Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why Strive for Two States when there are Already Three?

by Raphael Israeli

President Obama’s adamant insistence to establish two states as the panacea for the Middle Eastern mess, is becoming less and less comprehensible, let alone feasible, despite the oratory that he expends with great rhetorical talent in the Arab world and among his European allies. How does he, how can he, reduce the reality of Israel, Jordan and the practically independent Gaza Strip, who encompass the majority of the Palestinians, into two countries: Israel and Palestine? Is it regarded a breakthrough to eliminate existing realities in order to realize the dream of new ones?

In his admirable and courageous effort to strike the balance between Israeli and Arab claims, by making demands on both of them, in spite of the historical inaccuracies and non-sequiturs involved, he has himself negated many of the assumptions he was trying to make. It is no coincidence that he was applauded by the Arabs and Muslims only when he remonstrated against Israel (the settlements, “occupation”) or upheld Muslim history and Palestinian “rights”. An embarrassingly dead silence accompanied his recognition of Jewish rights. Comments in the Muslim world following his speeches in Cairo and Germany corroborate the same propensities.

Obama repeated his commitment to the “unbreakable link” between the US and Israel, something which descended like a hammer on the Arabs’ heads. But he rationalized that link by the happenings of the Shoa’h, which though constituting another shock to the Arabs, do not tell the story of the ancient biblical link of Israel and the Jews to their homeland, nor the commonality of values, freedom and democracy between the two countries. In his effort to build up Islam as a faith of peace, he could not, at the same time, remind his audiences of the sorry history of expansion, conquest and elimination of other cultures and native populations, nor could he dwell on the almost total absence of freedom and democracy in their midst.

Obama wanted Israel to remove roadblocks, to remove its troops, cease the construction of housing for existing settlements, lift the siege on Gaza, in order to facilitate “humanitarian” services to the Palestinians. Very noble endeavours indeed. But when he does that at the same time that he increases his forces in Afghanistan, precisely in order to press the siege on Taliban positions around Qandahar, that sounds neither consistent nor credible. If he needs reinforcements and more firepower and roadblocks against an enemy 10 thousand miles away, how much more so Israel, whose proximity to its enemies a few miles away from its centers of population, render it even more vulnerable than the Afghani regime that the Americans have been trying to prop up at a great risk and cost?

Obama’s admission of the reality of Hamas, which he pledged to back by allowing that organization, branded as a terrorist one, to collect once again in the US their funds under the facades of charities, also implies many other demarches : that it be removed from the list of terrorist organizations, lest Washington find itself supportive of terrorism; that the Hamas government, which was elected legally by the Palestinians, be recognized as their legitimate government, hence the shift of legitimacy from the Palestinian Authority to them; and the possible recognition of Gaza as the legitimate Palestinian state, with whom Israel, the US and all the rest could negotiate the other aspects under dispute. Obama understands that neither he nor Israel could be expected to deal with a government and its opposition simultaneously, no matter how “realistic” about the Hamas Obama wishes to be.

Obama’s quest to waive democracy for the sake of “stability”, will not work, because it cannot work. Many American presidents before him have allied with dictators for the sake of defence partnerships in the era of the Cold War. Came Ronald Reagan, followed by George W. Bush, who perceived that freedom and democracy stood above fake “peace” and fleeting “stability”. They recognized that dictatorships and evil regimes were the engines of terror and oppression in the world, no matter how stable and persistent they were (the Soviets and other Communists, Saddam Hussein, the Islamic revolutions in Iran and other parts of the Islamic world). They fought for breaking that evil stability, with a measure of success, though at the price of temporary instability. Is Obama endeavouring to reverse that situation, by kowtowing to the monarchs and dictators of the Middle East, and exercising pressure on the sole country which still stands for freedom and democracy in the midst of adversity?

Raphael Israeli is a professor of Islamic history at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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