Audacity to Change: Open Letter to President Obama

By Ahmed Yousef – Gaza

Mr. President,

The Arab world is experiencing a time of epic transformation. Few believed the streets of Tunis would rebel in their lifetimes, let alone simultaneously with Tripoli, Cairo, Damascus, Sana’a and all the smaller cities known more to the citizenry than the media. Not so exciting, perhaps, are the daily demonstrations in Palestine where we have struggled against Israeli occupation for over 60 years; and humanity has become accustomed to our stone-throwing youth. Yet that familiarity, and in some cases apathy, does not make us any less determined to free ourselves of tyranny.

America’s Israeli ally assassinates, bulldozes, seizes, jails and kills with impunity. It has little if any regard for the sanctity of life, let alone other nations’ borders, passports, or laws. It has faced no actionable censure since its inception; and its impudence grows with each measure of appeasement believing, before and during your presidency, it is above the law.

The United States has played an important role in our subjugation and virtual slavery. American politicians may recoil in horror at this suggestion as quickly as they’d reject the view that Israel controls Congress, the Senate or even the Presidency; yet true or not that is what much of the planet believes. More importantly, it is what Israeli leaders believe. And the standing ovation Benjamin Netanyahu received following what sounded like a State of the Union address reinforces these perceptions. He is even reported to have said a decade ago: “America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in the way." It was in an Israeli Channel 10 report, so you don’t need to take this Palestinian’s word on it.

Yet words in and of themselves are inconsequential. It is the actions of its politicians that determine a nation’s integrity. And, thus far, the United States has said much but done little to engender confidence in its moral leadership.

You took the stage in Ankara and Cairo; and told a billion and a half Muslims that change was afoot. That the United States respected their concerns; and that equity not iniquity drove your nation’s policies. This improved America’s standing; and we believed in you. We dared to hope. Yet by September last year, a Gallup Worldview report declared: “U.S. Approval Gains Nearly Erased in Middle East/North Africa,” citing 6 out of 10 markets where support fell “significantly” between 2009 and 2010. Tellingly, ratings fell below 20% in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and the Palestinian Territories.

There is an absence of logic between much of what America says and does when it comes to Israeli interests. Stated US policy opposes settlements; and yet America vetoes United Nations resolutions criticizing colonization. Stated US policy is that occupation is illegal; yet a previous administration moved the American embassy to a disputed, occupied Jerusalem. Stated US policy is to foment democracy; yet America supports a boycott and embargo of the entire Gaza Strip simply because Islamists won an election. Stated US policy is to encourage negotiations; yet America called reconciliation among Palestinian political parties a hurdle to peace.

Mr. President,

We have neither lobby groups in Washington nor public relations firms in New York; and we do not have the nuclear, chemical or biological arsenals your ally does in Dimona and Ness Ziona. We are a nation of 12 million people, only a quarter of who still reside in Palestine due to decades of humiliation, expulsion, incarceration, deprivation and extra-judiciary execution.

Those of us who remain do so because this is our land; and because we have no desire to live in refugee camps or as second class citizens elsewhere. We want self-determination with strong economic and infrastructural institutions; yet we cannot understand why the United States would deny us the freedom to prosper. Our people are in dire need of the free-flow of medicines, fertilizers, fuel, spare parts, building materials and consumables; and yet an embargo continues on Gaza and any assistance comes with crippling conditions.

An entire generation of Palestinians has grown up since the Oslo Accord; and yet they are no closer to freedom than their parents were. You have an opportunity to allow at least their children to know what it means to live in liberty.  We do not ask the impossible, only that all members of the United Nations are held accountable for their actions; that piracy is classed a crime whether committed by countries or criminals; that killing families is terrorism whether by a group or a government; and that no nation can consistently flaunt international law without bearing serious consequences.

You have stated that peace should be based on pre-1967 borders; and we welcome the words. Yet sooner or later the United States must take action that will test your resolve. America will have to choose between Netanyahu’s inane “indefensible borders” rhetoric and independence for a nation living under siege. We hope when you are faced with a decision of substance, you will have the audacity to change what others would not.

The countdown to September 23 UN Palestinian statehood has begun. It is obvious that the UN Security Council, which must approve such request, will not do so, because the American administration will act upon its consistent vows to exercise its veto.

As the world will be observing, how could you Mr. President deliver speech after speech endorsing Palestinian statehood in principles and then block it in practice? The American credibility as an honest peace broker will under scrutiny as the embarrassment to the White House will be enough to make the point. The United States vetoes the Palestinian request for statehood will damage its opposition in the Islamic world – not merely the Arab world for years to come. As revolution for genuine changes sweeping the Middle East, the American objection to the UN bid will make America to appear as the object of retribution throughout the Muslim world, as it will give new energy for extremism.

After a great speech in Cairo, Why Mr. President you would want to give new credits to anti-American sentiment across the Arab/Muslim world?

– Dr. Ahmed Yousef is the former Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister Ismail Hanniya in Gaza. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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