Time Marches on but not for Obama

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington
It is par for the course for the mainstream American media to adopt the U.S. official line on U.S. foreign policy, especially when it concerns the Arab-Israeli conflict, rather than take an independent stance.  This does not mean, much to the delight of some foreign policy observers, that this position is universally true since there are few liberal groups, including American Jewish organizations, who do stick their neck out but regrettably with little impact in the halls of government.
Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell lauded the recent offer of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to go along with a partial settlement freeze in the occupied Palestinian territories although he excluded occupied Arab East Jerusalem, where several recent episodes of ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arab citizens from the Holy City have occurred.
 “U.S. praises Netanyahu plan,” was the headline in The Washington Post on November 26 for the Israeli offer for a 10-month freeze on colonial expansion in the occupied West Bank where about 300,000 Israeli settlers have been living following the 1967 war. The half-baked Israeli offer would also allow the completion of 2900 housing units there as well as continue expansion into East Jerusalem which is slated to become the Palestinians’ capital city. 
The reaction of several American columnists was mainly noteworthy for the lack of any criticism of the limited Israeli offer. Writing three days later, Thomas L. Friedman chose to focus in The New York Times on the case of Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, who is accused of killing 13 people at his army compound. Acknowledging that the U.S. has “punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11 … but for every Abu Gharib (the notorious Iraq prison), our soldiers and diplomats perpetrated a million acts of kindness aimed at giving Arabs and Muslims a better chance to succeed with modernity and to elect their own leaders.” Of course, he did not cite any example.
 Writing on the same day, Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post seemed to disagree with Friedman.  “Regardless of what the president may have said in Cairo, Obama’s vision for the Middle East doesn’t include ‘a new beginning’ in the old political order.”  He, however, noted earlier in his column that “Obama’s poorly executed attempt to launch final-settlement talks between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed,” leaving Arabs “bitterly disappointed.”  Nothing more, nothing less and no party was blamed.

 David Ignatius of The Washington Post urged the Obama administration “to give the (Mideast peace process) a harder push” to avoid “the same old depressing Middle East story of missed opportunities,” not in the direction of Israel which refuses to comply with international law and abandon its colonization program but in support of  the Palestinian two-year plan “to build the institutions of a viable Palestinian state.”  But what should Israel do in the meantime?

Editorially, The New York Times, noting correctly that Obama’s peace initiative has “unraveled,” said that he has “no choice but to keep trying.” The paper stressed that “advancing his own final-status plan for a two state solution is one high-risk way forward that we think is worth the gamble.”  Its point being “stalemate is unsustainable.” Here no indication that it was the Netanyahu government that sat down with its hands folded.

Jim Hoagland, a seasoned foreign correspondent of The Washington Post who had covered the Middle East, was more direct, maintaining that outsiders cannot resolve this conflict.” He underlined:
“Only an Israeli decision to end that occupation in fast order can lead to the security Israelis need and deserve, and to the dignity that Palestinians seek through a state of their own. That is the broader, more vital decision that Netanyahu needs to make.”
But will the Obama administration continue to miss this point, as evident in its half-hearted approach to date?  One can come up with several excuses for the young American leader but as he and his key aides must realize that time is not on their side. His reliance, as The New York Times reported, on his White House aides specifically Rahm Emmanuel, his chief of staff whose father was an Israeli army officer, shows poor judgement. He should look around for more sensible approaches.
In the meantime, the Europeans now seem impatient. The foreign ministers of the European Union, Haaretz has reported, are expected to issue an official call next week to divide Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine.  The draft document is authored by the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, Sweden, and implies that the EU would recognize a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood once it is announced. 
The carpet is being slowly pulled from underneath Obama’s feet!

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: hishmehg@aol.com.

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