On Sunday May 22, 2011, President Barack Obama spoke at an AIPAC Conference, three days after giving his pro-Israeli speech at the State Department on his broader Middle East foreign policy. It was a shockingly partisan speech (*) to the extremist lobbying group that has the entire US Congress in an unprecedented headlock that has become the envy of even the National Rifle Association.
Of course, it is all about the presidential election in 2012, and the importance of Jewish electoral and funding support, but nevertheless it is such a blatant exercise of bad faith on the president’s part as to be worth noting. What is worse, the mainstream media typically misconstrued the event in a manner that compounds the outrage of the speech itself.
For instance, the NY Times headline says it all: “Obama Challenges Israel to Make Hard Choices for Peace”. As Obama points out himself, “there was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous US administrations”.
The supposed hard choices involve Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, only restating the generalised international consensus that has often been articulated by US leaders and in a variety of authoritative settings. This is hardly a hard choice, especially as interpreted by the White House’s former special envoy, George Mitchell, as including Israel’s perceived security requirements.
That is, the land swaps now seem to embrace not only the unlawful settlement blocs that had been conceded by George W Bush, but now appear to incorporate Netanyahu’s over the top demands for strategic depth at the expense of Palestinian land, demanding the appropriation of portions of the Jordan Valley along with the deployment of Israeli troops within a hypothetical demilitarised Palestinian state.
The speech was notable not for the non-existent “hard choices”, but for the scandalously obsequious pleading tone adopted by the president that acknowledges with pride everything about the US government’s relationship to the conflict that should disqualify it from ever again having a shred of diplomatic credibility as a third party intermediary.
Rewarding Israel’s crimes
Starting with the fawning “[w]hat a remarkable, remarkable crowd” to his heartfelt words of sympathy for Israeli victims of violence without even a scintilla of empathy for the far, far greater suffering daily endured by the entire Palestinian people, whether for decades living under occupation, blockade, in refugee camps and exile, or as displaced persons.
The passage on military assistance to a prosperous Israel should come as a shock to US taxpayers – but passes unnoticed by the Western media. I quote it in full because it so shamelessly encourages Israeli defiance of international law and a militarist outlook toward the future:
“I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. It’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels. And that includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system.”
It is not surprising that there was loud applause after each sentence in the paragraph just quoted, but it is surprising that a US president would try to please such an AIPAC audience in such an abject manner.
Obama similarly brushes aside any concern about the unlawfulness of the Israeli occupation or its uses of force against a defenceless population in Gaza in its massive attacks of two years ago. It brushes aside the Goldstone Report by name, suggesting that its assessment of Israel’s wrongdoing somehow challenges Israel’s right of self-defence – when in actuality the analysis does just the opposite, and more ardently than appropriate, in my view.
There is not a word about the flotilla incident of a year ago – or the recent excessive use of lethal force at the Israeli borders in response to the “right of return” demonstrations associated with the Palestinian remembrance of the 1948 Nakba.
Going beyond the negativity of his state department comments, Obama mimics Netanyahu in condemning the moves toward Palestinian Authority-Hamas reconciliation and unity.
He has the temerity to insist that “the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace”. Actually, reasonably considered, the agreement should have been welcomed as a huge step toward creating the possibility of peace.
Not a word of challenge is uttered by Obama toward the AIPAC audience on the issues of settlements, Jerusalem, or refugees.
Not a word about the Palestinian ordeal, or diminished horizons of possibility, and no plan to talk before a Palestinian audience.
After such a speech the only responsible response is for the Palestinian leadership to conclude, however belatedly, that it is no longer possible to look to Washington for guidance in reaching a peaceful, just, and sustainable resolution of the conflict.
Indeed, to accept such a Washington framing of peace at this point, in light of this Obama-Netanyahu posturing, would cast a dark shadow of incompetence and illegitimacy across the path of Palestinian diplomatic representation.
24 May, 2011.
Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Research Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has authored and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades. His most recent book is “Achieving Human Rights” (2009).
He is currently serving his fourth year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.
Other articles and statements by Richard Falk:
« UN expert warns of impact of prolonged Israeli occupation on Palestinian children », 3 May, 2011.
« Libya: Will we ever learn? Kicking the intervention habit », 8 March, 2011.
« Hopes of Gaza cast in lead », 4 January, 2011.
« The delusions of the peace process », 18 décembre 2010.
« Richard Falk Answers Questions Regarding His Annual Report », 17 July, 2010.
« Richard Falk: "I believe that Hamas should be treated as a political actor" », 9 April, 2010.
« The Palestinians are winning the legitimacy war: will it matter? », 5 April, 2010.
« UN expert repeats call for threat of sanctions against Israel over Gaza blockade », 29 December, 2009.
« Richard Falk: Israel’s War Crimes », 29 December, 2008.
« Richard Falk: My expulsion from Israel », 19 December, 2008.