Apartheid, Bantustans and Obama’s empty words (Walt and Miller agree)

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Obama’s visit has produced harmonic convergence in Aaron David Miller and Steve Walt. “Been There, Done That,” is Miller’s headline. “Empty Words” by Steve Walt, who says rhetoric doesn’t move leaders, power politics does, and Obama will never use the tools at his disposal to pressure Israel to end its current policy, apartheid and bantustans and colonialism:

He did not say that future American support for Israel would be conditional on its taking concrete steps to end the occupation and allow for the creation of a viable state (i.e. not just a bunch of vulnerable Bantustans)…

For realists like me, in short, halting a colonial enterprise that has been underway for over forty years will require a lot more than wise and well-intentioned words. Instead, it would require the exercise of power. Just as raw power eventually convinced most Palestinians that Israel’s creation was not going to be reversed, Israelis must come to realize that denying Palestinians a state of their own is going to have real consequences. Although Obama warned that the occupation was preventing Israel from gaining full acceptance in the world, he also made it clear that Israelis could count on the United States to insulate them as much as possible from the negative effects of their own choices. Even at the purely rhetorical level, in short, Obama’s eloquent words sent a decidedly mixed message.

Because power is more important than mere rhetoric, it won’t take long before Obama’s visit is just another memory. The settlements will keep expanding, East Jerusalem will be cut off from the rest of the West Bank, the Palestinians will remain stateless, and Israel will continue on its self-chosen path to apartheid. And in the end, Obama will have proven to be no better a friend to Israel or the Palestinians than any of his predecessors. All of them claimed to oppose the occupation, but none of them ever did a damn thing to end it. And one of Obama’s successors will eventually have to confront the cold fact that two states are no longer a realistic possibility. What will he or she say then?

Aaron David Miller writes that Obama’s trip has the feel of checking boxes; and nothing will eventuate. I wish Miller didn’t call Netanyahu “Bibi” even as he uses last names for everyone else. What’s that about?

Until we have a lot more information, it might be better to see the president’s inaugural visit to Israel as more about managing old business and checking boxes than as a determined leap into the wonderful world of two-state diplomacy..

If he pushes too hard on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, however, he may well run into open opposition and hostility. No matter how well this visit went, there are fundamental differences between Bibi and Obama on the core peace-process issues — particularly on territory and Jerusalem, where Obama is much closer to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Moreover unlike Iran, progress on the peace process could fracture Netanyahu’s own party, bring down his government, and set up another test of wills with the United States.

Obama knows the score, and has seen the movie. The glow in the aftermath of this reset will vanish quickly the harder he pushes Israel on the Palestinian issue. The real issue is this: Is the reset functional? Can Obama work toward a process that brings Netanyahu along without triggering a crisis, and still keep the Palestinians on board?

Right now, it seems like a circle that’s very hard to square.

Right now, the administration has no strategy — or at least not one that holds a lot of promise. The current approach seems to be pressing for negotiations that lead to a provisional Palestinian state, based on a tradeoff between security for Israel and sovereignty for the Palestinians. Borders first, so to speak — and then negotiation of a more general character on the identity issues, Jerusalem, and refugees.

I’m not critical of this approach, because frankly there doesn’t seem to be a much better one right now. But we’re deluding ourselves if we think it can work quickly, or perhaps at all. It’s a very pro-Israeli approach, in that it calls for direct talks without preconditions, says nothing on settlements, and doesn’t include a timeline to resolve the final status issues. And it really does presume an enormous amount of trust between Netanyahu and Abbas, which currently doesn’t exist.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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13 Responses

  1. dbroncos
    March 26, 2013, 12:12 pm

    ___________(fill in blank) will require a lot more than wise and well-intentioned words. Instead, it would require the exercise of power.

    This could apply to Obama’s advocacy on all the policy issues: Accountability for the bankers who committed the biggest bank robbery in American history, health care, clean energy, I/P, etc… Obama’s hard boiled opponents see him for what he is – a naif who who is way out of his depth in the realm of national and international realpolitik and who can easily be shoved around. Sadly, I’m reminded of Sarah Palin’s critique, suggesting that his talents are more suited to community organizing than they are to leading the free world.

    • Citizen
      March 27, 2013, 5:29 am

      @ dbroncos

      Yes–first thing I thought of when reading the Walt excerpt was Obama never pushed to rebuild the Glass-Steagal wall between commercial and investment banks, which Clinton demolished. Nor, if memory serves, did he kill the absurd investment rating system. His new regulations merely tinker around the edge of the roots of what ended in the TBTF bailouts. His Obamacare never took advantage of its forced enrollment numbers to leverage a low price on prescription and OTC drugs. I’m sure others could go on about what “change” means to Obama as the world class “leader.”

  2. joemowrey
    March 26, 2013, 1:26 pm

    On the contrary, Barack Obama is well into his depth. He is doing exactly what his corporate paymasters hired him to do, on every front. This notion that he is somehow just a weak-willed pawn who gets “shoved around” is nothing more than self delusion on the part of those who still can’t bring themselves to accept what a grand master of the long con Obama is, and that in fact, they are the ones being conned.

    I don’t see anyone “shoving around” our poor, helpless Assassinator in Chief when he meets in the Oval Office every Tuesday with his gang of murderous, sociopathic thugs to determine who will be obliterated by our international fleet of killing drones.

    Barack Obama and his cadre or fascist war mongers has done more to bring us to the brink of open totalitarianism than any previous President. Thanks to his “leadership” we now live in a country where anyone can be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial, U.S. citizens included. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can be killed on the whim of one man, with no oversight or accountability. At the same time, he is consciously and willingly waging more direct and proxy wars than any previous President. He is a serial liar, a war criminal, and a shill for corporate America. He is anything but naive. Clever like a conscienceless fox is more like it.

  3. DICKERSON3870
    March 26, 2013, 1:31 pm

    RE: “And in the end, Obama will have proven to be no better a friend to Israel or the Palestinians than any of his predecessors. All of them claimed to oppose the occupation, but none of them ever did a damn thing to end it. ~ Walt

    MY COMMENT: None of them ever did a damn thing to end the occupation because they are/were what Robert Naiman calls “two state fakers”!
    From the standpoint of U.S. domestic politics, it just wasn’t politically expedient to do “a damn thing to end the occupation”. As (Rabbi) Michael Lerner wrote of Hillary Clinton, she had the right inclination as regards the Israel-Palestine issue, but she just wasn’t willing to expend the requisite political capital to do anything about it.

    SEE: “Flotilla 3.0: Redeeming Obama’s Palestine Speech with Gaza’s Ark”, By Robert Naiman, truth-out.org, 3/25/13

    [EXCERPT] . . . Bibi doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state; Bibi’s government doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state; AIPAC doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state; and Congress – which defers to AIPAC – doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state. Of course, many of them mouth the words – not Bibi’s government, they don’t even do that – but those who mouth the words oppose any practical measure that would help bring an independent Palestinian state into existence. They’re “two state fakers.” Settlement freeze? Impossible. UN membership for Palestine? Can’t be done. No, according to the two state fakers, the only option on the menu in the restaurant for the Palestinians is to return to negotiations without a settlement freeze, negotiations that for 20 years have brought more land confiscation, more settlements, more restrictions on Palestinian movement and commerce, more oppression. And so, Obama was saying, my hands are tied. Don’t look at me. . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/15307-flotilla-30-redeeming-obamas-palestine-speech-with-gazas-ark

  4. DICKERSON3870
    March 26, 2013, 2:19 pm

    RE: “Although Obama warned that the occupation was preventing Israel from gaining full acceptance in the world, he also made it clear that Israelis could count on the United States to insulate them as much as possible from the negative effects of their own choices.” ~ Walt

    MY COMMENT: By insulating Israel as much as possible from the negative effects of their own choices, the U.S. enables Israel’s occupation and other self-destructive actions (e.g. Israel’s Iron Wall strategy) that inevitably lead to “Israel’s regional (and ultimately, international) isolation”.
    Think of a dog chasing its own tail. No matter how hard the dog tries, no matter how frenetically it runs in a tight circle, it can never quite catch its own tail. Its own tail is always just barely out of its reach.

    P.S. “Threads” by ‘This Will Destroy You’ on “This Will Destroy You” [VIDEO, 05:42] – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdqT3MDAG2w

    • DICKERSON3870
      March 26, 2013, 2:42 pm

      P.P.S. Saxon Shore: “How We Conquered the Western World on Horseback”, from the 2005 CD ‘The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore’ [VIDEO, 03:52] – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRRGLRgHPKM

    • DICKERSON3870
      March 26, 2013, 3:13 pm

      P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Obama, Israel, and the Politics of Catharsis”, By Norman Pollack, Counterpunch, 3/22/13

      [EXCERPTS] Obama’s Middle East mission, given star treatment at every turn, demonstrates, like the famous Cairo speech in his first term, verbal subterfuge, a handy cover for insinuating US power in the region even more than sought by his predecessors. . .
      . . . We see in this visit, all the stops pulled out, a politics of catharsis: say the right things, blow away the repression practiced on the Other, and then go back to turning the same screws. Obama’s performance in Israel mirrors his domestic performance: promises meant to be broken, talk of peace while engaging in war, and when the accumulated deceit is about to burst open, provide the purgative with more words of unctious platitudes. . .
      . . . Obama’s putatively ennobling rhetoric (i.e., Ben Rhodes’s rather glib speech writing) is not persuasive because Israel under no circumstances wants peace–and, by not taking a stand on the settlements, Obama merely reinforces that position. He loves the adulation (and support which will now come from home), but this trip is a clear example of public relations trumping substance. Perhaps we can see two further interventions (Iran, Syria), if indeed US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is finally winding down. Hints of that were dropped in his various conversations.
      I am sick of being lied to, whether domestic or foreign policy. In this case, Obama overlooks the harshness of Israel’s occupation. The wall going up on the border between Israel and Egypt, as with the other walls (Gaza, Golan, etc.) speaks volumes about a hunkering down–Fortress Israel [i.e. Israel’s Iron Wall strategy – J.L.D.]–rather than moving toward peace. And Obama legitimizes the charade.
      But why expect otherwise? US armed drones for targeted assassination, Obama’s signature weapon, testifies to violation of international law with impunity, much as Israel too does–making for compatible bedfellows. In world opinion, the US and Israel are engaged in a race to the moral bottom via the militarization of the two societies [“Down, down, down we (the U.S.) go into the deep, dark abyss; hand in hand with Israel.” – J.L.D.]. From Irgun to Likud to the present, a straightline projection of the will to dominate the Palestinians by whatever means, not unlike US foreign policy with its Obama emphasis on covert and paramilitary operations (CIA/JSOC). . .

      ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/22/obama-israel-and-the-politics-of-catharsis/

  5. James Canning
    March 26, 2013, 4:04 pm

    I continue to think the best way forward is for virtually all countries to recognise Palestine with pre-1967 borders. Make clear the presence of Jews in the West Bank does not change the border of Israel.

  6. seafoid
    March 26, 2013, 4:22 pm

    “Colonisation knows neither humanity nor justice, neither civilisation nor progress. It is at its core an imperialist phenomenon . It thus requires for its development and maintenance the similtaneous existence of two societies where one is suppressed by the other ”

    Manifesto of the Algerian people, 1943
    When Jews were being slaughtered by the Nazis.

  7. ritzl
    March 26, 2013, 10:43 pm

    As much as Walt’s position takes courage to continue to voice (not so much Miller who seems to waft in and out of enabling and lamenting this situation), what are their public prognoses for solving this? When will they shift from retrospective lament to forward-looking advocacy of a position based on realities?

    Walt is an outsider, but Miller is an insider/policy maker. Surely he can describe a potential policy path of action, in short declarative sentences, and help deliver it. Something beyond some ethereal “the will of the Lobby can be broken.” Help break it already. Publicly.

  8. foresomenteneikona
    March 26, 2013, 11:11 pm

    “…Obama will never use the tools at his disposal to pressure Israel to end its current policy…”

    The “tools at his disposal”? I don’t think that this comment indicates an awareness of how little Obama can do in the current political situation. Making speeches is the only thing he can do. AIPAC, Christians United for Israel, and their ilk own both houses of Congress. Any action that seeks to hold Israel to account will either be impossible because of Congressional opposition (e.g., limiting aid to Israel), or will incur consequences that are too great to make the action worth taking (e.g., if the Obama administration allowed the UN Security Council to sanction Israel for its settlement policy, the likely Congressional response would be to cut all US funding to the UN, pass resolutions censuring the President, etc.).

  9. foresomenteneikona
    March 26, 2013, 11:19 pm

    Every single Israeli government since 1967 has expanded settlements, in every single year. Even in 1982 (when the Sinai settlements were evacuated) and in 2005 (when the Gaza Strip settlements were evacuated), the number of settlers living in settlements in the Occupied Territories increased, as expansion of other settlements more than compensated for the evacuations.

    There is no reason to believe that Israel will, on its own, stop settling the West Bank. The only thing capable of convincing the Israeli people or an Israeli government to halt settlement expansion is significant outside pressure, probably in the form of sanctions or the threat of sanctions. For the foreseeable future, the US will make sure that such pressure is not applied to Israel.

    By the time that the US is ready to allow international pressure on Israel significant enough to halt settlement expansion, it will be too late to discuss a two-state solution.

  10. MK_Ultra
    March 27, 2013, 6:51 pm

    The man has been properly dobbed “Oblahblah” by many. I couldn’t agree more. The other nickname “Odroner” serves well. Not to mention “Obomber.” He makes Bush pale with envy.

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