By George Hishmeh – Washington DC
The first nine months of US President Barack Obama’s tenure at the White House have been pregnant with thought-provoking ideas and commendable aspirations aimed at improving the tarnished US image and bringing the world closer together in every way possible — especially in the Middle East, where an unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict has been simmering for more than 60 years. But there is increasing fear in Europe and the Arab world that Obama may fail to deliver on his potential.
"Trans-Atlantic relations are again clouded by doubts", the New York Times reported on the eve of a United States-European Union meeting in Washington this week. "Europe and the United States remain at least partly out of sync on Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iran and climate change".
Coincidentally, Obama will next week be addressing major Jewish organizations in Washington. Many hope he will use the opportunity to put an end to the hesitation within his administration over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The signs so far are not encouraging.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has caused mayhem this week with her inelegant pronouncements in the Middle East, a development which makes one wonder whether she realizes that she is no longer the senator from New York, having to cater to her large Jewish constituency there, but a senior official of the Obama administration, which is committed to a ‘new beginning’ with the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Arab anger was touched off by Clinton’s untimely and senseless statements, followed by immediate backtracking. Upon meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton had praised him for making a proposal that she described as an ‘unprecedented’ gesture in the hope of starting peace negotiations with the Palestinians. It turned out, however, that his proposal would allow Israel to continue building 3,000 colony housing units on the occupied West Bank over the next nine months. It would also prevent international monitoring of its ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Occupied Jerusalem, where more than a quarter million Palestinians reside. How she failed to see the true nature of Netanyahu’s unpalatable offer is mind-boggling.
Hardly 24 hours had passed when she qualified her remarks to appease the Arab world. She said that Netanyahu’s offer fell short of the Obama administration’s position on the illegal colonies — which, in effect, does not differ from that of all past US administrations.
In turn, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was this time the first Arab leader to reject the Israeli offer when he met Clinton in Abu Dhabi on her way back last week from a tumultuous trip to Pakistan, Israel and Morocco for a meeting with Arab foreign ministers.
How the Obama administration could once again lean so heavily on the hapless Palestinian leader, who had just recovered from an earlier ill-considered American move, is anybody’s guess.
Previously, Abbas had been pressured to support the shelving for several months consideration by the UN Human Rights Council of a blunt UN-commissioned report by Judge Richard Goldstone on the Israeli invasion of Gaza earlier this year. Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian organization in control of Gaza, were both accused of war crimes committed during the 23-day Israeli assault. A Palestinian and a widespread Arab outcry compelled Abbas to reverse his decision in order to expose Israeli brutality.
The report is now scheduled to be addressed by the UN General Assembly, which may refer it to the UN Security Council for action. In obvious reaction and encouraged by the Israeli lobby in the US, the US House of Representatives called for a non-binding resolution for Obama to oppose any endorsement of the Goldstone Commission’s report, a step that could cripple any UN action because of the US veto.
Wherever this tug-of-war leads, the mess, in part precipitated by Clinton, will land in Obama’s lap. But the American president may feel he cannot act alone because he needs all the support he can get to overcome his serious domestic problems relating to costly and divisive health care reform and rising unemployment.
On the other hand, Obama can take courageous steps when he addresses a convention of American Jewish groups and compel Israel to come to the negotiating table. After all, he needs to chalk up some major achievements in foreign policy, and winning Israeli compliance with American wishes is one way this could be achieved. Failing this, both Israel and Palestine will lose in the long run, since the deadlock could lead to another Palestinian intifada (uprising) or precipitate a one-state solution.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.