Obama administration main obstacle to Middle East peace

Any peace process there ever was is virtually dead. Arabs blame the hawkish right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu-led government for the impasse, as do prominent former heads of Israeli intelligence services; Netanyahu blames Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for refusing to return to the table until Israel quits expanding Jewish colonies. There’s plenty of blame to go around but, if the truth be told, the White House should bear more guilt than the protagonists for the absence of progress. If the US were the ‘honest broker’ it has on occasion pretended to be, there would have been a state called Palestine decades ago.

At least US presidents such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton went through the motions of showing some semblance of impartiality. George W. Bush may have looked as if he had a bad smell under his nose each time he articulated his backing for a two-state solution, which he did as a sop to the Arab world angered over the invasion of Iraq, but he did initiate the roadmap and his secretary of state organised the Annapolis peace conference in 2007. President Barack Obama, who early on showed more promise than any of his predecessors, doesn’t even bother. Indeed, when the lid is lifted on his flowery rhetoric, all that remains are broken promises. Worse, his administration has morphed into an out-and-out obstacle.

In 2009, Obama travelled to Cairo to reach out to the Muslim world. In his speech, he acknowledged that “the Palestinian people have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they have endured the pain of dislocation,” he said, adding that “they endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation.” He pledged that “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspirations for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” He promised to “personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires.” He was unequivocal about the illegitimacy of “continued Israel settlements [colonies],” saying “it’s time for those settlements [colonies] to stop.”

Those fine words have turned out to be nothing more than a bad joke. In the years since, he’s done nothing, except send George Mitchell as his envoy to Israel who returned empty-handed and quit after two years in frustration. As for the mushrooming colonies, all Netanyahu had to do was say ‘no’ for Obama to metaphorically seal his own lips with sticky tape. In May 2011, a day before Netanyahu’s visit to the White House, Obama announced that any Palestinian state should be based on 1967 borders with some adjustments/land swaps to take into account the largest Jewish colonies on the West Bank. Netanyahu was incensed. He said Israel could not return to the ‘indefensible” 1967 borders when Obama was quick to capitulate, no doubt scared of incurring the wrath of Congress and the pro-Israel lobby.

That same year, Obama spoke to the UN General Assembly. “When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel,” he said. To use an Arab expression ‘fil mish mish’ or ‘when the apricots bloom.’ Not only did he do nothing towards that state, the following year he told Abbas that the US would veto the Palestinian’s bid for UN membership and the body’s recognition of a Palestinian state. And on February 18, 2011, America was the only UN Security Council member to veto a resolution condemning Jewish colonies within the Occupied Territories as illegal and calling for an immediate halt to their expansion. The one word that springs to mind is ‘hypocrisy,’ that either exposes the US president as impotent or an individual willing to sell his principles for another four years.

Not holding Israel to account

Now, he’s at it again. According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, “The Obama administration is trying to delay the establishment of a panel appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the issue of Israeli settlements [colonies] in the West Bank.” A panel is set to be appointed to “investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements [colonies] on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Territories, including occupied East Jerusalem.” Naturally, Israel is intent on boycotting any such UNHRC probe.

If Obama, who displayed personal sympathies for the Palestinian cause prior to his presidential inauguration, is unable or unwilling to hold Israel to account, then it surely behoves the international community to let him know in no uncertain terms that the US is part of the problem and is, therefore, an unfit intermediary.

Four years ago, like most people, I rooted for Obama the rock star, the orator, the internationalist. He was a breath of fresh air, or so I thought then. Little did I know that his promises and principles would be so carelessly thrown to the wind!

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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