Posted Under: Israel/Palestine,Obama,US Politics
Following Obama’s 45 minute speech about the Middle East and North Africa, I am left predictably bored by it all. We were told the U.S. would be “turning a new page” regarding its relationship with these states which are experiencing great upheaval right now.
Hillary Clinton took the stage first and said “new” about 38 times and left. President Obama then stepped on and began an emotional narrative regarding the rightful internal overthrow of (previously supported) dictators (who he didn’t apologise for supporting). “It should come as no surprise”, he gushed. It didn’t.
Obama then explained that America’s interests are not contrary to the peoples hopes and ambitions in these troubled countries, but are intrinsically tied to them, even inferring that they depend on them, as we will see later. Iraq was mentioned as if were a previous drunken adventure they have now learnt from. Still, he insisted that Iraq projected a “promise of democracy […] a multi-ethnic, a multi-sectarian democracy”. Still only a promise? This after 8 years and hundreds of thousands dead. I think the invasion was based on a promise too.
He woke from the malaise and was sterner when mentioning Syria. He declared that Assad and his regime must either “lead the transition [to reform and democracy], or get out of the way”. What is mystifying is how there is even an option here as Assad has already killed hundreds of protestors, much like Gaddafi, who is now branded an illegitimate tyrant. A bit of convenient inconsistency then. Moreover, “get out of the way” was not his most detailed and explanatory comment regarding Syria since the uprising. Softening again, he spoke of Bahrain as a “long standing partner” who had a legitimate right to exact the rule of law and maintain its sovereignty and integrity. He blamed a lot of the strife on Iranian influence, but did say the Bahraini regime must conduct a dialogue with the protestors, and can’t if they keep throwing them in prison. It seems the Saudi tanks were incredibly well disguised.
Moving on to Egypt and economic policy, he said that America were prepared to “relieve up to $1bn in debt” Egypt owed, and “ensure $1bn was made available for borrowing” for various infrastructure projects. This was seemingly part of an economic plan which involved, as quoted, “trade, not just aid” to the countries in the region. His idea was that “protectionism [would give] way to openness”. Convenient if you’re America, I’d say. You know, after you are done with being protectionists over your own economy in the past in order for it to develop so it doesn’t become destabilised by flaky and unreliable foreign investment. But nevermind that.
After all of these periphery, drawn out comments, Obama came to the meat of the speech everyone was waiting for – Israeli/Palestinian relations and America’s role in and around them. As both peoples become more shrill in their indignation, the U.S. has not provided anything resembling an assertive turning point in the mediation of the affair:
But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.
The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
Now, this prelude to anything meaningful already positions the Israeli argument as the driving one. Obviously, Israel will be controlling the conversation because it is already a state and any negotiations are negotiations regarding Israeli concessions. However, calling for a “viable Palestine” shelves any notion that one has been dreamt of yet by the Palestinians, and damages their bargaining power when the U.N. General Assembly convene later this year in what could be a historic moment in this war of attrition.
The lacklustre speech slowly unravelled its deceptive purpose:
These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I know that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict.
Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.
This is important on two counts. Firstly, Obama positions the issues of territory and security before the issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees right of return. What remains to be seen is if these issues do in fact come before the more sensitive ones he has placed afterwards. Is there even a solution to security and borders without addressing the massive hurdles of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees? It is almost a non sequitur. This subtle infraction will have neo-cons and the American Israeli lobby sit back contented with the speech. By way of this deft positioning, Obama has reiterated U.S. hostility towards Palestinian aspirations by delegitimising the seemingly inevitable declaration of Palestinian statehood in September, and harming the on-going reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas, which is key to it and proves quite a problem to an Israeli dominated discourse.
Secondly, Obama has solidified the role of the U.S. in these negotiations. By identifying the conditions of peace and stability as such, he is putting a deflated ball back in the court of the Palestinians, while “unshakably” supporting Israel as it “must defend itself” and its borders. All of this can only be said and done from a position of leadership and demonstrative power. The U.S. has strategically reasserted this. As we have seen with the recent and isolated veto in the Security Council relating to Israeli settlements, the American administration is not changing its policy or its position in this conflict and will remain a staunch defender of Israeli interests.
Hearing “new this” and “new that” repeatedly at the beginning by a hype-woman does nothing to frame the speech as something it isn’t. It was anything but new. What it was was another dressing down of Palestinian aspirations with eyes firmly fixed on September.