Obama's Anti-historical UN Speech
Editor’s Note: Speaking to the United Nations, President Barack Obama pushed for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while still embracing many of the one-sided attitudes that have long undercut Palestinian trust in the United States as an honest broker.
In this guest essay, professor Lawrence Davidson tests Obama’s assertions against the historical realities of this blood-stained region:
On Sept. 23, as President Obama took his turn at the United Nations’ podium, there were a world of problems to address but, not unexpectedly, he chose to concentrate on the Middle East.
Thus, as has been the case with almost every President since John Kennedy, Mr. Obama is also trying his hand at cutting the Gordian Knot and drinking the sea dry. That is he is trying his hand at making peace between Israel and Palestine. Will he succeed where all others have failed?
Not likely, and his speech at the UN points to one reason why. His approach is ahistorical and, at least publicly, ignores the context from which all this strife has emerged. This is not unusual for President Obama. From the beginning of his administration he has ignored history.
His most notable early example was when he refused to investigate the prima facie war crimes of his predecessors, crimes which the Nuremberg prosecutors would have easily recognized since they deemed aggressive war “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
Instead, Obama proclaimed a new day. We will look forward, he said, and not backward. It was a foolish statement for such a reportedly bright man, for where does he think the new day and the fresh future come from? The present and the future are built on the past. With all due respect, only the very near-sighted can suppose that they can defy historical gravity and float above it all, sublimely free of all roots.
So President Obama took the podium in New York and told us the following::
1. Obama: "Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas – who stands up for his people in front of the world – is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children."
Historical Context: "President" Abbas is a heartily disliked fellow who helped usurp power from the legally elected government of Palestine. The United States under George W. Bush helped him do so. Thus, the Abbas’s regime, internally supported by little else than the remnants of Fatah, is now in control of the West Bank and cooperates with the Israeli occupation army.
Given such an historical record, Abbas cannot "stand for his people in front of the world" except in the propaganda picture painted by his American ally. Abbas’s regime is wholly dependent on U.S. and European money and American weapons and military training.
We can surmise two probable reasons why Abbas is presently sitting at the table with the Israelis: One – the Obama administration has twisted his arm, perhaps by threatening to abandon him if he does not "negotiate." They probably hope they can pressure him into signing a "peace" deal that no other Palestinian leader would ever touch.
What "courage" Abbas has, at least to this point, does not go so far as to stand up to the Americans on whom he is so dependent.
Two – the Obama administration has promised him support, whatever that might mean. This same level of dependency means Abbas must conveniently forget history – that such promises coming from Washington have always been worthless.
2. Obama: "If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that come with their own state [and] Israelis will never know the certainty and security that come with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to coexistence."
Historical Context: The Palestinians have been struggling for a state of their own for at least 75 years. They have been betrayed by outsiders so often that it defies reason to believe that any American president truly cares about their pride and dignity.
After so many years of struggle facing a foe who, by the way, has never cared a fig about "stable neighbors," the Palestinians have been able to find "pride and dignity" in one thing only – resistance.
3. Does President Obama know any of this? If so, does he understand it? It is questionable for he next tells us that “efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people. The slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance – it’s injustice.” Yet, Obama offered no parallel admonition toward Israelis for killing innocent Palestinians.
Historical Context: Only someone devoid of historical knowledge and context concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can possibly believe that it is the Palestinians who presently, as a strategy, go out of their way to target "innocent women and children." And what isolated incidents of this sort you can find pale in comparison with the behavior of the ally Washington arms and protects.
There is a recent B’Tselem report entitled, "Void of Responsibility: Israeli Military Policy Not to Investigate killings of Palestinians by Soldiers." It demonstrates that the Israelis have been killing innocent Palestinians with impunity.
Historically, they have been doing so from a time before President Obama was born. Against this tireless brutality, Palestinian firing rockets devoid of warheads from that open air prison of Gaza that Israel has created – as well as isolated attacks on Israeli settlers encroaching on Palestinian land – are tragic expressions of despair.
And, sadly, historically, these acts of violence are the only source of "pride and dignity" Israel and the United States have left to the Palestinians.
Finally, it takes enormous hypocrisy for Obama or any other American leader to point a moral finger at the Palestinians. Given all the death and destruction ordered by U.S. presidents around the world, their hands are much too bloody for us to stomach anything like that.
4. Obama: "It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakable opposition of the United States."
Historical Context: Well, speak for yourself, Mr. President. You certainly do not speak for a fast-growing number of people worldwide whose efforts in this regard you cannot stop. And it is this effort, this movement of civil society both within and without the U.S., that has the best chance of bringing a true and just peace to the Middle East.
Ideally, what would that look like? Well, U.S. leaders are always saying they want to see more democracy in this world. And that is what Israel needs. It needs the Zionist government to be replaced with something truly democratic that will support real civil and political rights for all Israelis – and all Palestinians – regardless of religion. …
It was Oscar Wilde, a man who had his own confrontation with a viciously discriminatory social system, who once said, "A set of assumptions committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle."
And so it was on Sept. 23 in New York. After so many years of tragedy we still witness our political leaders working from assumptions that are suicidal, that destroy justice and prolong oppression.
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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