Obama: Time to Step Into the Ring

By George Hismeh

So Barack Obama has unexpectedly won the Nobel Peace Prize this year and he was gracious enough to admit publicly that he did not think he deserved it.

The American president has actually been remarkable for his good intentions, but, so far, not his achievements and, I note this, despite the well-known American saying: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

The surprise announcement covered only the first nine days of his assumption of power at the White House since the nominations to the highly coveted prize — 205 persons were recommended — were closed on February 1. In other words, this first African-American president has been seemingly judged for the atmosphere of political reconciliation and engagement that he had championed during the long presidential election campaign.

Actually, the Nobel Peace Committee justified its choice of Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor who bequeathed the prizes, said in his will that the Peace Prize should be awarded to the person who "during the preceding year … shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

And in his acceptance speech, Obama generously considered the award as "a means to give momentum to a set of causes," some of which he has propagated, and "a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st Century (as well as), an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations." His early attention in foreign affairs to the long-simmering Palestinian-Israeli conflict was appreciated in the Middle East and elsewhere.
But the mindless hoopla, particularly waged within the US by arch-conservative groups against the award, has sidelined, if not wiped out from the front pages, the behind-the-scenes negotiations to launch the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Simultaneously, an unforgivable step taken by the Obama administration reportedly included twisting the arms of Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, who initially agreed to postpone consideration by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council of a damaging report commissioned by United Nations on the Israeli offensive against Gaza last December and January. He has since reversed his decision.

The report, drawn by a team of experts led by a South African judge, Richard Goldstone, himself a Jew and a Zionist, accused Israel of using disproportionate force and failing to protect civilians during its 33-day assault which cost the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians, including over 200 women and children. This will be the sixth time that Israel has been the subject of a special session by the war crimes council. Each previous session has resulted in a resolution critical of Israel. Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, was also accused of firing rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel.

A loud uproar emerged within Palestinian ranks after Abbas’s unpublicised action, because it was seen as missing an opportunity to condemn Israel of war crimes. In fact, some Israeli leaders are nowadays avoiding travel to Europe or elsewhere for fear of persecution. In turn, the standing of the Palestinian president has severely diminished and his fortune as president of the Palestinian Authority may be short-lived. Moreover, his arch-rival Hamas has gained popularity because it seconded the denunciation of Abbas’s action. Disappointingly, however, it torpedoed an Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation session between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah, a much-desired step most Palestinians favoured.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has once again tried to take advantage of the ugly Palestinian morass and the continued inability of President Obama to untie his seemingly handcuffed hands. Raising the ante, Netanyahu now wants the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state before any talks could begin, but neglected to mention the illegal Israeli colonies and other serious issues dividing the two people.

Nine months have already passed and Obama’s special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, has yet to come up with any ideas that may pave the way to a settlement. It is undoubtedly time for Obama to step into the ring and take action. Otherwise, the Palestinians are likely to lose hope about his leadership and aspirations, in part spelled out at his famous Cairo speech, for which he now received the much-coveted Nobel Peace Prize. 

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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