By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
The Lovefest celebrated here for all to see when Barack Obama escorted Benjamin Netanyahu on the front lawn of the White House and at a joint press conference was a marked difference from their contentious, behind-closed-doors meeting here last April. But judging from the early assessments it is not certain that their relationship will bear fruit in the near future.
For one, the American and Israeli leaders are hoping that their get-together will serve their political ambitions at home. Obama, whose rating has lately dropped markedly, will be facing in the next four months a crucial mid-term elections when Americans elect a new House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, now controlled by his Democratic Party. He apparently fears that his stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict may affect the voting; it certainly is giving the Republican Party and its Jewish supporters ammunition to try and cripple Obama.
Netanyahu is also hopeful that his revived ties with the American leadership would improve his standing at home following the international condemnation of Israel’s bloody attack on the recent Gaza-bound international flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the besieged Gazans. More importantly, many Israelis fear that the Israeli prime minister’s heretofore poor relationship with Washington may affect upcoming Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.
The Obama-Netanyahu meeting occurred as two Arab-American journalists of American, if not international, renown received a shameless and vicious whip lashing from some of their colleagues and the discredited pro-Israel lobby. Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, and Octavia Nasr, Middle East senior editor at CNN, were castigated by the Israeli lobby and their supporters within the media for what has been called “inappropriate” comments, critical of Israeli settlers and admiration for a revered Muslim cleric aligned to Hezbollah, the Lebanese group.
What Thomas said off-handedly was that the Israelis in the Palestinian-occupied areas should go back where they came from and in a followup question she suggested they can go back to Europe – Germany and Poland – and America and elsewhere. Nasr, a Lebanese Christian, wrote on her “tweet” that she admired Ayatollah Fadlallah for his stance in defense of Arab women rights. Consequently, the 89-year-old Thomas quit her writing career and Nasr was fired by CNN, a harsh decision. (Nasr might feel vindicated on learning that the British Ambassador to Lebanon, Frances Guy, had equally eulogized the ayatollah on her blog as “a decent man” but she was not disciplined by her government for her remarks. They were only removed from her site.)
All the antagonists in this tirade failed to recall, to cite but one example and there are many, that Gold Meir, the late Israeli prime minister, had once declared, “there is no such thing as Palestinians.” If that was not an “inappropriate” remark what is? Anyway, she was never taken to task for her racial slur.
Hardly a week had passed since Netanyahu had been praised by Obama for his readiness to take “risks for peace,” returned home and his government demolished three Arab houses in East Jerusalem – an action that is bound to infuriate Palestinians, including President Mahmoud Abbas, who recently said there was no point in resuming direct talks with the Israelis under current circumstances. Even Haaretz, the Israeli daily, acknowledged that this Israel action in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem has “effectively end(ed) an unofficial freeze of such internationally-condemned demolitions.”
Obama may be walking a thin line but he should not miss the point that Israel is nowadays facing more and more criticism from within the American Jewish community and others over its deplorable position – – a situation that should embolden him to take crucial steps in resolving this 62-year-old conflict.
For example, the World Zionist Organization is slowly being dismantled “and nobody seems to care,” writes J. J. Goldberg, editorial director of the American Jewish newspaper The Forward. In a lead story, The New York Times last week revealed that in violation of U.S. laws “at least 40 American (Evangelical and Jewish) groups … have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the (occupied) West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade.”
After a visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian areas, the Times’ columnist Nicholas D.. Kristof writes “Israel goes out of is way to display it ugliest side to the world by tearing down Palestinian homes or allowing rapacious settlers to steal Palestinian land.” In another column, he stresses that “the (Israeli) occupation is morally repugnant” and goes on to quote an Israeli human rights activist who pointed out in the vicinity of an Israeli settlement “that looks like an American suburb” which has a poultry barn: “Those chickens get more electricity and water than all the Palestinians round here.”
How can Obama close his eyes while Netanyahu proceeds glaringly in his two-faced policies. Or must we all wait until the election in November, but then what are the choices for the Palestinians if he loses?
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.