Monday, May 23, 2011

Obama's warning to Israel falls on deaf ears

President Obama’s latest speeches on Palestine, like his visit to Ireland and to London, are arousing a whole range of emotions and reactions.

Anti-war protesters will gather tomorrow outside Buckingham Palace against the three wars currently being fought by the United States under Obama’s leadership – Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

As the Stop the War Campaign points out, Israel continues to enjoy unflinching support from its US Big Brother – large scale arms sales, aid and political support.

But simply to note this would be to miss out on new realities unleashed by the revolutions of the Arab Spring and its effects on the struggle of the Palestinians for self-determination.

Thousands took part in the May marches throughout the Occupied Territories to mark the Nabka, "catastrophe" in Arabic, that refers to the destruction of Palestinian villages and expulsion of their residents that accompanied Israel's declaration of independence.

Israeli border police troops fired on protesters in an attack which drew international condemnation. Despite 11 fatalities and scores of injuries, Palestinians are continuing to prepare a large-scale march for June 5.

This, combined with the demand for statehood which the Palestinians are taking to the United Nations in September, is the tumultuous background to Obama’s call on Israel to “make the hard choices”.

After meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama refused to back down from his insistence that peace negotiations must focus on Israel’s pre-1967 war borders.

While this is not a new position for US presidents, with Obama proposing “mutually agreed land swaps” in support of a two-state solution, it has nonetheless aroused fury in the Zionist camp.

A US official described Netanyahu’s arrogant, hostile response to Obama as “over the top” while in the United States itself, Zionists and the Republican right have launched a ferocious tirade. Some, suggested one website, consider Obama a “pro-Palestinian Marxist, Islamophile, anti-white bigot, anti-American Marxist and a tyrant in the making”.

While Obama is desperately trying to adapt to the Arab Spring, at the same time fearing its consequence in countries like Syria where he wants Assad to lead changes rather than go, his reference to pre-1967 borders is already looking decidedly shaky.

Palestinian leaders from Hamas and Fatah do not themselves agree on the proposal to return to the 1967 borders. And they currently face a boycott against their monopoly of politics by eight Palestinian groups affiliated to the PLO who have withdrawn from the negotiations to form the unity government recently agreed in Cairo.

The head of Fatah’s press office, Issam al-Halabi has rightly noted: “Politicians are following the people. They don’t have much say, the people are doing everything and this is a turning point in the Palestinian struggle to return, which has recently surprised everyone.” Palestinian negotiators should take advantage of these popular movements to “back up their stance during negotiations”, he believes.

Two things need to be said. One is that Netanyahu’s immediate rejection of Obama’s reference to pre-1967 borders killed off negotiations before they began. Secondly, exploiting the sacrifices of Palestinian youth in Gaza, the Golan Heights and throughout the Occupied Territories as a negotiating ploy is quite treacherous and cynical.

When Obama told the AIPAC that “we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace” because the world “is moving too fast”, he was actually keenly aware of the truth.

He was, in effect, warning the Israeli ruling class that its days – similar to the position that the apartheid regime in South Africa found itself in - are numbered. The renewed Palestinian uprisings, like the incredibly courageous movements in Syria and Yemen, are part of a global movement against the status quo. It is mobilising countless youth from Tunis to Tahrir and now in the Spanish May 15 occupation movement. It is impossible to imagine this process succeeding without an independent Palestinian state.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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