Why is Barack Obama letting Israel get away with murder?
Barack Obama held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House this week. (AFP/File)
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It was a disturbing moment to watch at the White House an arrogant Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, shaking hands with a seemingly weakened American President, Barack Obama, in a futile bid to improve ties between the two leaders. And adding irresponsibility to mix was the American president’s admission that he would not be focusing throughout the remainder of his term in office on resolving the Israeli occupation of Palestine, now a region less than 20 percent of the original state, until 1948 a British mandate.
Obama’s public statement skipped any mention of Israeli colonies in the Israeli-occupied West Bank or Israeli brutality against Palestinians — around 80 have been killed since the start of October, some of them youngsters who were armed with knives and fighting Israeli colonists. He strikingly underlined that “Israel is one of my foreign policy priorities that has expressed itself not only in words, but in deeds”.
What was most offensive in Netanyahu’s opening remarks was his declaration that he backed a vision of “two states for two peoples” but maintained that any Palestinian state must be “demilitarised” and recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, a condition that Palestinians have long rejected. More than 20 per cent of Israel’s population are Palestinian Arabs and there are recent polls that reveal the growth of the Arab population while the number of Jews is markedly decreasing.
The Israeli leader bragged before the American president that he was interested in taking practical steps to calm tensions with the Palestinians. But he did not reveal any of these steps or, for example, had ever identified Israel’s final borders. An Israeli commentator recently suggested an attractive Israeli first step that would include withdrawal from occupied East Jerusalem, a suggestion that undoubtedly would be welcomed by Palestinians since their objective is to establish their capital there. On the other hand, the Arab governments offered in 2002 an Arab Peace Initiative whereby all Arab states would recognise Israel, provided it pulled back to the l967 armistice line.
But since it has now been revealed that Obama is not keen on pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, his disappointing and weak excuse is that there is not enough time to negotiate such a pact before his term ends next year.
What may also be regrettable in the region is Israel’s surprise pursuit, revealed by Netanyahu, of a new US-Israeli military assistance agreement that would preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge as the current agreement expires next year. Obama had noted at the opening of the meeting with Netanyahu last Monday that he made military aid to Israel a US to foreign policy priority. “And I expressed this not only in words but also in deeds.” He bragged: “We had more security cooperation than any administration. We make sure that our ally, Israel, cannot only defend itself but also work with us on security threats.”
In turn, Netanyahu told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee two weeks ago that his goal at present was to convince Obama that US military assistance should be increased from the current level of $3.1 billion a year to “the sum of $4 billion plus”.
Yousuf Munayyer, executive director of the Washington-based US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, stressed that “President Obama should not acquiesce and give Netanyahu this or any prize as long as US support is complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights abuses against Palestinians. It’s beyond time to cut off this gravy train which has only ensured blood — mostly from Palestinian victims — will continue to be shed in Israel/Palestine.”
Dana Millbank, a popular Washington Post columnist, writing last Tuesday under the headline “Bibi [Netanyahu] keeps driving the wedge”, quoted Brian Becker, national coordinator of the antiwar ANSWER Coalition, as saying “there has been a sea change in US attitudes toward the Israeli government and its policies and toward US aid toward Israel”. He added that Israel’s “terrorism has meant that many people, including a large sector of the Jewish American community, are now critical of Israel instead of giving a blank cheque to Israel”.
The bottom line is that it would be harsh on the Palestinians and all others in the Middle East to wait for at least two more years for serious peace negotiations to resume should Obama definitely abandon his early promising drive for a peace settlement when he made his first trip to occupied Jerusalem in March, 2013.
By George S. Hishmeh
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