By George S. Hishmeh – Washington DC
Considering the serious economic woes that many Americans faced last year, and are still facing, President Barack devoted most of his first State of the Union address before a joint session of the Congress on how he hopes to turn the situation around.
As anticipated, foreign policy played a second fiddle to the nation’s other domestic concerns overshadowing other serious international problems – – U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably Yemen, as well as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, just to cite a few.
The first impression one gets is that the Arab and Muslim worlds have been taken for a ride by Obama. What has been disappointing to date has been the feeling that Obama’s stance in this respect does not appear to be much different than any of his predecessors. The high hopes that Arabs and Muslims, particularly Palestinians, had especially after his historic speech in Cairo are now almost shattered.
All recall his pledge at Cairo University last year that he was “firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.” He had told a large appreciative audience there that he was seeking “a new beginning” between the United States and the Arab and Muslim worlds where they can “share common principles –– principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
But Obama has hardly done so in his first year in office, particularly as far as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned. True, one of his early and commendable decisions was the appointment of George J. Mitchell as his Middle East peace envoy. But, regrettably, he has spent more than a year shuttling fruitlessly between the two sides and recruiting somewhat unsuccessfully some of the Arab countries to the flawed American position.
Even Obama, who is also being criticized widely over his domestic policies, made an astounding confession in an interview with Time magazine. “I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade” the Palestinians and Israelis “to start engaging in a meaningful conversation.” He added, “I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.”
His observation is bewildering. Almost anyone you would ask, the outlines of the solution appear clear-cut, almost simplistic. A two-state solution can be reached in line with U.N. resolutions whereby the Palestinians would establish a viable and sovereign state on only 22 percent of their original homeland, and the remainder would be Israel. But the growth of Israeli colonies in the two but non-contiguous Palestinian areas – – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – over the past 40 some years, has become a major stumbling block.
Since Obama chose not to undertake any arms-twisting, the Israelis took advantage of his low profile, continuously raising the ante. Their first demand prompted a shameless American retreat, whereby the Obama administration dropped its insistence on a total freeze in Israeli colonial expansion in the West Bank, a position the Americans originally shared with the Palestinians who, in turn, remain firmly committed to stopping Israel’s continued usurpation of Occupied East Jerusalem.
There followed another demand from Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who revived an old Israeli dream for an army base alongside the Jordan River once a Palestinian state is established. And on Israeli Arbor Day, while Mitchell was meeting with Palestinian leaders last Sunday, Netanyahu went out of his way last week to plant a tree in an Israeli colony, where he announced arrogantly that several other settlement blocks would remain part of Israel.
A Washington Post columnist pointed out that the African-American president needs at some point “to – metaphorically, of course, actually slug somebody” as it is not enough “to use variation of the word ‘fight’ (as he did) more than 20 times in relatively brief remarks recently.”
Eugene Robinson added:
“The point isn’t that Obama should be seen slapping opponents and obstructionist around as a way of demonstrating his presidential alpha-maleness. It’s that if Obama’s agenda (domestically or internationally) is as vital and necessary as he says it is, the White House should make its actions match up with its words.”
The chances of Obama following through with his earlier promises on foreign policy now seem as remote as ever in the wake of his disappointing State of the Union address.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.