Quick! Someone help free Pres. Obama from the kidnappers who are holding him hostage! The kidnappers in question are, of course, our old friends from the Israel Lobby, who have succeeded so thoroughly in their decades-long campaign to stuff the whole of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment with their acolytes and toadies that it seems that the President of the USA is currently unable to get any even halfway accurate information about the true situation in the Middle East.
Consider this statement that “Deputy National Security Adviser” (actually, a jumped-up speechwriter) Ben Rhodes made to reporters in Phonm Penh today: “the reason there is a conflict in Gaza is because of the rocket fire that’s been launched at Israeli civilians indiscriminately for many months now. And any solution to this challenge has to include an end to that rocket fire.”
That was it. Nothing about the many steps Israel has taken in the past ten days deliberately to escalate the tensions with Gaza (the killing of Ahmed Jabari, etc). Nothing about Israel’s maintenance of a crippling siege around Gaza for the past seven years. Nothing about Israel’s maintenance of a military occupation regime over and around Gaza for 45 years now… No, the only reason there’s a conflict in Gaza is “because of the rocket fire that’s been launched at Israeli civilians indiscriminately for many months now.”
And thus, the only step that Mr. Rhodes and his boss the president see as necessary in order to end the conflict is that Hamas should cease its launching of rockets. Nothing about Israel taking any steps whatsoever to halt its massive, sustained use of lethal violence against Gaza.
Mind-boggling. And outrageous.
There is no public recognition at all from Obama or his officials that both sides should be a party to any ceasefire if it is to have any chance of taking hold. (Preferably, too, some neutral monitoring mechanism should be put in place so that future infringements or accusations of the same can be speedily reviewed and resolved.)
Still today, one week into the current very lethal and tragic flare-up, Obama is giving a flashing green light to Israel: “Yes, Israel, go, go, go! Use all your lethal firepower against Gaza, as much as you want; and we will certainly replenish your military supplies if you need that!”
When Obama spoke with Egyptian Pres. Morsi on the phone yesterday, this is what, according to the White House, transpired during the call:
- The two leaders discussed ways to de-escalate the situation in Gaza, and President Obama underscored the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire into Israel.
That was it.
My first question is, why this blindness? Well, I guess that’s easy. Time was, back in the old days, when there were people in the White House and in positions of influence in the State Department who understood the broad dynamics of Middle Eastern politics and who had a well-grounded sense of what, broadly speaking, the American people’s interests in the region were. Back in the day, “even-handed” used to be a term of praise for U.S. officials involved in the sometimes complex work of negotiating issues between Arabs and Israelis.
Oh boy, how that has changed. With the rise of AIPAC’s influence over all relevant branches of the U.S. administration (except for some remaining small pockets of resistance in some portions of the Defense Department), kowtowing to Israel became the order of the day. “Even-handed” even came to be understood as a slur expressed against those who were insufficiently zealous in the cause. Too deep and granular an understanding of the dynamics of a region that is host to some 300 million Muslims and just 6.5 million Jewish Israelis came to be seen by everyone in the self-referential bubble that is Washington as a clear career-ender. (Exhibit A: Amb. Chas Freeman, and the humiliation meted out to him in March 2009. But there are numerous other examples, too..)
A self-imposed blindness became the order of the day in Washington.
And today, that blindness matters.
The Middle East of late 2012 is not, it turns out, the same as the Middle East of 2006 (the days of George W. Bush, Condi Rice, and the “birth-pangs of democracy” criminality over Lebanon.) It is not even the same as the Middle East of 2008-09 when– as in 2006– an apparently strongly seated Pres. Mubarak was still in power in geopolitically massive Egypt, able to extend his support over other, more fragile U.S. allies in the region like the PA’s Abu Mazen and Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Hullo! Perhaps someone should tell Pres. Obama and his minions that, um, something rather serious has changed in Egypt over the past 22 months?
Just one small sign of this change is the fact that Egyptian solidarity activists have been able to go to Gaza this time. Back in 2008-09, Mubarak declared it “high treason” for any unauthorized Egyptian to even get as close to Gaza as crossing the Suez Canal (which is still a good three hours’ drive from Gaza.)
I don’t think we’ve seen Egyptian solidarity activists able to get into a zone under Israeli attack since 1982, when a number of leading Egyptian cultural figures went to Beirut at the time it was being pounded senseless by the Israeli military. (And the effect they had there was, by all accounts, quite pronounced, in terms of raising the morale of the city’s defenders and assuring them that they had not been forgotten by the world.)
Don’t under-estimate the effects of such sojourns, and of the reporting thereon, dear Mr. Ben Rhodes.
Do you think that Mr. Ben Rhodes has even heard of Mosa’ab Elshamy, an Egyptian social activist whose Twitter profile reads, quite straightforwardly, “I revolted and overthrew a dictator.” Well, perhaps there is just a tad of exaggeration there– Elshamy didn’t do it ALL by himself back in February of last year… But during those amazing days of January-February 2011 in Cairo, he certainly was one of the key activists…
So today, Elshamy is in Gaza. Today, he posted this slideshow onto the U.S. website Foreignpolicy.com. U.S. officials don’t even have to know Arabic to be able to appreciate the impact of his photos and their (English-language) captions. But imagine how much more they might understand about the geopolitical dynamics of the whole region today, if regional knowledge had not been systematically besmirched and derided by the past 30-plus years of campaigns by AIPAC and its allies?
Actually, it doesn’t even require a Ph.D. in area studies, or anything close to it, to understand such things. All that’s required is a recognition that you can’t carry on privileging the claims, interests, and assertions of 6.5 million Jewish Israelis over those of their 300 million neighbors forever and expect that situation to be stable and sustainable.
To imagine that that might be possible requires a certain, very extreme kind of colonial (and essentially racist) blindness!
If there is to be a ceasefire that works for Gaza– as I so sorely hope– then evidently, it has to be reciprocal. It is strongly preferable, in addition, that some neutral monitoring mechanism be in place. And it is absolutely necessary– for the sake of the 1.7 million Palestinians of Gaza, and for all Israelis and Palestinians everywhere– that a decent and sustainable end to the longstanding conflict between the two peoples be attained in the shortest possible time.
For 39 years now, ever since the Geneva Conference of December 1973, Washington has successfully maintained its monopoly over all Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy. The record of this tenure has been especially poor regarding the crucial Palestinian strand of the effort. Over the past 39 years, the Israelis have implanted 500,000 settlers into the occupied Palestinian territories. They have maintained total control over all of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. They have killed several tens of thousands of Palestinians– between Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank– and have displaced hundreds of thousands more from their ancestral homeland. They have completely transformed the human geography of Jerusalem. They have refused any attempts by the eight million or so Palestinians living in exile to return to their homeland. Palestinian acts of violence over that period have killed some hundreds of Israelis.
Every so often throughout the past 39 years– and especially in the aftermath of a flare-up of tensions– Washington would trot out some version or another of a new “peace initiative”, or even (heaven forbid!) a peace “process”, involving the Palestinians. All of it was flim-flam, smoke and mirrors whose main effect (and in some cases, also the intention) was to give the Israelis more time to continue their colonial taking of the Palestinians’ land and resources.
It is time to end that charade. Time for the grown-ups in the world system to take the reins away from Washington and work to speedily find and implement a solution to the Palestine-Israel question that is based on international law and a respect for the basic equality of all human persons.
… But first, we need that two-sided ceasefire in Gaza. Two-sided. How blind must this U.S. president be if he can’t understand that?