Saturday, September 24, 2011

More on Obama's UN speech and the Palestinian statehood issue

This is a discussion from Al Jazeera English of Obama's speech this past week to the UN posted to YouTube 09/23/2011, which deals specifically with Obama's latest formulation of his Administration's stance on Israel-Palestine. The most interesting part to me begins around 9.15, where we see Obama's various presentations on the issue, beginning with his January 2009 condemnation of the Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories - "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" - and ending with last week's virtual endorsement of the Israeli hardline position.

This seemingly extreme swing in Obama's position recalls an observation by David Bromwich, "Obama has always preferred the symbolic authority of the grand utterance to the actual authority of a directed policy: a policy fought for in particulars, carefully sustained, and traceable to his own intentions."

Bromwich has focused on Obama's seeming overconfidence in the power of his own rhetoric (The CIA, the Libyan Rebellion, and the President Huffington Post 03/31/2011):

One of Barack Obama's first acts as president was to say that Guantanamo must go. It did not go. Soon after, he said that the Israeli settlements must go. They expanded. Obama made his peace in the end with Guantanamo and the Israeli settlements. He restarted the military tribunals at Guantanamo -- a feature of the Bush-Cheney constitution which he once had explicitly deplored -- and recently went out of his way to defend the Guantanamo-like abuse (compulsory nakedness and sleep deprivation) inflicted on an American prisoner, Bradley Manning, in the Marine Corps brig at Quantico. One had come to think of "X must go" assertions by Obama as speculative prefaces to a non-existent work. His words, in his mind, are actions. When he speaks them once or twice, he has done what he was put here to do. If the existing powers defy his wishes, he embraces the powers and continues on his way. [my emphasis]
Of course, Bromwich doesn't actually know what's going on in Obama's mind. But he is making a plausible assumption in observing that Obama seems to overvalue the power of his words, especially when his own actions visibly contradict them.

Robert Fisk was appalled by Obama's speech, as he explains in A President who is helpless in the face of Middle East reality The Independent 09/23/2011. He refers to it as Obama's "pathetic, humiliating UN speech on Wednesday in which he handed US policy in the Middle East over to Israel's gimmick government."

For the American President who called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, an end to the theft of Arab land in the West Bank – Israeli "settlements" is what he used to call it – and a Palestinian state by 2011, Obama's performance was pathetic.

As usual, Hanan Ashrawi, the only eloquent Palestinian voice in New York this week, got it right. "I couldn't believe what I heard," she told Haaretz, that finest of Israeli newspapers. "It sounded as though the Palestinians were the ones occupying Israel. There wasn't one word of empathy for the Palestinians. He spoke only of the Israelis' troubles..." Too true. And as usual, the sanest Israeli journalists, in their outspoken condemnation of Obama, proved that the princes of American journalists were cowards. "The limp, unimaginative speech that US President Barack Obama delivered at the United Nations... reflects how helpless the American President is in the face of Middle East realities," Yael Sternhell wrote.
And he adds these observations:

How come, let's ask, that the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, flew from Tel Aviv to New York for the statehood debate on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's own aircraft? How come Netanyahu was too busy chatting to the Colombian President to listen to Obama's speech? He only glanced through the Palestinian bit of the text when he was live-time, face to face with the American President. This wasn't "chutzpah". This was insult, pure and simple.

And Obama deserved it. After praising the Arab Spring/Summer/ Autumn, whatever – yet again running through the individual acts of courage of Arab Tunisians and Egyptians as if he had been behind the Arab Awakening all along, the man dared to give the Palestinians 10 minutes of his time, slapping them in the face for daring to demand statehood from the UN. Obama even – and this was the funniest part of his preposterous address to the UN – suggested that the Palestinians and Israelis were two equal "parties" to the conflict. [my emphasis]
The conservative Jerusalem Post reports that there is a huge majority support among Israelis for Israel accepting a UN recognition of an upgraded status for Palestine (Poll: 70% of Israelis say Israel should accept UN decision 09/21/2100. The title rounds up; the story reports it at 69%).

Other commentators have expressed justified concern about Obama's current position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, including the following.

MJ Rosenberg, On Israel and Palestine, Obama Is Rick Perry Media Matters 09/23/2011: "For the first time since the U.N. conferred statehood on Israel 63 years ago, the sitting U.S president told the world body that the United States will back Israel, right or wrong."

Jim Lobe, Politics Throws Palestine Under the Bus Inter Press Service 09/24/2011: "President Barack Hussein Obama, as his right-wing and Islamophobic critics like to call him, said nothing to which even the most right-wing faction of Netanyahu's government could object."

Gideon Levey, Past his sell-by date Haaretz 09/25/2011 on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's UN speech:

Netanyahu, peddler of emotions, did not shrink from or forget anything, save reality. Abraham the patriarch, Hezekiah, Isaiah, pogroms, the Holocaust, 9/11, the children, the grandchildren and, of course, Gilad Shalit - all fodder for the tear wringer that assuredly didn't bring forth a single tear anywhere on the planet, with the possible exception of a few Jewish nursing homes in Boca Raton, Florida. There, perhaps, people were still moved by this kitschy death speech.
And, he could have added, American Christian Zionists who cheer happily for anything that may bring more war in the Middle East.

Levy continues:

On Friday night the final curtain fell on Netanyahu's masked ball of a two-state solution. Hiding behind the curtain are darkness and gloom. And in that lies an event of historical performance: It proved to the world that Israel wants neither an agreement nor a Palestinian state, and for that matter not peace, either. See you at the next war.
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