Egypt to govern the Palestinians and look out for Israel’s security, may be fanciful or premature—but are at least attempts to break the mold.
Obama, though, for all his image as a force for newness, appears not yet to have reached that stage and instead pledges to “aggressively seek”—with or without Israel’s consent—the same repeatedly, disastrously failed panaceas. If there is any doubt of it, his choice of an old, Oslo-era peace processor like Mitchell should put it to rest.
Sometimes the bringers of “change” have nothing to peddle but the pernicious illusions of the past.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.