Obama, the Arab Spring and irrelevance

Israel/Palestine
on 28 Comments

In his policy speech on Thursday, 19 May, US President Barack Obama said that with the eruption of the Arab peoples’ revolutions for freedom and democracy Al-Qaida lost its relevance. In my view, so did the US, relatively speaking, but few in the US establishment are yet ready to admit that. In his speech before AIPAC on Sunday, 22 May, Mr. Obama came across, again, as more of an Israel advocate than a US president, further alienating Arab — and many other — audiences.

With Arabs crossing the barrier of fear and taking the initiative to rebuild their societies freely, on democratic principles, the last thing they need is the US government’s offer for help; having seen exactly how the US is building democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Obama will excuse Arabs for being skeptical about his offer, to put it mildly.

The Arab Spring happened despite the US administration’s decades-old staunch support for the dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere. US support for the Saudi dictatorship, arguably the most totalitarian and reactionary of all, has been critical in suppressing popular revolt and democratic reform in the oil-rich oligarchy. In Tunisia and Egypt, only after victory became a fait accompli did the US and most of Europe start paying lip service to the need for democratization and an orderly transfer of power.

To underline this point, the US has maintained its crucial backing of the Yemeni and Bahraini despotic regimes, despite brutal violations of human rights, arbitrary killings of peaceful protesters, and imprisonment of reform leaders, simply because the regimes there have proven to be able — at least temporarily — to hold back the revolts by brute force. Once the regimes start to crumble, so will US public support for them, no doubt. Realpolitik wins, at the end, while principles and a true commitment to human rights and international law — the latter being completely missing from the entire Obama speech — take a back seat, as always.

And now the US administration is offering Tunisians and Egyptians petty “debt-relief” bribes after having colluded with the tyrannical regimes there in the pillage of their respective nations’ wealth and the investment of these sums in the US and Western Europe, for the most part. Mr. Obama must think that Arabs have a very shallow memory or are somewhat slow. The sooner he realizes that he is wrong on both accounts, the more likely his administration will be able to absorb the true historic meanings and transformative repercussions of the Arab Spring and, consequently, the more just, fair, consistent and relevant US foreign policy can become.

In his policy speech on Thursday, Obama’s mere mention of the 1967 borders as a territorial basis for “negotiations” triggered a “synthetic” outrage by the Israeli government. Obama’s caveat that followed, “with agreed land swaps,” was intentionally ignored by Israeli officials’ and lobbyists’ irate attacks on Obama. As a result, Obama bent over backward in his speech before AIPAC to explain that what he really meant was that the 1967 borders will not stay the same as they must accommodate Israel’s colonies built on occupied Palestinian land over the last 44 years of occupation. By bluntly putting Israel’s interests ahead of everything else, including long established US interests in ensuring “stability” and winning hearts and minds in the region, Mr. Obama’s two speeches made those US interests even more remote. The fact that Obama’s strongest argument for ending the Israeli occupation is that it serves Israel’s interest of securing a Jewish state and circumvents the fast growing international isolation further confirms where his allegiances lie.

Judging by myriad opinion columns and media interviews on main Arab TV channels President Obama’s original policy speech largely failed to impress the Arab publics, including Palestinians, for several reasons; I shall focus on the most blatant.

First, very few Arabs today actually trust the Obama administration, particularly after its demeaning U-turn on the US demand for Israel to freeze its colonial settlements illegally built on occupied Palestinian and Syrian territory. The utter failure of the US administration to compel Israel to stop construction of those colonies — which constitute war crimes according to international law — has cost the US a severe hemorrhage of credibility in the eyes of the Arab world. If Israel will not listen to its main benefactor over such a relatively small matter, can anyone expect the US to pressure Israel to recognize the more substantial inalienable rights of the Palestinian people?

Second, the fanatic-right Israeli government with Netanyahu at its helm has, through its well endowed lobby groups, shown beyond doubt that it commands far more influence over the US Congress than Obama and his administration when it comes to setting Mideast policy. Not only was the US forced to accept the humiliation of being seen by the world as obsequiously complying with Israeli diktats by reversing long standing US policy condemning Israel’s settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace; it had to cast a veto a resolution at the UN, supported by an overwhelming majority of the world community, that reiterated this US policy staple.

Netanyahu’s latest public rebuff of Obama at their meeting on Friday did not help ameliorate the damage either. As a result, no matter what Mr. Obama says now, very few will take it seriously, knowing that Israel’s far-right government will ultimately have the upper hand in setting US policy in this part of the world.

Third, Mr. Obama’s double standard has reached a new record, as he threw around lofty terms such as “self determination,” “inclusive democracy,” “the inalienable right to freedom,” but he largely excluded the Palestinian people from the set of nations entitled to these inherent rights. He spoke of the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal,” but ignored Israel’s system of racial discrimination that the US Department of State has itself consistently condemned as constituting “institutional, legal, and societal” discrimination against the indigenous Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. In fact, this legalized discrimination fits the UN definition of apartheid.

Furthermore, while Obama spoke about his government’s support for non-violent struggle for freedom and equal rights, he again excluded Palestinian peaceful resistance against the Israeli occupation and apartheid. Non-violence is exactly what most Palestinians have been engaged in over many years, whether in the civil society-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the mass peaceful protests against the wall and colonies, or the most recent Nakba commemoration peaceful marches that succeeded in crossing the border into the occupied Golan Heights, setting a historic precedent that is pregnant with far reaching potential.

What added insult to injury in the speech was Obama’s insistence on recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state,” which he emphasized further by calling it a “state of the Jewish people,” thus endorsing Israel’s extraterritorial definition of nationality, a clear violation of international law that fundamentally denies the non-Jewish citizens of Israel, the indigenous Palestinians, equal rights simply because of their identity. Imagine if the US President were to describe the US as a Christian nation, or a nation of Christians around the world. Why should Israel be treated as above the law of nations and allowed to maintain an ethnocentric, exclusionary regime that automatically reduces its “non-Jewish” citizens to second-class citizenship with circumscribed rights due to their ethnic or religious identity? How can any state be allowed to define itself as a state of some of its citizens, and many others who are not, but not of all its citizens? Whatever happened to Mr. Obama’s supposed commitment to equality and “inclusive democracy”?

By the same logic, international law does not condone an exclusionary, racist Islamic, Christian, Hindu or any other state that institutionalizes racial discrimination and apartheid against part of citizenry, based on their ethnic, religious or any other identity attribute.

Charting a path to a just, comprehensive, and sustainable peace in the Middle East requires that all parties abide by international law and universal human rights. So long as the US administration carries on with its massive, multi-billion dollar annual subsidy for Israel’s intransigence and to protect from international censure and sanctions Israel’s multi-tiered system of colonial oppression against the Palestinians, no glamorous oratory from Mr. Obama stands a chance to slow down the US’s descent into irrelevance in the ongoing reshaping of the modern history of this strategic region.
 

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28 Responses

  1. Tal
    May 23, 2011, 3:04 pm

    Obama’s groveling to the pro-Israeli lobby is indeed an insult to the Palestinians but I disagree that defining Israel as a jewish state carries by definition discrimination of non-jews citizens. Most countries in this world are made of ethnic majorities which are quite homogeneous in terms of religion, culture, language etc. Israel is no different in this matter. There is no mainstream ideology in secular Israel which preaches for supremacy of jews over non-jews. The jewish religion like other religions in this world (e.g. Islam) includes also racist beliefs as well as other non liberal values but most of the public does not embrace them.
    Israel must cease to conquer the Palestinian people and start treating its arab citizens as equals, if it wishes to exist in the middle east and become a respected part of the international community, but it does not have to submit to the one state solution which is against the will of most of its population for some very good reasons.

    • annie
      May 23, 2011, 3:57 pm

      I disagree that defining Israel as a jewish state carries by definition discrimination of non-jews citizens

      do you disagree the laws of israel discriminate against non jews?

      • Tal
        May 24, 2011, 1:57 am

        Sadly, the laws of Israel discriminate against non jews.

    • annie
      May 23, 2011, 4:06 pm

      if i may borrow hostage’s comment

      Israel refuses to fulfill its original obligation under the UN minority protection plan to guarantee its citizens of Palestinian minority origin equal rights under a constitution. It continues to adopt legislation “befitting the values of a Jewish state” that discriminate against them as if they were a foreign alien nationality, while granting Jews from any other country superior rights.

      Israel has no inherent right to do any of that or to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees to their country of origin. It is a party to several UN conventions that prohibit it from granting any special status to Jews, e.g. the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

    • Taxi
      May 23, 2011, 5:47 pm

      Hey Tal, you need to study your comparative religion books here.

      Even I, who has no interest in arcane religions, have come across koranic passages that clearly define racism as ‘haram’ (forbidden by god who apparently told Mohammad: “Judge people by their actions and not by the color of their skin”).

      Also, most people from israel are actually russian, polish, german, yankee etc: they’re all Arab-haters who want to live on Arab lands – and that’s a FACT, Tal.

      The hebrew ancients of Ur and Mecca (Iraq and Saudi Arabia) were ARABS, not european, american etc. So like should the euro israelis keep ANY stolen Arab land just because their european ancestors converted to judaism?

      Even a five year old can answer this moral question righteously.

      • Tal
        May 24, 2011, 7:09 am

        “I have come across koranic passages that clearly define racism as ‘haram’ ”

        I know. And there are also many humanist progressive passages in the Torah. But unfortunately both religions hold to many racist/chauvinist/misogynistic traditions and beliefs.

    • annie
      May 23, 2011, 5:52 pm

      Most countries in this world are made of ethnic majorities which are quite homogeneous in terms of religion, culture, language etc. Israel is no different in this matter.

      oh really? i wonder if any of these other countries have neighborhood admissions committees?

      One law legalizes the practice of using “admissions committees” in small towns in the Negev and Galilee to reject would-be residents based on their social “suitability,” a vague term opponents fear could be used to bar gays, black Israelis, single women, Christians, Muslims and secular families as well as Arabs.

      as i recall each of those admissions committee must have reps from the jewish agency on them. and as i recall the jewish agency is now controlled by JNF. or something. i can’t remember every detail. so maybe you can tell us which other countries you are comparing israel with.

      here’s some historical background

      more from adalah:Inequality Report: The Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel

      Citizenship rights
      • Palestinian citizens of Israel are afforded differential and unequal treatment under Israeli law in the field of citizenship rights. The most important immigration and nationality laws—including the Law of Return (1950) and the Citizenship Law (1952)—privilege Jews and Jewish immigration.
      • If the spouse of a Palestinian citizen of Israel is a Palestinian resident of the OPT it has been virtually impossible for him or her to gain residency or citizenship status in Israel since May 2002. This ban on family unification is totally disproportionate to the alleged security reasons cited by Israel to justify it; rather, it is motivated by the state’s desire to maintain a Jewish demographic majority.
      • A new law makes it possible to strip Israeli citizenship for various reasons related to alleged “disloyalty” to the state or “breach of trust”, indirectly targeting the citizenship rights of Palestinian citizens. Several attempts to pass additional laws that grant the authority to revoke citizenship and impose further loyalty oaths are currently pending in the Knesset.

      more at the link

      • Tal
        May 24, 2011, 7:12 am

        Annie, with all the respect I don’t need to be taught about discrimination of arabs in Israel.

    • David Samel
      May 23, 2011, 7:01 pm

      Tal,
      You believe that the Jewish State by definition would discriminate against non-Jewish citizens. Do you think there is a single Palestinian citizen of Israel who would agree? The Jewish State, by its very name and declared fundamental principles, is the state of the Jewish people all over the world. Even theoretically, it seems utterly impossible to me that equal citizenship, with equal rights, privileges and status, would be possible under the best of circumstances.

      The reality, as you acknowledge, is far from the best of circumstances. You speak eloquently of how Israel must cease to conquer the Palestinian people and start treating its arab citizens as equals, if it wishes to exist in the middle east and become a respected part of the international community. Assuming your sincerity, and I have no reason not to, how long should Israel be given to satisfy these minimum requirements before you begin thinking that Israel should not exist in the middle east and should not be a respected part of the international community? Israel has been in existence for 63 years and has not even tried to provide equality to its Palestinian citizens, and it has been steadily stealing land and resources for 44 years of Occupation. At what point will you realize that it will not happen, and you withdraw your support for Israel’s existence based upon your own criteria? Isn’t the trial period long over?

      • Avi
        May 23, 2011, 7:50 pm

        David Samel May 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm

        At what point will you realize that it will not happen, and you withdraw your support for Israel’s existence based upon your own criteria? Isn’t the trial period long over?

        By Tal’s rationale, the answer is, When the saints go marching in.

        Now in all seriousness,

        Israel has been in existence for 63 years and has not even tried to provide equality to its Palestinian citizens

        In October 2000, the Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated against institutional discrimination in the Jewish state. Israeli forces shot and killed 13 unarmed protesters that month.

        The Orr Commission that was established after the shooting of those 13 citizens concluded that the Israeli government needed to do better in terms of its treatment of 20% of its population.

        Alas, the Sharon government, the Olmert government and the Netanyahu government has not only ignored the findings of that commission, but has exacerbated conditions by implementing more discriminatory laws and policies, further alienating the Palestinian minority in Israel.

        In short, contrary to the unicorn and rainbow-rich Jewish state many an Israeli defender like to claim exists — or at least feign to prefer — Israel has been in moral and legal regression since May 14, 1948.

      • Tal
        May 24, 2011, 7:18 am

        “You believe that the Jewish State by definition would discriminate against non-Jewish citizens.”

        No. Read my comment one more time.
        I said that I dont believe that if we want a jewish state it has to discriminate like it does today.
        It took the US nearly 200 years to stop discriminating against the blacks. Israel can go through the same changes.

      • Avi
        May 24, 2011, 1:57 pm

        Tal May 24, 2011 at 7:18 am

        I said that I dont believe that if we want a jewish state it has to discriminate like it does today.
        It took the US nearly 200 years to stop discriminating against the blacks. Israel can go through the same changes.

        Great, another brick has joined the chorus.

        It seems that all the concrete that Israel has prevented from entry into Gaza, it has used to make more Israelis.

        One thing that seems to be in very short supply in Israel, however, is a sense of irony and just good old fashioned common sense.

      • David Samel
        May 24, 2011, 1:59 pm

        My bad, Tal. I left out the word “don’t”. You don’t believe that a Jewish state would by definition discriminate against non-Jews. I do. I was just puzzled as to how long you were going to give Israel to arrive at this state of equality you believe is possible.

        I must add that I hate that Israel’s only had 63 years to fight discrimination while the US had 200. You really want to compare Israel 2011 with US 1851? Why the US? Why not compare Israel to England at age 63? Then you could go back many centuries. Israel is way behind the times, an anachronism as Tony Judt called it. It is not too much to expect Israel and all modern states to comply with contemporary norms of anti-racism. Nothing’s stopping it. least of all confusion with what century it is.

    • poorwilly
      May 23, 2011, 7:41 pm

      Tal, in an ideal world, what you say would be true. But unfortunately, Arabs are discriminated against in Israel. Of course, Palestinians have to put up with in Israel is nothing compared to what other minorities have to deal with in Islamic countries. But the Israel bashers here seem to have some weird Israel obsession.

      I just registered, and am waiting to get kicked off. Thought it might be fun to argue with people who’ll automatically hate me.

      • Avi
        May 23, 2011, 7:52 pm

        poorwilly May 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm

        I just registered, and am waiting to get kicked off. Thought it might be fun to argue with people who’ll automatically hate me.

        No point in arguing with an idiot like you.

      • Taxi
        May 23, 2011, 9:43 pm

        Poorwilly is another inconsequential zionist who enjoys inspiring hate for the love of israel.

      • annie
        May 23, 2011, 10:19 pm

        looky what the cat dragged in.

    • petersz
      May 23, 2011, 7:52 pm

      “There is no mainstream ideology in secular Israel which preaches for supremacy of jews over non-jews”. Err isn’t Zionism an ideology in Israel that preaches Jewish supremacy over non-Jews? You know Jewish only roads, Jewish only settlements privileged access to housing, land, pensions and opportunities that exclude non-Jews, think Jim Crow in Alabama in the 1930s and its very similar!

      • Tal
        May 24, 2011, 7:28 am

        “isn’t Zionism an ideology in Israel that preaches Jewish supremacy over non-Jews?”

        No. Zionism is the national movement of the Jewish people.
        Its not about jews being better than other people, its about jews wanting to have a state of their own. Does being American patriot meant that you had to support or be a part of the Jim Crow in 1930′s Alabama?
        Our own Alabama is the west bank and many Zionist Israelis like myself are ashamed of it.

    • RoHa
      May 23, 2011, 10:39 pm

      “I disagree that defining Israel as a jewish state carries by definition discrimination of non-jews citizens. Most countries in this world are made of ethnic majorities which are quite homogeneous in terms of religion, culture, language etc. Israel is no different in this matter.”

      But how many of these other countries define themselves in terms of that ethnic majority? (I’m there are some.) And, more importantly, are they right to do so?

      “There is no mainstream ideology in secular Israel which preaches for supremacy of jews over non-jews.”

      On the contrary, there is Zionism.

      “I’d suggest, by way of definition, that ‘Zionism’ is ‘the belief that a share in sovereignty over the Holy Land (or a subset acceptable to Jewish opinion) belongs to all Jewish people and by right to them only – and that a share does belong to some others, but only by the grace and generosity of the rightful heirs’.”
      MHughes976 May 6, 2)11 at 3:35 pm

      Zionist clearly have the idea that what Jews want is more important than what anyone else wants.

      • Tal
        May 24, 2011, 9:52 am

        Who is this MHughes dude? I’ve never heard of him. And I studied Zionism in highschool.

        Let me quote what Mya wrote in the article “I’m fed up …” on this site:

        ” let’s turn to the source of it all, Theodor Herzl’s “The Jewish State”, we see: “But we shall give a home to our people.”
        Nowhere is it written that this home will be only for our people. Some, including Shulamit Aloni, argue that Herzl did not seek to found a “Jewish state.” And Herzl didn’t discuss maintaining a Jewish majority here.

  2. James
    May 23, 2011, 4:12 pm

    thanks omar.. i agree with your sentiment here…

  3. Richard Witty
    May 23, 2011, 5:49 pm

    Please be careful not to spread yourself too thin.

    I’m sure that there are Arabs that are alienated from the US, and I’m also sure that there are Arabs that rely on the US.

    Obama is a moral man. He is working for peace, a real effort, not vain, not Narcissistic, not unrealistic.

    The components of peace are mutual acceptance, both inter-personal and national.

    Live and let live. Demand peace and justice AND extend peace and justice.

  4. Taxi
    May 23, 2011, 6:02 pm

    As an American, I encourage the Palestinians to say to our covertly colonial president: TALK TO THE FINGER MISTER PRESIDENT – OUR EARS ARE FULL OF THE RINGING OF THE BELLS OF FREEDOM!

  5. poorwilly
    May 23, 2011, 7:34 pm

    @Richard Witty: “Obama is a moral man. He is working for peace, a real effort, not vain, not Narcissistic, not unrealistic.” Maybe this is true. But my guess is that he’s also realized that the Republican field of candidates is pathetic, and that he can afford to piss off some Jews who might otherwise have voted for him. If this were going to be a closer race, I seriously doubt he would have chosen now to be the time to start putting Israel’s feet to the fire.

  6. Avi
    May 23, 2011, 7:58 pm

    With Arabs crossing the barrier of fear and taking the initiative to rebuild their societies freely, on democratic principles, the last thing they need is the US government’s offer for help; having seen exactly how the US is building democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Obama will excuse Arabs for being skeptical about his offer, to put it mildly.

    In diplomatic circles, the sardonic joke goes that when states under US hegemonic influence misbehave, US diplomats threaten their representatives with, “If you don’t do as we say, we will bring democracy to your country”.

  7. yourstruly
    May 23, 2011, 11:23 pm

    crossing the barrier of fear?

    he nailed it!

    in bold letters

    to everyone who witnessed those eighteen magical days in tahrir square

    the all for one and one for all

    without that spirit?

    might as well not try

    with it?

    dawn

    retaken

    by popular demand

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