Obama, You're No Ike
President Barack Obama's stirring vows to bring peace to the Mideast and oversee creation of a viable Palestinian state have turned to ashes in the face of Israel's adamantine opposition, and with them the president's dignity and credibility, and America's national interests.
For dismaying comparison, think back to 1956. Britain, France and Israel colluded to trump up a war against Egypt to overthrow its hugely popular nationalist leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Israel provoked border clashes and quickly captured the Sinai Peninsula. The British and French landed at Suez, in a so-called u2018peacekeeping' mission.
An angry US President Dwight Eisenhower deemed the tripartite Suez aggression immoral and damaging to American interests in the Muslim world. "Ike" ordered the British, French and Israelis to get out of Egypt at once — or else. They got.
Fast forward to 2010. President Barack Obama has been demanding Israel stop building illegal Jewish settlements around Jerusalem and on the West Bank that were thwarting efforts to create a Palestinian state.
Obama rightly concluded the ongoing agony of Palestine has turned the Muslim world against the United States. It is also the primary cause of what Washington calls "terrorism." The 9/11 hijackers cited Palestine as the prime motivation for their attacks, not Islam, as was later claimed by the Bush administration.
After the Suez invasion, Israel's American partisans set about building an influence network that would ensure no American president could ever force Israel to do anything against its will. Over the next half century, Israel's advocates became the most powerful and feared lobby in America, strongly influencing both the US Congress and media.
The lobby's remarkable success was again confirmed last week as Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Israel's rightist coalition, contemptuously spurned President Obama's pleas to create a viable Palestinian state. Vice President Joseph Biden was earlier humiliated on a trip to Israel to plead with Israel to stop building Jewish settlements. Obama and Biden were being taught a lesson.
The US Congress and rightwing media actually applauded the public humiliation of their president and vice president.
How the mighty have fallen. Obama has shown himself utterly without spine, and terrified of the Israel lobby at a time when his political fortunes are plummeting. Unfortunately, this shameful spectacle was largely overshadowed by the WikiLeaks uproar.
The White House understands that America's vital interests in the Mideast are being increasingly undermined by Netanyahu's adamant refusal to allow a workable Palestinian state. Netanyahu has vowed never to accept a Palestinian state; instead, he advocates for West Bank Arabs "homelands" that resemble South Africa's old apartheid Bantustans.
Israel's prime minister is also undermining the long-term security and well-being of his own people by refusing to make a lasting peace with Palestinians, condemning them to generations more of violence and siege. And all this for the sake of settlements on the West Bank and Gaza that Israel does not need for reasons of security or economics.
A triumphant Netanyahu made clear Israel would retain all of Jerusalem, settlement blocks around it, water resources, key roads, the West Bank high ground and the Jordan River valley. In short, "useful Palestine." The rest, waterless scrub and slums, might be left to the Arabs. Nothing was said about Israel's illegal occupation of Syria's Golan Heights which has become, de facto, an annexation.
Even Obama's astounding, shameful offer of a multi-billion dollar bribe to Israel of 20 F-35 warplanes and promises to veto any UN resolutions calling for a Palestinian state in exchange for a flimsy 90-day temporary settlement building freeze, was contemptuously rejected by Netanyahu. Americans should have been outraged by this craven groveling.
Israel's leader knows the US Congress would give Israel the moon if asked. The US has already given Israel at least $114 billion in official aid since its creation in 1947, as well as tens of billions more in covert support.
What does Obama's humiliation mean? His chances of being defeated in the next presidential election are growing. Obama's arch-rival, Hillary Clinton, who is regarded as pro-Israel, is positioning herself to take over the Democratic Party from a fallen Obama. There are already rumbles in the Democratic Party of a primary challenge to Obama.
The US diplomatic, intelligence and military establishment has got the message, loud and clear: don't mess with Israel.
By caving in to Israel's hard right over the West Bank, Obama sends a message of profound weakness to the rest of the world. He is signaling that Israel is as influential as the White House in making America's Mideast policy.
Israel also increasingly influences US policy towards Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea, and promotes ever warmer relations with India, a key ally of Israel.
The humiliated Palestinian Authority is shown as a helpless puppet of the Americans and Israelis, as rival Hamas has long charged. Its hapless leader, Mahmoud Abbas, should resign if he has a shred of pride left. The pliant Abbas was put into power by the US and Israel after PLO chief Yasser Arafat's convenient death that many Palestinians suspect was caused by poison.
Obama's defeat suggests Israel now has "carte blanche" to move ahead and attack Lebanon's resistance movement Hezbullah, Syria, and eventually Iran.
In fact, Israel now seems to have the power to plunge the US into war against Iran whenever it decides the time is right and the risk worthwhile. That's a major reason why Netanyahu holds the whip hand over Obama. Thanks to George Bush's reckless wars, US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are now in a sense hostages of Iran. If Israel attacks Iran, these US forces will be the first and most important target of Iranian military retaliation.
Since the US has become a helpless giant, it's up to the rest of the world to end the suffering in Palestine. Brazil and Argentina have taken an important step forward by recognizing a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 borders. Uruguay will reportedly follow next year.
The 2002 Saudi peace plan still offers all parties concerned the fairest, most practical road to peace: Israel is to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders; a Palestinian state established on the West Bank, Jerusalem shared; Golan returned to Syria; some token Palestinian refugees returned or compensated (there are over 5 million).
In exchange, the entire Muslim world will recognize Israel and normalize relations with the Jewish state, opening a vast commercial market to Israeli goods and services. The US will guarantee Israel's borders. Israeli observers can stay on to monitor the Jordanian and Syrian borders.
The UN General Assembly should again endorse this plan and call for full compensation for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab nations when Israel was created. Israel's own pro-peace movement badly needs to hear support from abroad.
But Netanyahu and his fellow rightwing zealots are determined to hold on to every inch of the West Bank and Golan. Some far rightists want to further expand Israel's borders. In fact, Netanyahu's Likud Party has been reluctant to define Israel's permanent borders.
Israel's refusal to compromise over Palestine is at the heart of its increasingly dangerous confrontation with Iran. If Israel would conclude a peace deal with authentic Palestinians — not the current Palestinian Authority puppets — the confrontation with Iran would likely end.
All this is now down the drain. Obama's shameful failure in the Mideast will haunt the world for decades.
December 14, 2010
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.