For Palestinians, There Are Two Obamas

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Barack Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya swept to victory as the US first black president. Despite the long campaign, the mud slung, the ugly inferences and demeaning charges, the elevation of Obama to the White House is a proud transcendent moment in the US history. It is a mile-stone that will be the start of a new age in race relationship in the US. A black family will reside in the White House that was originally built by slave black labor two centuries ago! America came a long way! Congratulations!

There are many reasons for Obama’s success in the election of the first black president in the US. High among them is the ruinous legacy of President Bush foreign and domestic policies. The two costly wars and the economy in ruins would have failed any Republican nominee including the war hero and former POW, Senator John McCain. Mr. Obama ran an impressive campaign and he also received help from unsolicited source, Osama Ben Laden. Ben Laden could have released a message threatening the US, reminding the American people of 9/11 terrorist attack and got McCain elected, but he did not. Political analysts called such a Ben Laden message “October surprise”.

Ben Laden was the only reason President Bush was re-elected in 2004. Many observers in the US agree that the anti-Viet-Nam war John Kerry could have won the elections in 2004 against the belligerent wartime President Bush if Ben Laden had not provided the “October surprise” only one week before the elections when Kerry was ahead in public opinion surveys. Many Americans who had supported Kerry voted for Bush because of fear from possible Ben Laden terrorist acts. Americans believed Bush would be more capable of protecting them against terrorism.

Barack Obama, who had no military background, could have lost the elections to the war supporter and ex-military man, John McCain if Ben Laden sent another threatening tape as he did in 2004. McCain was perceived better in protecting the country from terrorists. Response to fear by electing a hawkish government is common among nations. Israel is a case in point. Majority of Israelis approved and elected the most hawkish Israeli leader, the butcher of the 1982 Sabra, Shatila, Tel al-Za’atar and Dbayyeh massacres, Ariel Sharon, as Prime Minister on February 6, 2001 when the Palestinian Second Intifada broke out.

There is no policy difference toward the Palestinians among the major Israeli parties, Labor, Likud and Kadima, or among their leaders Amir Perez, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres or Tzipi Livni. They share a broad common consensus, protecting the Israelis from the Palestinians. Ending occupation and allowing the Palestinians have their own state to settle the historic conflict never been considered. On the other hand, perhaps one important reason the Palestinians voted for the militant Hamas in 2006 legislative elections was to defend them against the Israeli military and the Jewish settlers.

I strongly believe the Palestinians have the right to use every legal means to resist occupation, but the Palestinian militants’ attacks on civilian targets in Israel proper played a major role in alienating the Israeli public against a just peace and encouraging them to vote for the militant right-wing parties or ultra-Orthodox factions.

The attacks on civilians make it difficult for the Israeli peace advocates to compete against the militant extremists. There are many Israeli organizations that are against settlements and land grabbing, but the Palestinian’s attacks on civilians have not helped them attract enough supporters to influence their government policy. Some Israelis support peace through protests against their government policies and others encourage Israeli soldiers to refuse to participate in murdering, suppressing and humiliating the Palestinians. These include but not limited to “Peace Now” that was established by Israeli reservists in 1983, the “Committee against Home Demolition”, “Rabbis for Human Rights” and “Gush Shalom”. Many Israeli Jews, European and US activists demonstrate with the Palestinian villagers opposing colonizing the West Bank and in the process they risk their lives by praying in the paths of heavy Israeli bulldozers and some had died.

Rachael Corrie for one, an American young lady died when an Israel soldier bulldozed her while she was trying to protect a family’s home in Gaza. Tom Hurndall, an Englishman was shot in the head by an Israel sniper and suffered irreversible brain damage; he died from his wounds a year later. Many Israeli activists volunteer to protect the Palestinian farmers against the Jewish violent settlers who attack and intimidate the farmers and set fire to their trees during the olive harvesting season. Small number of Israeli and American Jews and international supporters joined Nihlin villagers protesting the Israeli military bulldozers tearing up the land to make way for the apartheid wall. Palestinian cause needs the Israeli people to choose a government that promotes a just peace and the Palestinians need the sympathy and support of the world opinion. 

For the Palestinian national cause, Obama’s election will not lead to much change in the status quo if any. Supporting the extreme hard-line Israelis has become a structural strategy in the US and nothing can be done about it. Neither President-elect Obama nor McCain if he had won the elections can change it. That is why people like Ron Paul who opposed foreign aid to Israel or Congressman Denis Kucinich, a critic of US Middle East policy will never have a chance to be nominated by their parties to run for president.

Regarding the Palestinian issue, there are two obamas, the old and the candidate, separated by the moment when Obama decided to run for president. The old Obama had Palestinian friends and he sympathized with the Palestinians, but the candidate Obama sided with the hard-line APAC, denied he had Palestinian friends and blamed the persecution of the Palestinians on the victims themselves.

He supported Israel’s policy in the occupied land including the Gaza siege and starvation its people in defiance of international laws and moral rules as self-defense and he endorsed keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli rule. He never criticized the settlements, the apartheid wall, the roadblocks and checkpoints. Obama even justified the Israeli 2006 war against Lebanon and the massacres of Lebanese civilians as self-defense. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote that Obama was “unequivocal in his praise for Israel and made it manifestly clear that he would do nothing to change the US-Israeli relationship”. After Obama’s speech to AIPAC convention, Haaretz wrote, “He sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Guiliani”. During his last visit to Israel, Obama spent two days meeting leaders of Israel’s major parties, spent only 45 minutes talking to the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas with no news conference and refused to visit refugee camps. He expressed deep sympathy with the Israeli victims of the conflict and nothing for the Palestinians.   

The Palestinians must stop counting on the US government to help them achieve their national goals! Because the US will never side with the Palestinians, they should put an end to the myth that there will be no chance for a peaceful resolution unless the US government intervenes. The Palestinians should find another path to a just peace without the involvement of the US government. They should focus on dealing with the Israeli people directly especially the peace camp. The Palestinians have the power to influence the Israeli politics in favor of just peace if they do the right things to encourage the Israeli people to vote for the pro-peace parties rather than the right wing parties and ultra-Orthodox factions. There are many Israeli organizations and individuals who are against settlements and land grabbing. The Palestinians need the Israeli people to choose a government that promotes a just peace and they need the sympathy of the world public opinion.

The Palestinians do not cast votes in the Israeli elections. But they have power to create strong pro-peace parties in Israel if they publicly relinquish the armed resistance and adopt a strategy of peaceful protest and civil disobedience in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem similar to South African struggle against apartheid and the Civil Rights movement in the US. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task because many Palestinians have lost patience and faith in their leaders and the endless negotiations.

Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights and NGO activists and intellectuals should promote the Palestinian’s civil rights, renounce violence and fight against occupation with peaceful means. Civil society institutions have better chance for mediating between the two peoples. They are insulated from dependence on politicians and less yielding to coercion by extremists. Real peace and genuine reconciliation benefits the Israelis as much as the Palestinians, but peace can be achieved only if Israel ends the occupation.

-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D, is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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