Last month, both Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before the United Nations’ General Assembly. Both the leader of the US and the leader of Israel spoke against the impending bid by Mahmoud Abbas for the recognition of a Palestinian state. Almost as if out of the realm of the surreal, Barack Obama’s speech before the UN was to the right of Netanyahu’s. The cheers must have been deafening at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Obama’s attempt to squash the hopes of the Palestinian people at the UN was a bald-faced attempt to garner support from Jews in the US (as if we vote in one ideological block) in an administration whose public support sinks daily. Even in Israel, where a clear majority support the establishment of a Palestinian state, Obama’s pronouncements against using the UN as a vehicle to establish Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem must have come as quite a shock.
Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has owed a duty to its Palestinian neighbors to withdraw from Palestinian territory and recognize its sovereignty. Caught up in the twin geopolitical disasters of the Cold War and then the wars for dominance of the oil resources of the Middle East, no such recognition of a Palestinian state has ever happened. The so-called peace process has led to just about nowhere.
Statements from many members of both houses of Congress, as if the president’s statements weren’t sufficiently damning to the hopes of the Palestinian people, were even more to the right of the deniers of the right of the Palestinian people to have their own land. Many in Congress who represent, or claim to represent, fundamentalist Christian groups were even further to the right of all of the above, their hope being that some sort of Armageddon will be unleashed in the Middle East, which will hasten the fundamentalists’ so-called End of Days.
Many Jews with liberal and left political beliefs have traditionally been hesitant to criticize Israel, fearing that they would be categorized as self-hating Jews. (The latter being a favorite tactic of the right.) Others in the middle feel that keeping quiet is the best course of action. Public opinion polls in the US show that a small majority of Jewish Americans favor peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Chastisement, however, can be severe as the renowned scholar Norman Finklestein learned. In Finklestein’s case, the chorus of condemnation from right-wing supporters of Israel led to the loss of his job as a professor.
And then there are the crazies like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Holocaust denier, who perhaps matches in insanity the fundamentalists in Congress. With such actors, it’s no mystery that 44 years have passed without Palestinians being granted statehood. The vicious blockade of the Gaza Strip continues upon the heels of a ferocious military action, Israeli settlers continue to flock to the West Bank to build settlements, and East Jerusalem continues to be “off the table” in regard to returning land seized from the Palestinians in the ’67 war.
There are many permutations in behavior symptomatic of the unending occupation and suppression of the Palestinian people. The West Bank barrier wall is one such symbol of this dysfunction. The prejudice toward Palestinians in everyday encounters with authority figures in and outside of Israel is yet another. And finally, the legions of Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s jails speaks to the injustice of the powerful over the nearly powerless.
What about Jewish values and a Palestinian state? Hillel, the great Jewish religious leader put it this way: “That which is hateful to you, do not do onto your fellow. That is the whole Torah (Judaism’s founding legal and ethical religious texts); the rest is explanation; go and learn.” Obviously, however, this “simple” pronouncement has been lost on many in the Jewish community (and to the leaders of both the US and Israel) around the world who believe that unquestioning and uncritical support for Israel is the only possible course of action worth considering. As noted above, many, many others remain silent on the issue of Palestinian statehood, one of the most pressing contemporary moral and political issues.
The time for the establishment of a Palestinian state is long overdue. With the US moving farther to the right, and ultraconservative Republicans gaining a greater foothold on power, the move by representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people to seek recognition as a state at the UN is a move that is long, long overdue!