By George S. Hishmeh – Washington
There is growing frustration, inside and outside the United States, with the otherwise attractive Obama administration primarily because of its failure to bring about any measurable change in U.S. policy especially in the Middle East. Hopes are continuously raised but have yet to be fulfilled.
The spirited American leader has moved crowds with his ideas, here and abroad as illustrated during his current East Asia tour but none of these ideas have materialized. This has led some to look for alternative courses, skirting an American involvement, as hard as this may seem to be.
‘While much attention has been paid to the feud between the (rightist) Fox News Channel and the White House, The New York Times observed last Monday,’ the Obama administration is now facing criticism of a different sort from … progressive hosts on MSNBC (a popular TV channel) who are using their nightly news-and-views-cast to measure what (Rachel Maddow, a liberal host) calls ‘the distance between Obama’s rhetoric and his actions.’
The paper continued: ‘While they may agree with much of what Mr. Obama says, they have pressed him to keep his campaign promises about healthcare, civil liberties and other issues.’
The same is true in the Arab world, where the lackluster Palestinian leadership agreed, reportedly at U.S. urging, to shelve the Goldstone Report that charged Israel, and to a lesser extent Hamas, of war crimes during the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip last December. The naive Palestinian expectation apparently was that the Obama administration would reciprocate by coming up with an Israeli concession. But the situation became more intolerable when Hillary Clinton described a partial Israeli freeze on continued colonization in occupied West Bank and ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians
from the occupied East Jerusalem as ‘unprecedented.’
Consequently, the frustrated Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, unexpectedly announced in retaliation that he will not run for election next January, a step that could cripple future Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. His first bombshell was followed by another when the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, revealed that they are about to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state before the U.N. Security Council and invite international recognition for it.
The Israeli reaction was unbelievable, threatening to occupy more land, and it coincided with racist comments by various pro-Israel U.S. groups in the wake of the inexplicable and deplorable massacre at Fort Hood, a Texas army base, by Major Nidal Hasan, an American-born Muslim psychiatrist, of 12 soldiers and a civilian earlier this month. For all those who prefer to stir the pot, they ought to recall the savageness of one of their own, when Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli physician who was clad in his army uniform and a follower of the infamous racist rabbi, Meir Kahane, who gunned-down 29 Palestinians and wounded 150 others while praying in a mosque in Hebron in 1994.
In line with the Israeli government’s defiant line against freezing expansion of Jewish housing in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, the Jerusalem municipal planning committee has approved the construction of 900 new housing units for Jews in the city’s Gilo neighborhood. The American response was disappointingly lukewarm. Expressing ‘dismay’ at the decision, a White House statement said ‘these actions make it more difficult for our (peace) efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations’ between Palestinians and Israelis. It added, ‘The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.’
This seemingly comforting U.S. reaction should reassure the Palestinians and once again President Obama will come to their rescue in another resounding speech from a high platform. But the Palestinians and other Arab leaders are already looking for other avenues, primarily Turkey which has of late taken a major role in expanding its relations with its neighbors in the region.
European leaders, especially French President Nicolas Sarkozy, must be aware that Obama’s high-sounding oratory has yet to achieve any results. ‘The deadlock in which we find ourselves today is extremely worrying,’ the French president told a Saudi paper ahead of his arrival on Tuesday in Riyadh for a meeting with King Abdullah. Earlier this month he had meetings in Paris with the leaders of Iraq, Israel and Syria, and Sarkozy is believed to be pursuing his idea for France to host an international peace conference which will include the United States.
But if Obama is still hopeful to steer the peace course fairly and squarely toward a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and not allow Sarkozy to pull the rug from underneath his feet, it is high time that he becomes more proactive. He ought to be aware that he should not allow Israel to call the shots as it has been so far, or else Israel’s growing number of opponents are bound to attempt more persuasive, if not bloody measures.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.