On Israel and Palestine, Obama Is Rick Perry
President Barack Obama's speech to the U.N. General Assembly succeeded in making clear why the Palestinians had no other choice but to take their statehood bid to the U.N. and why the United States can no longer pretend to be an "honest broker" in the conflict.
For the first time since the U.N. conferred statehood on Israel 63 years ago, the sitting U.S president told the world body that the United States will back Israel, right or wrong. The president's speech was so one-sided, in fact, that he sounded a lot like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who gave a similar speech to a group of "pro-Israel" right-wingers one day earlier. Perry is not the president, so his speech was different, except for the motivation, which was same.
Both speeches were standard "pro-Israel" bloviating, but Perry gave his on the campaign trail and not in front of the entire world. (I hesitate to call a speech opposing Palestinian statehood "pro-Israel" when the latest comprehensive poll on the subject says that 70 percent of Israelis say Israel should support the U.N.'s decision if statehood is granted.)
The very best explanation of what Obama did at the United Nations came from Daniel Levy, a Brit who moved to Israel right out of college 18 years ago. Levy's quote appeared on page one of the Washington Post.
"There is virtually no thread of reason running between the way he [Obama] related to the rest of the world and its developments, particularly in the Middle East, and the positions he espoused on Israel-Palestine — a conflict apparently occurring on another planet," said Daniel Levy, co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation. "Palestinian freedoms, rights and self-determination are somehow supposed to be attained without the recourse to leverage, international law or meaningful international support, considered to be necessary and legitimate virtually everywhere else."
Of course, there is one "thread," although it is not of "reason." Every word in Obama's speech was designed not to advance a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but to keep single-issue donors and, to a lesser extent, single-issue voters in his camp for the 2012 election. Not a week goes by without the Obama team sending emails out to people it deems Israel voters to remind them of all the wonderful things this president has done for Israel. One recently was dedicated to citing quotes from Prime Minister Netanyahu praising Obama, the first time I can remember that a president sought to validate himself by citing the praise of a foreign leader.
Obama isn't lying about his "pro-Israel" record, however. This administration has been the most one-sided supporter of everything Israel asks for since 1948. There is no competition. Not even George W. Bush comes close.
When the Israelis, following Obama's election, asked Bush to give Israel permission to bomb Iran, he said no, despite his vice president and neoconservative aides pushing the Israeli position hard. Bush also did more than Obama to advance the peace process that the Israeli right hates so much, convening an international summit at Aqaba and being the first president to say, in unambiguous terms, that the United States supports "two states, living side by side in peace and security."
On Israel, Obama is to the right of Bush, to the right of Reagan, and certainly to the right of Clinton. On Israel and Palestine, Barack Obama is Rick Perry.
Of course, Obama's outrageous surrender to Netanyahu still won't impress the Israel-Firsters. They have despised him from day one, for all kinds of reasons, and predictably condemned the speech. Meanwhile, Israel's thuggish far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told reporters that "I am ready to sign on this speech with both hands."
Lieberman is telling the truth — he could have written Obama's speech — and the neocons are lying. But neocons are adherents of the Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) school: They have only one goal, which is to defeat this president. And although privately they celebrate their amazing success at intimidating Obama into submission, publicly they denounce him and send scary emails to senior citizens in Florida and New Jersey warning them that Obama wants to destroy Israel.
But these speeches and love-ins with Netanyahu accomplish nothing for Obama. The single-issue Israel voters and donors (3 percent of the Jewish community) will take their money and votes elsewhere.
And Netanyahu will, working from Jerusalem, do everything he can to help the Republicans win the next election. It's almost funny how these people would exchange the person who is the most "pro-Israel" president ever (looking at it from their "maintain-the-occupation-at-all-costs" vantage point) for an unknown quantity like Perry or Romney. After all, a Republican whose main constituency is Wall Street would likely turn out to approach Israel with more skepticism than Obama does.
But it's a game. Netanyahu and the lobby want to defeat Obama to demonstrate, yet again, who calls the shots on U.S. Middle East policy.
But forget the campaign for a moment — which is what Obama should have done when addressing the U.N. The president's speech was an embarrassing disaster. Since 2009, 1,600 Palestinians (overwhelmingly civilians and over 400 children) have been killed by the Israeli army. Thirteen Israelis have been killed over the same period. Despite that, Obama devoted 120 words of his speech to Israeli suffering (even going so far as to cite the Holocaust) and not one word to Palestinian suffering.
Example: An Australian newspaper reports on a new film about the tragedy of Palestinian women in Gaza (under full Israeli blockade) who are suffering with breast cancer but are not permitted by Israel to leave Gaza for treatment. (They used to go to Israeli hospitals or hospitals in the Arab states and Europe.) Nor does Israel permit the import of the radioactive isotopes used to treat breast cancers. So they die.
One could go on and on about the horrors of the occupation but it won't matter to the politicians who determine U.S. foreign policy. They know which side their bread is buttered on, as Obama demonstrated at the U.N. this week.
But, I'm surprised to say, Obama did Palestinians and the 70 percent of Israelis who support statehood a big favor. By demonstrating that the United States refuses to play the role of "honest broker" and by telling the U.N. that we are Israel and Israel is us, the United States is yielding the role of Middle East peacemaker to others. The French, Turks, Indians, Brazilians, Chinese, South Africans, and Russians don't agree on much. But they do agree on the urgency of the creation of a Palestinian state in the areas occupied in 1967. And they agree that the United States, no longer the superpower it once was, should move over and let countries not fully invested in one side play a more constructive role.
Those who wonder how these "other countries" could exert the leadership the U.S. has abdicated might consider the issue of economics, trade, etc. Israel does not live on an island with the United States. It is part of the world and not even the United States and the $3.5 billion it hands over to Israel each year (no strings attached) can save Israel if the rest of the world says "enough."
Obama has chosen to abdicate. The rest of the world is eager to step up.
And that is why I have no doubt that the state of Palestine was created this week at the United Nations. By opting out, Obama did a tremendous favor to Palestinians and Israelis both. Palestinians will have their fully sovereign, contiguous state. And the Jewish state of Israel will finally be secure. As Israelis like to say, "yhiyeh tov." Or as Arabs say, "insha'Allah khair." Everything will be fine.