Obama’s Hollow Words on Palestine

President Barack Obama struggled to explain his planned veto of UN recognition of a Palestinian state just a year after he welcomed the idea. His speech was a painful example of a leader knowing what is right and calculating that he can’t do what is right, notes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On Sept. 21, President Barack Obama delivered his latest message to the United Nations: “I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations – the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world.”

Actually, one thing that makes the world imperfect is the lopsided power distribution at the UN. This allows the permanent members of the Security Council (particularly the U.S.) to decide when peace does or does not get pursued.

But Obama did not call attention to this problem. Instead he pointed to Libya and the alleged achievement of freedom, security and peace in that North African land. Actually, what Libya amounted to, at least in part, was the destruction of a nation with a standard of living approaching that of Spain.

This destruction happened not because it was ruled by “the world’s longest serving dictator,” but because that particular dictator had a 40-year record of being an incredible pain in the rear end of the Western ruling elites.

Be that as it may, Obama was stuck with the conundrum that the people of Libya (and Tunisia and Egypt and maybe Yemen and Syria but, of course, not Bahrain) deserve self-determination and peace, while the Palestinians are apparently still out in the cold.

Obama explained that “I believe … that the Palestine people deserve a state of their own.” However, they only can have it if they follow a course which, over the last 20 years, has proved utterly bankrupt.

Indeed, Obama saved his most emphatic language for the moment when he insisted that bankruptcy is the only way to national success for the Palestinians: “Ultimately it is the Israelis and the Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement … that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state.”

Very odd. The President tells us that Washington won’t dictate national self-determination, but it damn well can dictate the route the Palestinians must take to get it. Even if that route has proven worthless and will, most likely, lead them to their ultimate destruction.
 
Two Critics
 
Robert Fisk, the famous reporter for the British newspaper The Independent, wrote a scathing report on President Obama’s speech. Here is part of what Fisk said:

“After praising the Arab Spring … the man [Obama] dared to give the Palestinians 10 minutes of his time, slapping them in the face for daring to demand statehood from the UN. Obama even – and this is the funniest part his preposterous address to the UN — suggested that the Palestinians and the Israelis were two equal ‘parties’ to the conflict.”
 
Fisk is angry and frustrated and one can only empathize with those feelings. But his piece leaves a lot unexplained. So let us look at Uri Avnery, founder and leader of Israel’s Gush Shalom peace movement, who commented on the speech this way:

“A wonderful speech. A beautiful speech. The language expressive and elegant. The arguments clear and convincing. The delivery flawless. A work of art. The art of hypocrisy. Almost every statement in the passage concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a lie.

“A blatant lie: the speaker knew it and so did the audience. … Being a moral person, he [Obama] must have felt the urge to vomit. Being a pragmatic person, he knew that he had to do it if he wanted to be re-elected.”
 
Now that is more to the point. Avnery tells us why Obama was lying. Because in a land of the deceived, only really good liars get … what? Get elected and then re-elected?

Well, that is probably true. However, in this particular case things are a bit more complicated. This might sound a bit shocking but, taken literally, Avnery is inaccurate. You can be critical of Israel and even sympathetic to the Palestinians and still, at least potentially, get elected to office in the United States.

Consider a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. It indicates that 42 percent of Americans are in favor of U.S. recognition of Palestinian statehood as against 26 percent opposed. Nearly one-third, 32 percent, had no opinion.

That means an energetic and savvy politician running for national office, who is also publicly in favor of Palestinian statehood, would have a pool of 74 percent of American voters to work on.

The numbers are even more impressive when considering only Democratic voters. There 54 percent are in favor of Palestinian statehood and only 14 percent opposed. These are telling numbers for a politician with pro-Palestinian sympathies– if the voters are really the end game here.
 
Neglected Voters

Unfortunately, they are not. Voters are only important at the actual time of election. At all other times the politicians’ constituencies are special-interest groups. It is the special interests that supply the resources the politicians actually use to manipulate the voters at election time.

The political parties know this very well. They know that what political suicide actually consists of is putting forth a candidate that displeases the special interests. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, 95 percent of the time both Democrat and Republican parties won’t even nominate a candidate who expresses opinions favorable to the Palestinians.

Therefore, such candidates hardly ever reach the voters. So, it is not quite as Avnery puts it, that Obama speaks lies so as to be re-elected. More accurately, he speaks lies so he can be re-nominated.

There is no politician in America capable of getting a presidential nomination who could or would have made a speech more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the one given by Barack Obama.
  
The conclusion one can draw is that on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, public opinion presently has no leverage.

And, for it ever to actually have leverage, it must reach a point where it overwhelms the standard factors of special-interest influence: giving campaign funding to a candidate or choosing to give it to his or her opponent; generating lots of TV air time in favor of the candidate or creating negative attack ads against him or her; and the overall control of the information on the subject of interest to the special interest that goes to the candidates and their staff.

In other words, unless you can get the public riled up on this subject to the point where millions see it as a voting issue, politicians and their party leaders won’t respond to polls such as that recently put out by Pew. Such information simply does not indicate a level of public focus that will sway the party choices of candidates at the nomination level.
 
To make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a voting issue within the American political milieu is a tough goal, but it is not an impossible one. A growing number of local and national organizations are already engaged in this effort seeking to change public attitudes to the point that American voters will react to Israeli behavior as they once reacted to apartheid South Africa’s policies.

To name just three, there are the U.S. Campaign Against the Occupation, the Council on the National Interest, and Jewish Voices for Peace. Many others are active as well. In Europe, the effort to build public opinion to the point that it has voting leverage is also going on apace.
 
About ten years ago, I had a heated conversation with the Charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Israel. He told me that if I believed that the U.S. Congress could be freed from the influence of the Zionist lobby I was crazy.

“It will never happen” he told me. I disagreed with that sentiment then, and still do today.

The Pew Poll numbers show that there is fertile ground for an eventual sea change in popular opinion. And, with a lot of hard grassroots work, that change will have a powerful political impact. One must never say never.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

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16 comments on “Obama’s Hollow Words on Palestine

  1. Pingback: Obama’s Hollow Words on Palestine | Barack Obama

  2. Davidson’s usual anti Israel vitriol conviently leaves out some salient facts:
    .The UN has no power to create states or to grant formal “recognition” to state aspirants.
    .UN resolution 181 in 1947 outlined a process that would end the British Mandate, and two states, one Jewish and one Arab, were to be established. These proposed states were not guaranteed automatic admission to the UN. The resolution provided that sympathetic consideration should be given to their membership applications.
    .In the event the Arab countries rejected partition and Israel declared and successfully defended its independence. Israel’s statehood was recognized, in accordance with international law, by other states, including the US and the Soviet Union.
    . The Palestinian Authority does not meet the basic characteristics of a state necessary for recognition. They have neither a permanent population or defined territory (both being the subject of ongoing negotiations), nor does it have a government with the capacity to enter into relations with other states. It also has no control over the West Bank to the exclusion of Israeli authority, and it exercises no control at all in the Gaza Strip.
    . The Arab and Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as Jewish State, the declining of the two offers of statehood and peace, along with the concern of Israel’s security with a probable Iranian weapon supply and another base like Gaza and Lebanon to launch attacks against against Israel, and the persistent refusal to sit down and negotiate, are certainly valid reasons not to support any efforts until this happens.
    .Israel has every right to defend itself against the most destabilizing force in the Middle East-Iran, which is closer to producing nuclear weapons capable of not only striking Israel, but the US also.
    .Davidson’s double standard is most sickening when if history turned out differently after 1967, there would be no Israel to vilify. Remember in Oct. ’62, when President Kennedy put in place a blockade around Cuba? Our security was threated by Soviet missles 90 miles away? Why should Israel allow Iranian missles 10 miles away, without specific security guarantees?

    • @Flat5,

      You sound about as informed as a teatard.

      • facts are facts jerk…

        • rosemerry on said:

          flat5 in his usual fever of lies.
          Israel as a Jewish state?,Zionist, you mean. There is no religious reason, it is Zionist politics and Judaism’s values are ignored.
          Iran is NOT a nuclear aspirant-it wants peace and unlike Israel has attacked NOBODY in centuries. It is a founding member of the IAEA and gets inspected, unlike Israel which is neither.
          As for Cuba-do you think that demonisation for 60 years is beneficial to anyone? Cuba wanted independence, as the Palestinians would.
          You are blaming the PA for all the things caused by your belligerent entity. Read your own blurb.

        • Flac5
          You cited almost no facts, just like a teatard. So you made my point.

          • teatard is not a real word. You just belie the definition of an empty headed idealogue…

          • Flat5

            Just like a teatard to misuse a word–in this case “belie”–making your statement a type of double negative, meaning that I’m the opposite of what you think you wrote.

            Ironic, no?

            Do you get your language skills from the Palin Institute?

      • Ace.virginian on said:

        LOL. LOL.

  3. Pingback: Obama’s Hollow Words on Palestine « Peace and Justice Post

  4. rosemerry

    Right.

  5. A Palestinian state? Don’t count on it
    By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, September 21, 2011

    If the Palestinian Authority genuinely desired international recognition as a sovereign state, Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t have come to New York to seek membership in the UN General Assembly [last] week. There would have been no need to, for Palestine would have long since taken its seat in the United Nations.

    Were Palestinian statehood Abbas’s real goal, after all, he could have delivered it to his people three years ago. In 2008, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state on territory equal (after land swaps) to 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, with free passage between the two plus a capital in the Arab section of Jerusalem. Yet Abbas turned down the Israeli offer. And he has refused ever since even to engage in negotiations.

    “It is our legitimate right to demand the full membership of the state of Palestine in the UN,” Abbas declared in Ramallah on Friday, “to put an end to a historical injustice by attaining liberty and independence, like the other peoples of the earth.”

    But for the better part of a century, the Arabs of Palestine have consistently said no when presented with the chance to build a state of their own. They said no in 1937, when the British government, which then ruled Palestine, proposed to divide the land into separate Arab and Jewish states. Arab leaders said no again in 1947, choosing to go to war rather than accept the UN’s decision to partition Palestine between its Jewish and Arab populations. When Israel in 1967 offered to relinquish the land it had acquired in exchange for peace with its neighbors, the Arab world’s response, issued at a summit in Khartoum, was not one no, but three: “No peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.”

    At Camp David in 2000, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a sovereign state with shared control of Jerusalem and billions of dollars in compensation for Palestinian refugees. Yasser Arafat refused the offer, and returned to launch the deadly terror war known as the Second Intifada.

    There is no shortage in this world of stateless peoples yearning for a homeland, many of them ethnic groups with centuries of history, unique in language and culture. Kurds or Tamils or Tibetans — whose longstanding quests for a nation-state the world ignores — must find it maddening to watch the international community trip over itself in its eagerness to proclaim, again and again, the need for a Palestinian state. And they must be baffled by the Palestinians’ invariable refusal to take yes for an answer.

    It is no mystery, however. The raison d’être of the Palestinian movement has never been the establishment and building-up of a sovereign Palestinian homeland. It has always been the negation of a sovereign Jewish homeland. That is why well-intended proposals for a “two-state solution” have never come to fruition, no matter how earnestly proposed by US presidents or UN secretaries-general. That is why the basic charter not just of Hamas but even of Abbas’s supposedly moderate Fatah vows to continue the “armed struggle” until “the Zionist state is demolished.” And that is why Abbas and other Palestinian leaders insist that a Palestinian state would be explicitly Arab and Muslim, but adamantly refuse to acknowledge that Israel is legitimately the Jewish state.

    The goal of the Palestinian movement has always been the negation of the Jewish state. Both Fatah and Hamas feature logos that depict crossed weapons imposed against the map of Israel.

    “Palestinian nationalism,” Edward Said told an interviewer in 1999, “was based on driving all Israelis out.” Sadly, it still is.

    Last week, to kick off its campaign seeking UN recognition as a state, the Palestinian Authority staged a highly publicized march to the UN offices in Ramallah, where a letter was delivered for Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Officials named Latifa Abu Hmeid to lead the procession and hand over the letter. “She was chosen,” reported the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, “because she is a symbol of Palestinian suffering as a result of the occupation.”

    What the paper did not mention is that Abu Hmeid is the mother of four murderers, whose sons are serving a total of 18 life sentences for their involvement in multiple terrorist attacks. According to Palestinian Media Watch, this is not the first time Abu Hmeid has been honored. Last year, the Palestinian Authority awarded her “the Plaque of Resoluteness and Giving,” and a government minister publicly extolled her virtues: “It is she who gave birth to the fighters, and she deserves that we bow to her in salute and in honor.”

    It is this grotesque and bloody culture that Palestinian leaders want the UN to affirm as worthy of statehood. The wonder is not they make the request, but that anyone thinks it should be granted.

  6. Lawrence Davidson And “Zionist Lobbies”

    Kathleen Wells has dug deep and found the Huffington Post’s latest anti-Israel academic to interview: Professor Lawrence Davidson of of West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Never heard of him? Neither have I but according to Ms. Wells he is “an outspoken and unflinching critic of the U.S. alliance with Israel and the Zionists’ treatment of the Palestinian people.” So, you know, just another objective observer with no political agenda at all. Let’s fisk the article briefly. Before it even begins, we have this paragraph as the very first thing you read:

    “Lawrence Davidson says, “Keep your eye on the language: When South Africa assigned rights according to race they called it apartheid. When Israel assigns rights according to religion they call it the only democracy in the Middle East.”
    Though the headline of the article is “discussing Egypt, the U.S., and Israel,” the whole thing is one long Israel-bashing, in short. After speaking about the Egyptian riots, Prof Davidson has this to say about Israel’s system of alliances:

    “They have never sought any meaningful compromises with their neighbors. Their only “friends” in the region are dictators who cooperate with Israel because they fear it and because the Americans pay them to do so. This is not a good basis for long term security.”

    First of all, I think Turkey would be pretty upset to be called a “dictatorship,” and then they would probably place a call to President Obama demanding to know where all the money they should have been receiving has gone. But yes, it’s true, the two Arab states that have made peace with Israel are dictatorships and they do receive money from America. But of course, practically all the other Arab states are also dictatorships and at least four (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq) also receive money from America. So I’m not sure where the connection is. And out of two pseudo-democracies near Israel (Lebanon and Turkey, as Prof Davidson agrees) she has made peace with one of them. The other is a proxy of Syria, which in turn is a proxy of Iran. So there you go.

    Prof Davidson accuses Israel of being entirely responsible for all the turmoil in the region, including the fact that there are so many enemies on its borders. But before we get the false impression that he’s merely critical of Israel’s policies, he levels the usual ethereal standard to try and prove that Israel is not a democracy:

    “Real democracy includes a realistic level of equity under the law for all citizens. That is completely lacking in Israel where 20 percent of the population (the Israeli Arabs) are systematically discriminated against. So when Israeli leaders claim that their country is a democracy, they are simply saying that the Israeli Arabs can cast a vote. But that vote will never be able to change the inherently discriminatory system. So the vote is meaningless. The game is rigged.”

    Oh, isn’t that convenient. So even though Israel is democratic in every way, because Prof Davidson says their system is undemocratic it (a) therefore must be and (b) all the hard work they have done to build a democracy “doesn’t count.” The best part is that in his very next paragraph he declares that “Turkey is a viable democracy,” and “Lebanon is, in fact, more democratic than it ever was.” There is all kinds of discrimination in Turkey and in Lebanon as well, but Prof Davidson, like every classic hypocrite before him, is willing to look the other way. What else can we conclude except that he is motivated by something beyond simply searching for democracy in the Middle East?

    Next up we have the classic “criticize Israel not for what they have done, nor even for what they will do, but for what they might do at some point in the future:”

    “As to stability, well perhaps Israel is too stable. There are definite signs that the country is flirting with fascism. The present Knesset is passing laws that could destroy much of the Israeli left. That is not the kind of stability that is healthy for a supposed democratic country.”
    Got that, Israel? You aren’t allowed to even propose certain laws in Parliament or else Prof Davidson will call you fascists! And no, I don’t see any irony there and so neither should you!

    The best part is that at the end Ms. Wells asks Professor Davidson if he thinks Israel is an asset or a liability to America. He thinks that Israel is a liability (no surprise there), and he also thinks that America and Israel work too closely together. Again, no problem. But then he goes just a little bit further:

    “And that is so because the Gulf Arabs chose not to use oil as a weapon to influence our policy. That leaves the field of Middle East interests (apart from oil) wide open to Zionist lobby pressure and manipulation. So the tail (Israel) is definitely wagging the dog (U.S.) in this regard.”
    The first sentence is definitely not true. As for the second, gee where have we heard that before? But Professor Davidson isn’t done. No sir:

    “So is Israel an asset or a liability? Well, it is an asset to most of the representatives and senators in the Congress who get so much money and electoral support from Zionist-oriented lobbies and their members….And what the members of Congress and those running the political parties are into is winning elections here in America. Lobby money greases that process.”
    So America hurts itself by staying friends with Israel because “Zionists” manipulate Congress with their money.

    Does Ms. Wells have anything to say in response to this? Nope. Accusations of this sort are taken for granted on the Huffington Post. Probably because they are so common.

    NormanF said…
    Its funny the anti-Zios ALWAYS lecture Israel on its supposed democratic shortcomings but they remain silent about the wholesale deprivation of political and human rights in every Arab country in Iran. Don’t expect Lawrence Davidson and ilk to take note of the fact that martial law has just been declared in Egypt. Its rather convenient Egypt is now off the front pages now that Tahrir Square appears to be emptying of protesters. We’ve been regaled by the anti-Zios that Egypt would would prove to be a new era in Middle East politics. Not quite with the army takeover in that country. And yeah – the short-circuiting of democracy there is all Israel’s fault!

  7. Doing Palestinians, U.N, a favor
    By LEONARD A. COLE

    PALESTINIAN Authority President
    Mahmoud Abbas’ quest for full United
    Nations membership for a Palestinian
    state is certain to flop.
    _
    The United States has promised to veto
    the application in the Security Council, the
    only body empowered to recommend states
    for membership. True, a large majority of the
    organization’s 193 member nations support
    the Palestinian bid. But a U.S. veto, if it
    comes to that, will be doing them, and the
    Palestinians, a favor.

    In assuring a veto, the U.S. has joined Israel
    and others who recognize that the Israeli-
    Palestinian conflict must be resolved
    through negotiations between the two par-
    ties. Unilateral Palestinian steps promise
    othing but a cascade of unpleasant consequences.
    Their net effect, ironically, would
    e to further distance the Palestinians from
    statehood.

    Without the cooperation of Israel, Pales-
    tinian efforts to affect permanent status issues
    amount to wishful thinking. Before Isael
    could acquiesce to the creation of a
    alestinian state, disputes must be resolved
    bout matters like the control of Jerusalem
    d the determination of national borders.
    other hot-button issue relates to Palestinan
    claims concerning Arab refugees.

    Impossible demand

    About 700,000 Arabs left Israel during its
    War of independence in 1948. As long as the
    Palestinians insist that these people and
    their 4 million descendants have a “right of
    return,” there can be no new state. Israelis
    would never permit an influx, which would
    undermine the Jewish character of their
    country. Anything less than two-party clarity
    in this matter would encourage generations
    of Palestinians to forever pursue a non-exisent
    “right”

    Yet Abbas is now pressing for a state in
    advance of resolving these issues. His unilatral
    pursuit is more than a political mistake.
    It is a breach of past agreement between Isael
    and the Palestinian Authority. The 1993
    Oslo accord affirmed that all issues regarding
    permanent status must be resolved by
    negotiations between the two parties.
    Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the
    United States, has observed that Palestinian
    unilateralism could invalidate not only that
    accord, but every other agreement between
    Israel and the Palestinians.
    Nullification of bilateral agreements on
    economic cooperation, water sharing and
    security would injure Palestinians far more
    than Israelis. So why has Abbas embarked _
    on this counterproductive track? His mistaken
    assessments were revealed in his May
    New York.Times op-ed. Not only does he
    believe that unilateral efforts would force Israel
    to acquiesce, but he offers a warped recounting
    of the long-standing conflict

    Hard birth of state

    In 1947, the United Nations called for the
    British-controlled Palestinian area 19be partitioned
    into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
    Upon establishment of Israel the next year,
    armies from five Arab countries invaded. Azzam
    Pasha, the Arab League’s general secretary,
    declared: “This will be a war of extermination,
    a momentous massacre … like the
    Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”
    But Abbas describes the invasion only as
    an intervention to protect Arabs from “Zionist
    forces.”
    ,Given this upside-down history and his
    continuing refusal to recognize Israel as a
    Jewish state, no wonder that Israelis are
    skeptical about Abbas’ intentions. Their
    skepticism was reinforced in April, when the
    Palestinian Authority reconciled With
    Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls
    Gaza and has vowed to destroy Israel.

    If anyone still believes that U.N. membership
    would fast-track Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,
    ponder another of Abbas’ contentions.
    Palestine’s admission to the United
    Nations, he wrote, “would also pave the way
    for us to pursue claims against Israel at …
    the International Court of Justice.”

    Beyond these unsettling words lies much
    experience that reinforces the need for ironclad
    agreements before a two-state solution
    can be realized. In 2000, Yasser Arafat, Abbas’
    predecessor, rejected President Bill
    Clinton and Israeli Prime Minster Ehud
    Barak’s offer for a Palestinian state in Gaza
    and almost all the west Bank. Not only did
    Arafat say no, he embarked on a five-year
    terror campaign against Israelis. In 2008, Israeli
    Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered
    similar terms to Abbas. The Palestinian pres
    ident dawdled, and again the offer wen~_
    nowhere.

    After Benjamin Netanyahu became prime
    minister in 2009, Abbas announced his refusal
    to negotiate while construction in West
    Bank settlements continued. Acceding to
    American pressure, Netanyahu suspended
    construction for 10 months, but Abbas declined
    to negotiate anyway.

    Meanwhile, despite a total Israeli withdrawal
    from Gaza in 2005, Gaza-based terrorists
    have continued to fire missiles into
    southern Israel. What fate would await Tel
    Aviv and Jerusalem, scant miles from the
    West Bank, if a state were established there
    in advance of a final status agreement?

    Until such questions are resolved, a U.S.
    veto may be all that prevents a bad idea
    from enactment, no matter how large the
    majority that calls for its passage. This obse
    vation is neither pro-Israeli nor pro-Palesti
    nian. It is pro-reality.

    Leonard A. Cole, author of “Terror: How Israel
    Has Coped and What America Can Learn,” is an
    adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers
    University-Newark.

  8. Pingback: Walking out, Ahmadinejad’s speech, Obama and the stench of hypocrisy « Antipodean Atheist