Obama and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with US President Barack Obama during a visit to Ramallah. (WAFA, file)

By William James Martin

Former President, Nobel Laureate, and founder of the Carter Center, Jimmy Carter, was conspicuously absent from the podium at the National Democratic Conventions in 2008 and 2012 in which Barak Obama was nominated by the Democratic Party for the US Presidency. Reasonable speculation for Carter’s absence is that Obama felt Carter’s presence might be harmful to Obama’s election, or re-election in the 2012, probably because of his very public views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue which is not popular with much of the most influential membership of the Democratic Party, nor of their most important contributors.

Whether the snubbing of Carter was a matter of pure political calculation, or whether Obama is genuinely hostile to Carter’s views is probably an open question.

What Obama’s views really are and what his perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is and his understanding of the history of the conflict we shall examine.

Speaking on June 4, 2008, before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the day after receiving the Democratic nomination for President, Obama stated the following:

Year after year, century after century, Jews carried on their traditions, and their dream of a homeland, in the face of impossible odds.

The story made a powerful impression on me. I had grown up without a sense of roots. My father was black; he was from Kenya, and he left us when I was 2. My mother was white; she was from Kansas, and I’d moved with her to Indonesia and then back to Hawaii. In many ways, I didn’t know where I came from. So I was drawn to the belief that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional and cultural identity. And I deeply understood the Zionist idea — that there is always a homeland at the center of our story.

I also learned about the horror of the Holocaust, and the terrible urgency it brought to the journey home to Israel (Italics mine).

He then describes his great-uncle who had been a part of the 89th Infantry Division — the first Americans to reach a Nazi concentration camp. They liberated Ohrdruf, part of Buchenwald, on an April day in 1945.

When the Americans marched in, they discovered huge piles of dead bodies and starving survivors. …

I saw some of those very images at Yad Vashem, and they never leave you. …

It was just a few years after the liberation of the camps that David Ben-Gurion declared the founding of the Jewish State of Israel. We know that the establishment of Israel was just and necessary, rooted in centuries of struggle and decades of patient work. But 60 years later, we know that we cannot relent, we cannot yield, and as president I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.

Not when there are still voices that deny the Holocaust. Not when there are terrorist groups and political leaders committed to Israel’s destruction. Not when there are maps across the Middle East that don’t even acknowledge Israel’s existence, and government-funded textbooks filled with hatred toward Jews. Not when there are rockets raining down on Sderot, and Israeli children have to take a deep breath and summon uncommon courage every time they board a bus or walk to school.

I have long understood Israel’s quest for peace and need for security. But never more so than during my travels there two years ago. Flying in an [Israeli Defense Forces] helicopter, I saw a narrow and beautiful strip of land nestled against the Mediterranean. On the ground, I met a family who saw their house destroyed by a Katyusha rocket. I spoke to Israeli troops who faced daily threats as they maintained security near the blue line. …

Hamas now controls Gaza. Hezbollah has tightened its grip on southern Lebanon, and is flexing its muscles in Beirut. Because of the war in Iraq, Iran — which always posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq — is emboldened and poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States and Israel in the Middle East in a generation. Iraq is unstable, and al-Qaida has stepped up its recruitment. Israel’s quest for peace with its neighbors has stalled, despite the heavy burdens borne by the Israeli people.

… Those who threaten Israel threaten us. Israel has always faced these threats on the front lines. And I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.

That starts with ensuring Israel’s qualitative military advantage. I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat — from Gaza to Tehran. Defense cooperation between the United States and Israel is a model of success, and must be deepened. As president, 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. And I will always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself in the United Nations and around the world.

We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations. That is why I opposed holding elections in 2006 with Hamas on the ballot.

Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. … any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided. [Italics mine]

In this impassioned speech, Obama manages to hit all the talking points of Israel’s state propaganda, and could just as well have been written by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech writer. It includes: 1) the centuries long yearning of Jews to ‘return’ to a homelands, which, though a widespread belief and a persistent theme of Zionist ideology and propaganda, is nonetheless a complete myth, as will be discussed. 2) the horror of the Holocaust, which, though not at all a myth, is invoked constantly by the state of Israel to justify its existence. In fact, this repetitive invocation of a threat of another Holocaust even began in 1948 in the midst of the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by the Jewish army, even though it was the Palestinians who were facing a Holocaust, not the Jews, 3) the insidious threat of the ‘terrorist group ‘ Hamas, which ‘seeks Israel’s destruction’, along with Al Qaeda, Iran, and Hezbollah, the latter ‘is tightening its grip on Lebanon”. And 4), the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip ‘raining down on Siderot’ with the danger to Israeli school children transiting to and from school. 5) government funded textbooks across the Middle East which teach ‘hatred toward Jews.

Of course, Obama announces that he will appropriate $30 billion in grants to Israel over the next ten years.

There is the suggestion in the speech that the reason he voted against the Iraq war, as a senator during the Bush administration, was because regime change in Baghdad would strengthen Iran. “Iran — which always posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq — is emboldened and poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States and Israel in the Middle East in a generation.” In other words, Obama opposed the Iraq war for the sake of Israel.

He refers to flying over Israel, as had George Bush before, and observing that ‘narrow strip of land’, with the implication that the strip of land is too narrow.

And of course, “any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders.[Italics mine]

The requirement that any agreement with the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state’ was enunciated 6 years prior to the injection of this requirement into the ‘peace talks’ by Mr Netanyahu. Possibly, Obama and Netanyahu mean two different things by, “a Jewish state’. However that may be, one wonders if Mr Netanyahu did not review Obama’s speech before introducing this new requirement for a settlement with the Palestinians in order to assess American receptivity before adding a requirement which most observers believe would be impossible for the Palestinians to accept, though apparently embraced by the American president.

And, Jerusalem must remain Israel’s undivided capital; very much in line with the persistent refrain of the Israeli Prime Minister, and another principle which the Palestinian leadership could not possibly accept. This claim that Jerusalem must be the undivided capital of Israel flies in the face of previous American policy as upheld by every American president since 1967, and is in direct contradiction to UN Security Council Resolution 242, the basis of the American position since the ’67 War, at least up until the Obama administration whose support for this principle is either weak or non-existent. It also runs in contradiction to UN General Assembly Resolution 184 upon which Israel claims international legitimacy. That resolution set aside Jerusalem as a UN administrated area neither a part of the Jewish or Arab states.

There is not much that the President-elect left out, if his purpose was to appease the Zionists and capture the Jewish vote in the upcoming general election.

Any Palestinian listening to this speech must have been horrified; Obama had taken the most extreme hardline Israeli positions.

Whether these words actually reflect his personal understanding of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and it’s just solution or whether he is acting politically with the primary goal of winning the election and capturing the Jewish vote is probably a distinction without a difference, especially considering that, having now won two elections, he has never contradicted this message over the past seven years, and in fact, he has repeated it,.

Though the speech is from 2008, Obama has recycled the same themes repeatedly since, in particular in his 2011 speech to the United Nations General Assembly and in his March 2012 speech before AIPAC with almost word for word replication.

Obama regurgitates a central concept embodied in the Israeli Declaration of Independence of 1948:

“Exiled from the Land of Israel the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom.

“Impelled by this historic association, Jews strove throughout the centuries to go back to the land of their fathers and regained their statehood. In recent decades they returned in their masses. …”

In fact, this is sheer mythology, one of Mr Ben Gurion’s many fabrications which he wrote into the Israeli Declaration of Independence, long a part of the Zionist mythos, and swallowed uncritically by a wide range of people including the American president.

Though Jerusalem, or at least central Palestine was the metropole of the development of monotheism and Judaism, the focus of Biblical narrative, and the phrase, “next year in Jerusalem” made its way into one of the Seder prayers, apparently dating from the middle ages, in fact no practical effort was ever made by any of the world’s Jews, up until the end of the nineteenth century, to settle in Palestine; and one searches in vain for any proposal of the creation of a state up to this period.

Nor was a longing for Palestine or Jerusalem a widespread culturally induced icon within the Jewish community as the lack of any significant movement toward reclaiming the Holy Land or migrations of Jews to the Holy Land, or even any significant amount of Jewish pilgrimages to the Holy Land, before about the 1880’s, by Jews attest.

The concept of a Jewish migration from Europe and elsewhere to the Holy Lands and the establishment of a Jewish state is a Christian, and not a Jewish, invention and was first embraced by the Jewish communities of the Russian Pale, and then only a small proportion of them, from about the 1880’s onward owing to a wave of anti-Jewish violence. During this period about 1.5 million Jews of western Russia migrated to the United States and only a few thousand to Palestine. Overwhelmingly, the preference of eastern European Jews during this period of emigration was the United States, not Palestine.

It was Christianity, not Judaism that introduced the ideas of ‘wandering Jews’ displaced from their original homeland and seeking to “return”. It was Christian Zionism that introduced the term return to describe a Jewish migration into Palestine implying a continuity, if not an identification, between the ancient Judeans and modern Jews, and that Jews are the “lawful” owners of the land of Palestine.

It is doubtful that anyone would invoke the term return to describe a contemporary conquest of Palestine by Egypt, or Persia or Macedonia for that matter, even though Egypt had ruled Palestine a millennium before there was a Jewish city state in Jerusalem, the latter occurring at the end of the first millennium BCE. And likewise both Persian and Macedonia, under Alexander and his sons, ruled Palestine before Jewish rule, the latter of which did not even encompass all of Palestine and was certainly did not bear a resemblance to a modern day nation state.

It is not exactly known when monotheism developed, but it was most probably in the middle of the first millennium BCE concurrent with the writing of the Bible which occurred most likely between the seventh and the fifth centuries of the first millennium BCE.

According to historian Shlomo Sand in his recent book, “The Invention of the Land of Israel”:

Jewish pilgrimages [to Jerusalem and the Holy Land] emerged as an afterthought to Christian pilgrimage. It never reached comparable dimensions and so perhaps cannot be considered an institutional practice. Few Jewish pilgrims set out to the Holy land between the twelfth century and the end of the eighteenth century CE, by comparison to the tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims who made the trip during the same period. … the degree to which the Land of Israel did not attract the “original children of Israel” is nonetheless astounding.

… it is evident that journeying to the Land of Israel was no more than a marginal practice in the life of the Jewish communities. All comparisons between the members of Christian and Jewish pilgrims reflect that Jewish trips to the Holy Land were a drop in the ocean. We know of approximately thirty texts that provide accounts of Jewish pilgrimages during the seventeen hundred years between 333 CE and 1878, we have some 3,500 reports of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land.(1)

It was English Christians, and not eastern European Jews who began the campaign to promote Jewish immigration to the Holy Lands.

The British Library contains the oldest document, written in English on Christian Zionism entitled Apocalypsis Apocalypseos (‘A Revelation of the Revelation), a 50 page monograph, written in 1585 by the Anglican priest, Thomas Brightman, often described as the ‘father of the Restoration of the Jews’.

Brightman argued that the ‘rebirth of a Christian Israelite nation’ would become the ‘center of the Christian world’, and further that a ‘restoration’ of Jews to Palestine was necessary if England was to be blessed by God when history enters its last days and the prophesies of the book of Daniel are to be fulfilled. (Sizer 2004, Christian Zionism; the road to Armageddon)

However the campaign began, in earnest, with the ascendancy of the Puritans in England in the early seventeenth century who engendered a refocus and a reemphasis on the Old Testament and on the children of Israel with whom the Puritans identified.

Barbara Tuchman states:

“The period … up to 1600 let us say, Palestine had been to the English a land of purely Christian association, though lost to the Christian world through the unfortunate intrusion of Islam. Now it came to be remembered as the homeland of the Jews, the land carrying the Scriptural promise of Israel’s return. Interest now centered on fulfilling the Scripture. Starting with the Puritans ascendency, the movement among English for the return of the Jews to Palestine began.”

In the year 1649, the very peak and midpoint of Puritan rule in England, two English Puritans of Amsterdam, Joanna and Ebenezer Cartwright, petitioned the government “That this Nation of England, with the inhabitants of the Netherlands, shall be the first and the readiest to transport Izraell’s sons and daughters in the ships to the Land promised to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for an everlasting Inheritance.” …

To understand their motive one must realize the transformation wrought by the Bible acting through the Puritan movement. It was as if every influence on thought exerted today by the press, radio, movies, magazines were equaled by one book speaking with the voice of God, reinforced by the temporal authority of the Supreme Court. Particularly the Old Testament, with its narrative of a people unalterably convinced of having been chosen by the Lord to do His work on earth, governed the Puritan mind. They applied its narrative to themselves. They were the self-chosen inheritors of Abraham’s covenant with God, the re-embodied saints of Israel, the “battle-ax of the Lord”, in the words of Jeremiah. Their guide was the prophets, their inspiration were owed not to the Heavenly father of Jesus, but to Jehovah, the Lord God of Hosts. Scripture, the word of god revealed to His chosen people, was their command, on the hearth as on the battlefield, in Parliament as in church. (2)

Shlomo Sand tells us:

Woven through not only the Cartwrights’ petition but also the stance taken by the foreign secretary Lord Palmerston in the 1840’s and Lord Balfour’s well known letter to Lord Rothschild in 1917is a common thread or, to use another metaphor, a critical artery pulsating within the English (and subsequently British) body politic. Lacking this artery and the unique ideological elements it carried, it is doubtful whether the State of Israel could have ever been established. (3)

Impelling the promotion of a Jewish migration into Palestine was a program, not essentially for the sake of Jews, but as it was read from the Scripture, or rather read into the Scripture, that such an re-assemblage of Jews in the Land of the Children of Israel and then their conversion to Christianity was necessary for the return of Christ and a millennium of peace. Such ideas persist among Christian Zionist in our time.

The Puritans believed that since their own doctrines were closer to Judaism, and that the Jews, once in close contact with them, would find conversion to Christianity relatively smooth.63.

The idea of a Jewish migration into and assemblage in Palestine was very much in the air by the beginning of the nineteenth century.

During the Syrian campaign of Napoleon’s Oriental expedition in which he had sought to defeat the Ottoman rulers, cut off Britain from its empire, and recreate the empire of Alexander from France to India, he become (sic) the first political leader to propose a sovereign Jewish State in Palestine:

‘Bonaparte, Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the French Republic in Africa and Asia, to the Rightful Heirs of Palestine. Israelites, unique nation, whom, in thousands of years, lust of conquest and tyranny were able to deprive of the ancestral lands only, but not of name and national existence …She [France] offers to your at this very time, and contrary to all expectations, Israel’s patrimony … Rightful heirs of Palestine … hasten! Now is the moment which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of your rights among the population of the universe which had shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as a nation among the nations, and the unlimited natural right to worship Yehovah in accordance with your faith, publicly and in likelihood for ever.’ (4)

Observe that Napoleon is here attempting to initiate a program or a movement among Jews which , in his understanding, did not exists at that time. Napoleon is not trying to tap into a recognizable “2000 year old yearning of Jews to return to Zion” but is trying to create one from scratch.

A similar conclusion can be reached from this letter, written a half century later, 1841, from Colonel Charles Henry Churchill, antecedent to Winston Churchill, to Moses Montefiore:

I cannot conceal from you my anxious desire to see your countrymen endeavor once more to resume their existence as a people. I consider the object to be perfectly obtainable. But two things are indispensably necessary: Firstly that the Jews themselves will take up the matter, universally and unanimously. Secondly that the European powers will aid them in their views. (5)

Lord Shaftesbury – Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, nobleman, philanthropist with the ear of Prime Ministers, Lords, and others who held power in mid nineteenth century, in particular, that of Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston, foreign secretary and prime minister from 1855 to 1865, was a deeply religious man who based his life on the Bible, “God’s written word”. “I accept it, believe it, bless it, as announced in the Holy Writ.” Ashley became president of the Palestinian Exploration Fund whose mission was to explore every inch of Palestine and to “prepare it for the return of its ancient possessors …” Ashley presided for 40 years over the London Society for the Promotion of Jewish Conversion to Christianity whose signal achievement was the establishment by the Church of England of an Anglican bishopric in Jerusalem with a converted Jew as its first bishop. Shaftesbury invented the phrase, “A country without a nation for a nation without a country’ which later transmogrified into the Zionist slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land’.

Tuchman writes:

On August 17, 1840 the Times published a letter on a plan to “plant the Jewish people in the land of their fathers” which it said was now under “serious consideration.” It commended the efforts of Lord Ashley (later Lord Shaftesbury), author of the plan, as “practical and statesmanlike” and quoted a canvass he was making of Jewish opinion designed to find out how they felt about a return to the Holy Land, how soon they would be ready to go back, and whether Jews “of station and property” would join in the return and invest their capital in the land if the Porte could be induced to assure them law and justice and safety to person and estate and if their rights and privileges were “secure to them under the protection of a European power.” [Italics mine] (6)

By the late nineteenth century most all of England was primed for the promotion of Jews to be assembled, “reassemble” as they put it, in Palestine. The literature- novels and poetry from Milton to Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron to George Eliot and to Benjamin Disraeli, politician/novelist, promoted the assemblage of Jews in Palestine. The newspapers, the Manchester Guardian, in particular, the political actors of the day, with few dissenters, were all aligned driven by religious fervor combined with a vision of imperial by proxy.

Speaking on the floor of the House of Lords in 1922, five years subsequent to the Balfour Declaration, Lord Balfour said:

… that he would be unfair to himself if he sat down without insisting “ to the upmost of my ability” that there was a great deal involved in Britain’s sponsorship of the Jews’ return to their homeland. “This is the ideal which chiefly moves me … that Christendom is not oblivious to their faith, is not unmindful of the service they have rendered to the great religions of the world, and that we desire to the best of our ability to give them the opportunity of developing in peace and quietness under British rule, those great gifts which hitherto they have been compelled to bring to fruition in countries which know not their language and belong not to their race. (7)

Balfour speaks to us again:

Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in the age-long tradition in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land … . The idea of planting a [European] minority of outsiders upon an indigenous majority population, without consulting it, was not calculated to horrify men who had worked with Cecil Rhodes or promote European settlement in Kenya. (8)

Of what was Balfour speaking? Jewish history, or the five centuries of English philo-semitism from the 50 page Christian Zionist monograph of Thomas Brightman to the declaration that bears Balfour’s name. That is, is he speaking of Jewish history or of the English interpretation of that history and contribution of British conceptualization of that history, however Balfour may have understood his own words? Was he not referring, not to Jewish endeavors, but to the long and deep tradition within British society and culture of Christian Zionism?

Mr Ben Gurion’s insertion into the Israeli Declaration of Independence of the claim of 2000 year of Jewish yearning and struggle to return to Palestine is a fraud and an effort to claim provenance of the creation of Zionism which was, in fact, a product of Christians, or of Christian society. It was Christian culture that developed and nurtured the concept of the return of Jews and the continuity of the ancient Judeans with modern Jews overlooking the possibility that modern Jews might well not be the descendants of the ancient Judeans, as it ever more looks like they are not. This created trait of continuity, and identification, of ancient Judeans with modern Jews has allowed Mr Netanyahu, as well as the Revisionist/Lukud strain of Zionism, to claim a right of proprietorship over Palestine which, in his view, and theirs, overrides the constraints of international law, in particular, international law’s injunction against ethnic cleansing.

Ever how much Mr Netanyahu and his Lukud party, and most Israelis for that matter, would be displeased to hear it, Jewish Zionism is an outgrowth of Christian Zionism which developed , incubated, and nurtured it and is not an auto-genetic, self-contained, or autochthonous product of Jewish energy.

President Obama’s pre-presidential background in foreign policy was modest consisting of his having taken some classes on foreign policy at Columbia University as an undergraduate and, as a member of the United States Senate, having served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Notwithstanding his tenure on the Foreign Relations Committee, and maybe with the exception of his vote against authorization for the Iraq invasion, he seems never to have attempted to influence American foreign policy in any significant way.

According to Fawaz Gerges (Obama and the Middle East, p 97), Obama had read a few popular books on foreign affairs – Fareed Zakaria’s Post American World and Thomas Freedman’s There World is Flat, and also Samantha Power’s Putlitzer Prize winning book, A Problem from Hell, a history of genocides. (9)

He certainly lacked the foreign policy experience of some whom he appointed to cabinet, or deputy cabinet posts such as John Kerry, or Richard Holbrook and some others.

One searches in vain for any detailed and highly competent writings or speeches on foreign policy, given by Obama, that go beyond idealistic platitudes, ever how souring the rhetoric.

Looking to the beginning of his presidency, his only foreign policy projections were to correct the overextended foreign policy and adventurism of his predecessor and affect a retraction of foreign involvement ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and retrenching American energy toward a domestic agenda.

Obama’s orientation is toward domestic policy as an academic program of constitutional law would dispose. Between Columbia and Harvard Law School, Obama worked, not in any capacity having to do with foreign policy but as a community organizer in Chicago’s south side.

The contrast with President Carter is instructive.

Coming into office, Carter clearly identified several areas of foreign policy in which he was determined to act. Those were: 1) To establish a working relation with the Soviet government on the issue of nuclear arms reductions. 2) To complete to diplomacy initiated Richard Nixon and establish full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. 3) To resolve the growing potential conflict with Panama over the Panama Canal and to complete a treaty that previous presidents had left dangling. 4) To resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 4) To reduce American’s dependence on the importation of foreign oil and to end the possibility of a disruption of oil supplies as, for instance, caused by the Arab oil embargo of 1973. 5) To move southern Africa toward constructive change and away from apartheid. Carter was largely successful in in carrying out these initiatives.

By contrast with Carter, there were no positive foreign policy initiatives envisioned by the new incoming president other than the intention of ending the involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. The so-called “pivot toward Asia”, which was also a pivot away from involvement in the Middle East only reflects the reaction against the Bush policies and is an effort at correction. It is a reaction against rather than a genuinely positive refocus.

There is, however, a fairly consistent foreign policy strategy, consistent with Obama’s disposition toward limited foreign involvement which is discernable if one ignores the idealistic words and speeches. In the historic tension between idealism and Realpolitic, Obama comes down on the side of Realpolitic. Thus, foreign involvement is only justified if American’s vital interests are threatened.

Thought of this way, the Palestinians are as peripheral to core American interests are the Bahrainian protestors in Pearl Square.

Though Obama has exhibited sympathies toward the peaceful protests as they began in Syria and later for the rebel fighters resisting the crush or the Syrian army, Obama rejected Secretary of State Clinton’s proposal to arm the Syrian rebels, and even now, American aid to the moderate Syrian rebels, such as can be found, is quite modest.

What is not modest, however, is the effort to defeat ISIS while the Assad regime in Damascus is largely ignored. Overthrowing or destabilizing the Assad regime would not make any more sense to Obama than the invasion of Iraq under President Bush.

In terms of Realpolitic, there is little contribution that the Palestinian or their liberation can do for US strategic interests, whereas there is considerable cooperation between the US and Israel on security matters.

One might argue, as many have, that the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict along with Israel’s continued occupation and land confiscation is harmful to American’s image in the Arab world and is possibly behind much of the unrest and overall hostility, harbored by some, toward the US.

But this involves long term interest, and further, a clear straight line cannot be drawn between a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem and a diminution of tensions and conflicts in the Middle East.

Arguably, the combined efforts of the US and Israel to develop the Stuxnet virus, or malware, which did considerable damage to the Iranian centrifuges at their Natanz nuclear facility, and the recently revealed combined US-Mossad intelligence cooperation which resulted in the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s international operations chief, along with the combined British, Israeli, and US espionage on Iranian government leaders recently revealed by Edward Snowden , indicate the close security cooperation between the US and Israel on matters of security and the fight against terrorists threats (10). It also reflects a shared interest in matters of security, an interest not shared between the US and the Palestinians.

Despite Obama’s pledge in in 2009 Cairo to do everything in his power to achieve a Palestinian state living peacefully beside a secure Israel, Obama is not going to discard, or risk the loss of, the potential intelligence asset of Israel’s technical capability or experience in the Middle East in order to achieve freedom for the Palestinian people. Nor has he shown the slightest interest in risking political capital in a public fight with Israel over basic issues.

As of the writing of this article, there is a test of wills occurring between the White House and the Israeli government led by Mr Netanyahu’s implacable hostility to any compromise in negotiations on Iranian nuclear program.

This is a battle Mr Obama did not choose. Rather it represented a challenge by the Israeli government to Obama’s determination to avoid further military involvement in the Middle East and, in particular, a war with Iran, as Mr Netanyahu has been trying to promote, or to avoid the US to be drawn into a war with Iran initiated by Israel.

Obama’s concentration of energy on the implementation of a policy based on Realpolitic allows Obama to avoid acquiring a very detailed knowledge of the history of Israel or of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or, for that matter, any other area of foreign policy.

The several paragraphs quoted at the beginning of this paper reveal that, at best, Obama has a superficial knowledge of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and its history and also reveals his embrace of the 60 year old Israeli propaganda largely discredited since the writing of the historians, mostly Israelis, since the 1990’s. I refer primarily to the writing of historians Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim and others.

Obama could do no better at the beginning of this past summer’s Israel was against Gaza than repeat the Bush mantra we heard so often – “Israel has a right to defend itself.” As in the case of his predecessor, there is no consideration of the right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves. Nor was there a consideration of who was defending against whom. This often repeated platitude reflect a considerable shallowness and an indication that Obama has given very little thought to what is the actual nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is difficult to imagine President Obama replicating Jimmy Carter’s 13 days long Camp David Summit which consisted of virtually non-stop debates between President Carter and Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin, with Benjamin Netanyahu replacing Begin. Obama lacks the interest, the passion and the necessary knowledge or historical grasp to conduct such a session. But Obama would hardly be undertake such a summit in the first place

Israel can offer the US cooperation at the security level with Israeli intelligence which is highly capable and has extensive experience in the Middle East.

The Palestinians have little to offer Obama.

Do not expect any significant progress engendered by the Obama administration for the rest of his term.

If there is to be any change in the configuration between the Palestinians and the Israelis, it will emanated from the International Court of Justice.

William James Martin contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: wjm20@caa.columbia.edu


  • Sand, Shlomo; Verso, “The Invention of the land of Israel”
  • Tuchman, Barbara; Ballantine, “The Bible and the Sword”, p 122
  • Sand; ibid, p 145
  • Stephen Sizer: “The Road to Balfour: The History of Christian Zionism”
  • Tuchman; ibid, p 209
  • Tuchman; ibid, p 176
  • Tuchman, ibid, p 316
  • Masalha, Nur: Zed, Bible and Zionism, p 100
  • Gerges, Fawaz; Palgrave, p 95
  • Oren, Amir; Insreli intel cooperated with US and Britain to surveil Iran Leaders, Haaretz, February 22, 2015
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1 Comment

  1. Well written. At one time a solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict could have been achieved and would have had a decidedly positive effect on the Middle East. Now, a solution is as far away as ever – unless global forces step in – and a settlement within Palestine/Israel would not reset the wars and insurgencies that have risen out of past mistakes by the U.S. – mistakes that are now threatening its perceived global hegemony and indispensability.

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