Let me make one thing perfectly clear: President Barack Obama definitively demonstrated at the trilateral summit in New York that he will not contribute anything significant to peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians. When Obama dropped his demand for a freeze on Israeli settlement building, all of which is illegal according to international law, and adopted a softer formulation calling for a show of “restraint,” he was telling the world that he is surrendering to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to his powerful American supporters, and to their wish to continue to suppress any Palestinian aspirations for an independent state.
Of course you will not read about this abject American surrender in the New York Times, although a Reuters report that appeared on the Times’ web site did characterize the summit as a “dud.” However, the self-described pro-peace, pro-Israel organizations and their spokespeople outdid the mainstream media in spinning the summit in a positive direction. J Street, for instance, called Obama’s recent statements a “move in the right direction” in an email sent to its mailing list. They also praised the President’s performance at the summit in a public statement declaring that they, “applaud the serious commitment President Obama has demonstrated since the first days of his Presidency to personally engage in a sustained and active pursuit of a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Daniel Levy (New America Foundation) interprets Obama’s capitulation with some tortured logic which whimsically concludes that the chastened President will eventually stiffen up and actually confront the Israelis in the future.
When I was growing up in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx, we all believed that if you were attacked and the attacker intended on using a weapon, he would show it during the initial phase of combat. Applying the same logic, I have to conclude that Obama will never use the weapon of cutting Israeli military aid or of curtailing US diplomatic support. If he intended to do so, he would have shown that weapon before now, instead of suffering the humiliation of dropping his demand for a full freeze on Israeli settlement expansion.
It is generally understood by even the least perceptive and biased of Middle East pundits that if Obama does not compel Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, it ain’t gonna happen. That is why in an internal memo, a top official in one of those pro-Israel, pro-peace Jewish organizations, who understands Obama’s weakness, wrote that the “odds of [Obama’s policy] success are very low.” Despite this gloomy prognosis the organization over which he presides continues to tell its members what a wonderful job the President is doing in the peace negotiations and to encourage its donors to contribute more money to help them support the President’s peacemaking efforts.
Referring to Israeli Benny Morris’ groundbreaking book about the Nakba (the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1947-49), the Palestinian academic and politician Hanan Ashrawi said at a lecture I attended in the 90s: “When we [Palestinians] told you about it, you said we were crazy, but now that one of your own says it is true, you start to believe it.” In order to find out how ineffective Obama is, you do not have to watch al-Jazeera or read Palestinian-American journalists like Ali Abunimah. Just listen to one of our own. And who could be more “our own” than the Israeli-American newspaperman Larry Derfner. Derfner wrote in the Jerusalem Post that Obama has been played for a sucker (freier pl. freierim in Hebrew/Yiddish) by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and that the whole of Israel is laughing at our beloved and venerated young President.
Derfner is an Israeli, but not one of those sensitive “shoot and cry” writers, native-born peace party types, who have Hebraicized names like Avraham Hazak.1 Those guys always bail out when the going gets tough. During the Gaza war, they could never get it together to call a war crime a war crime and instead justified Israeli aggression as understandable self-defense.
No, Derfner is no Avraham Hazak, just check out the sunglasses he sports and the brash expression he wears in that photograph that appears with his column. The guy is pure New York, in the tradition of Jimmy Breslin, straight talk journalism. And unlike the beautiful Israelis like Hazak, he knows America. You can believe him when he says Obama has “caved in to the Netanyahu government on the peace process.”
The truth is that the real Obama is not the idealist he portrayed himself to be in his Presidential campaign. He is a clever politician who has learned how to accommodate the powerful and not appear too obsequious. He is the Obama that pandered to the members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) by stating he believed in an undivided Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. He is the Obama who informed the press in Iowa that he would permit Israel to dictate his policy decisions on the Iranian nuclear issue. Both of these declarations of fealty occurred after signing on Dennis Ross as Middle East campaign advisor. After a period in the wilderness, the blatantly pro-Israeli Ross has become President Obama’s closest adviser on Middle East foreign policy.
The real Obama will not be the hero of Palestinian/Israeli peacemaking, but may be the first American President who has an illegal outpost named after him. As Derfner predicts, do not be surprised if a settlement soon appears on the West Bank called “Havat Obama.”
Make no mistake about it. The chutzpah that the American President initially demonstrated by raising expectations about a new American peace initiative in the Middle East by appointing George Mitchell as envoy and then by making the freeze demand and then suddenly throwing out the bit, is not the audacity of some dope. It is the calculation of a politician who knows how to cater to the powerful in US/Israeli relations, and the name of that game is the Israel lobby.
Let me make another thing perfectly clear. Barack Obama’s Israel/Palestine initiative will make many understand the futility of hope for a just two-state solution.
The interesting question, however, is who are the real freierim here?
- Avraham Hazak is not a real person. Any resemblance my characterization of him has to any living or deceased Israeli writers is completely intentional. [↩]