Mar 28 2013

The Obama Gamble

Published by at 12:52 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics,US-Middle East

By Daoud Kuttab

My column in the NY Times Room for Debate

Without Addressing Settlements, There’s Little Hope

A charitable view of the Obama charm offensive in Israel requires that we assume the president is rewarding the Israeli occupiers in hopes they will somehow agree to do what is right.

In answering a question from Chuck Todd of NBC, the president conceded that he was unable to do what he wanted in the peace process in his first term but blamed his failure on the sheer difficulty of the problems. The truth is that the failure was because of domestic political pressures that have crippled his ability to conduct a fair and just foreign policy, especially in regard to Israel.

In his second term, electoral pressure is greatly reduced, but Obama has surprisingly continued to avoid confrontation. Instead he has elected to reward Israel’s stubborn refusal to stop its actions regarding settlements; the Obama administration is feeding into Israel’s endless appetite for weaponry, and giving the nation a free hand in Iran, Gaza and elsewhere.

President Obama is spoiling Israel with the hope that its leaders will make the necessary compromises.
It was a political mistake when Obama backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unreasonable condition that Palestinians must not only recognize Israel (which they have) but also recognize it as “a Jewish state.” The Palestinian citizen of Israel who interrupted Obama’s speech was correct in reminding Obama – the president of a country that cherishes separation of religion from state – that 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arab. His language was not balanced: While Obama demanded that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he stated that the illegal Jewish colonies built on Palestinian occupied lands are merely inconsistent with peace.

When he met with young Palestinians in the West Bank town of Al Bireh, Obama heard firsthand the deep anger. They told him that they are unable to visit Jerusalem a few kilometers to the south of their town and daily see Jewish settler violence go unpunished while fellow Palestinians are imprisoned often without charges or trials. Instead of decades of unfulfilled promises of a two-state solution, they said, they prefer to nonviolently struggle for one state in which all citizens have equal rights, a reminder to America’s first black president of the struggle of the civil rights movement.

Despite this asymmetry of support, Palestinian leaders are most likely to go along with Obama despite their better judgment that Israel will take the American goodies and refuse its advise about the need to end the occupation.

While Palestinians are willing to give hope a chance, they expect the Obama peace initiative to produce the release of prisoners held even before the signing of the first Oslo Accords some 20 years ago and to allow Palestinian development in the occupied lands declared “Area C” in the 1995 peace talks.

President Obama is spoiling Israel, already the strong and aggressive party, with the hope that its leaders will make the necessary compromises as a result of a new confidence. This is a huge gamble, which could end up a big loss. If it does, will he be willing to take serious action against the occupiers? That would be more challenging than this unconditional love fest.

Daoud Kuttab is the Palestinian columnist for and a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.

MARCH 27, 2013

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