“Barack Obama’s America is not delivering the goods”
Posted by rabbibrian on August 23, 2009
Gideon Levy, one of the moral heroes of Israel, recently published a challenging article in Haaretz, entitled, “Obama’s America is not delivering the goods.” Levy argues that the great hope that Obama would provide the leadership for a Middle East Peace is “on its deathbed!”
Here are some of his words:
With great sorrow and deep consternation, we hereby declare the death of the latest hope. Perhaps rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase the famous quote by Mark Twain, but the fears are being validated day after day. Barack Obama’s America is not delivering the goods. Sharing a glass of beer with a racist cop and a pat on the back of Hugo Chavez are not what we hoped for; wholesale negotiations on freezing settlement construction are also not what we expected. Just over six months after the most promising president of all began his term, perhaps hope has a last breath left, but it is on its deathbed.
He came into office amid much hoopla. The Cairo speech ignited half the globe. Making settlements the top priority gave rise to the hope that, finally, a statesman is sitting in the White House who understands that the root of all evil is the occupation, and that the root of the occupation’s evil is the settlements. From Cairo, it seemed possible to take off. The sky was the limit.
Then the administration fell into the trap set by Israel and is showing no signs of recovery.
A settlement freeze, something that should have been understood by a prime minister who speaks with such bluster about two states – a peripheral matter that Israel committed to in the road map – has suddenly turned into a central issue. Special envoy George Mitchell is wasting his time and prestige with petty haggling. A half-year freeze or a full year? What about the 2,500 apartment units already under construction? And what about natural growth? And kindergartens?
Perhaps they will reach a compromise and agree on nine months, not including natural growth though allowing completion of apartments already under construction. A grand accomplishment.
Jerusalem has imposed its will on Washington. Once again we are at the starting point – dealing with trifles from which it is impossible to make the big leap over the great divide.”
Levy’s words were shocking to me, but they resonated with a deepening sense that he is right. Obama has fallen into a trap set by the Israeli government that has allowed Israel to ignore the American demand for a settlement freeze and to control the terms of the debate. Instead of insisting on a settlement freeze – “not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions” – as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said, Obama has been drawn into haggling with Israel about outposts, natural growth and other issues. The Israeli government has managed to tie the issue of settlements to the issue of Arab recognition of Israel, a strategy that not only enables them to avoid compliance with the American demand but also gives them time to continue creating facts on the ground. And this they have done.
While Mitchell and other members of the Administration are haggling behind closed doors with the Israelis about the terms of a settlement freeze, the Israeli government continues building settlements and expelled Palestinian homeowners in Sheikh Jarah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, replacing them with Israeli right wing settlers. The expulsion in Jerusalem is financed and supported by right wing Americans. It was a cynical and brilliant move, one that Obama was unable to prevent. It shifted the debate about settlements to the right of the Jewish People to rule over Jerusalem. In my next post I will address this issue of Sheikh Jarah that Sara Kreimer, wrote in Haaretz on Friday.
I read Levy’s article on the same day that the New York Times reported that Obama was not firmly committed to a public option as part of Health Care Reform. Maybe Obama’s problem in the Middle East, is related to his problem in the health care debate. Obama has made bi-partisanship and compromise, his overriding value. On health care bi-partisanship and compromise has jeopardized the possibility of a meaningful health care reform. It has not brought him any substantial support from the Republicans. Obama’s commitment to seek common ground has made it impossible for him to counter the power of the Health insurance lobby, the banking and financial industry, and the Israel Lobby. In terms of Israel, Obama has made concession after concession.
Strong American pressure on Israel is essential for Middle East Peace. Unfortunately the peace movement in Israel, in as much as such a thing even exists, is minute and only supported by a very small minority of Israelis. There are many wonderful Israeli human rights and peace organizations but there is no organized peace movement. It is possible that if Israel is forced to give up the settlements, the majority of Israelis will support this move but Israel will never give up all the economic and political benefits of the occupation without pressure. Maybe Obama thinks he can get a freeze on settlements by consensus. As a result, “Jerusalem has imposed its will on Washington”.
I hope that Levy is wrong. Those of us who supported Obama precisely because he offered a moral vision of transformation must urge Obama to exert strong pressure to end the settlements. A freeze on settlements is essential for peace. As people who care deeply about peace in the Middle East, we need to challenge Obama and to build a movement of American citizens dedicated to a moral and evenhanded American policy that supports justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians.