By Scott A. Hunt
Many of my friends have told me that Barak Obama is the man to abandon the failed policies of the past and create peace in the Middle East. They say he is more fair and balanced than any other candidate and will work to create a Palestinian state living harmoniously alongside Israel. Yes he can. Yes he can. Yes he can. Okay, but will he?
I’m troubled that one day after Barak Obama cinched the nomination of the Democratic Party for President of the United States he went to a meeting of the right-wing American Israel Public Affairs Committee gave a speech. If I put George Bush’s name on the speech, you’d believe it was his. But it wasn’t. It was Obama’s — our candidate of change. In his speech he invokes the Holocaust and the greatness of Israel, while completely ignoring the tragedies of the Palestinians and their own quest for a free homeland. Why is this important? Because it continues the narrative that allows the US to send billions of dollars a year to Israel, while millions of Palestinians live under military occupation, without rights, without basic services, without hope. And all the while our narrative keeps blaming the Palestinians alone for their miseries.
The AIPAC praised Barak Obama for his clear devotion to Israel: He co-sponsored a resolution during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon (an invasion which was widely condemned throughout the world) supporting Israel’s right to invade and blow up Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure. He sent a letter to the State Department urging that any and all comments made about Gaza must also include a condemnation of the “rocket barrages raining down on Israel by Palestinian terrorists.” He co-authored the Palestinian anti-terrorist act which prohibits funds to the elected Hamas government in Gaza. And he was one of the first to publicly support last year’s legislation to increase an already staggering amount of aid to Israel.
Obama said over and over in his speech how much he is committed to Israel. He is committed to “ensuring Israel’s qualitative military advantage.” “As President,” he pledged, “I will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade – investments to Israel’s security that will not be tied to any other nation. First, we must approve the foreign aid request for 2009. Going forward, we can enhance our cooperation on missile defense. We should export military equipment to our ally Israel under the same guidelines as NATO.”
“Israel is in peril,” he said. Isn’t that the policy of fear that Obama is supposed to reject? Israel has the strongest army in the region. It has nuclear weapons. It is completely backed up by the US. Israel is not in peril. But Obama knows that if it is seen as being in peril, then there is justification for Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank, and for the planeloads of cash and weapons we deliver to Israel.
How is Obama to offer himself as a diplomat that can step in and reconcile the Arab world with Israel when he is so one-sided in his support? Our support for Israel is not only lopsided; it is downright unfair.
He went on in his speech to send the same messages and perpetuate the same failed policies of yesterday. In line after line of his speech, everything Israel does is unquestionably right. Not one mention of any bad deed. Not one mention of anything wrong. Obama made not a single mention of the UN-documented humanitarian disaster in Gaza caused by the Israeli blockade. In fact, he said Israel should consider — when consistent with its security interests — improving conditions in the West Bank. But the men, women, and children of Gaza do not deserve decent living conditions, much less economic development and opportunities for the future?
He repeated that we must isolate Hamas, though doing so means the government cannot operate and the people live in horrendous conditions. Regarding Hamas, “there is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations,” he said. Sounds exactly like Bush. By the way, calling Hamas a terrorist organization is too convenient. In addition to its military wing, the so-called Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas has devoted much of its estimated $70-million annual budget to an extensive social services network. It funds schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. "Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities," writes the Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. The Palestinian Authority often fails to provide such services; Hamas’s efforts in this area—as well as a reputation for honesty, in contrast to the many Fatah officials accused of corruption—help to explain the broad popularity it summoned to defeat Fatah in the PA’s last elections. Obviously we have a huge difference of opinion with Hamas. But we can’t even talk to them? Meanwhile we can talk to mass murders in North Korea? Why, yes we can. And again, Hamas was democratically elected. So we can’t talk with the elected officials of the Palestinians in Gaza? Well, you see, Obama opposed Democratic elections in Gaza because we didn’t get to dictate who would be on the ballot. “I opposed holding elections in 2006 with Hamas on the ballot,” he said. “The Israelis and the Palestinian Authority warned us at the time against holding these elections. But this Administration pressed ahead, and the result is a Gaza controlled by Hamas, with rockets raining down on Israel.” The melodrama of the “raining down” is not even balanced out by one statement of the terrible things Israel is doing to the people of Gaza; the collective punishment of all the children of Palestine!
Obama did not mention that for every Israeli civilian casualty there are 400 Palestinian civilian casualties. 400 to 1 isn’t a struggle; it is a slaughter! He said that Egypt must cut off the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. But he made no mention of Israel’s repeated bombings of Gaza, which regularly result in the deaths of innocent children.
Our candidate of change, Barak Obama, then wrapped his arms around the status quo and stated, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” Decades of diplomacy just vanished. The two-state solution rests on the division of Jerusalem and the shared control of Temple Mount. No peace treaty is possible without the division of Jerusalem. According to a 2006 poll, 63 percent of Jewish Israelis support territorial compromise in Jerusalem if it would bring a true and lasting peace. Yet Obama embraces the hard-line position that Jerusalem, one of the holiest of Arab cities, will remain forever under the exclusive control of Israel. Full stop. And that is what the peace process will come to under Obama if he maintains this position.
-Scott A. Hunt is the author of The Future of Peace: On the Front Lines with the World’s Great Peacemakers. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.