Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

December 19, 2009

The time for Palestine/Israel is now, Pres. Obama!

Filed under: Washington's diplomacy — Helena Cobban @ 9:09 pm

Palestinians, and their allies in the peace movements in Israel and around the world, have waited far too long to achieve the just peace settlement that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve, and that the whole world so desperately needs.

So okay, Mr. Obama.  It now looks as if you’ve won the health care settlement you’ve been working on for so long now.  You’ve reached your long-drawn-out decision on Afghanistan.  You’ve been to Copenhagen and done what you could regarding climate change.

So the time for real engagement in Palestine-Israel peace diplomacy is now.

… Many of us had such high hopes when Obama was elected in November 2008; when he was inaugurated last January 20; and when, as one of his first acts in office he appointed Sen. George Mitchell to be his “senior peace envoy”.

In the ceremony in which Obama announced Mitchells’ appointment, remember how he said constructive-sounding things like,

Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clean water, and basic medical care, and who’ve faced suffocating poverty for far too long… As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza’s border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime, with the international and Palestinian Authority participating…

Lasting peace requires more than a long cease-fire, and that’s why I will sustain an active commitment to seek two states living side by side in peace and security.

But the months have certainly s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d o-u-t since then.  Now, nearly eleven months later, Obama has achieved precisely none of the things he called for there.  No strengthening of the ceasefire. No opening of the Gaza border crossings for the flow of aid and commerce.  No signs of any active US engagement to win a sustainable final peace agreement…  And Israel’s colonial land-grab in the West Bank has continued apace.  (See 1, 2, 3.)

And all this time, some “knowledgeable” analysts of US policymaking have been saying, “Oh, you can’t expect Obama to do everything at once… He’s so busy with all these other issues… ”

But Palestinians have heard these words for several decades now!  Their claims have always, time after time, gotten pushed to the back of the queue. They have always been asked to wait at the very back of the policymaking bus.

This issue matters to Americans, now more than ever.  Just about everyone else in the world, apart from the governments of Israel and the US, believes strongly that the Palestinians have gotten a very raw deal and that their legitimate demands for self-determination and real national independence need to be met.  A strong majority of people in the non-“western” populations that make up about 85% of the world’s people believe this– and this is probably even more true in the majority-Muslim countries where US troops are now serving in tense situations, at the end of long and very vulnerable supply lines.

For Pres. Obama, taking urgent action to win a fair and sustainable final-status peace between Palestinians and Israelis is not only the right thing to do, morally.  It is also the only prudent way to protect our people’s interests, given the vulnerability of the scores of thousands of US troops now serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and along the lengthy supply lines that support them.

Sure, there will be a lot of people saying it’s impossible or imprudent for Obama to move decisively on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, for one reason or another.  (“The Jews and Arabs have been fighting forever; and will continue fighting forever!” “The US Congress will never allow him to move forcefully on the peace agenda!”, etc etc.)

But Barack Obama is the president.  He has a great “bully pulpit” from which he can exercise leadership and explain his policies clearly and well to the US public and to our representatives in Congress.  He has a great series of international allies who will back him up in every move he makes toward genuine and decisive peacemaking…

He can do this.

And if he doesn’t, then the Palestinian issue– especially the perilous situation in East Jerusalem– is a tinderbox that can explode in his face, and in the faces of all those US service-members in distant majority-Muslim lands, at any time.

So what is it that Obama could and should be doing? He should announce that the United States,  having tired of all the foot-dragging between the Israelis and the PLO, has decided to put forward its own final-status plan, based on the requirements of international law and international resolutions, and to actively pursue this plan in conjunction with the other members of the UN’s “P-5”.

The announcement itself would certainly shake things up. But of course, Obama should follow up on it, swiftly and decisively, using all the instruments of our country’s power to achieve this peace settlement.

And what if this president doesn’t feel able to come up with any such distinctively US (but also international law-based) plan?  In that case, he should get out of the peace-making kitchen, and leave the job to the only other body that has the power to get the job done: the UN Security Council.

The situation on the ground in Palestine– and in the world as a whole– is too dire to let the foot-dragging, the dilly-dallying, and all that nonsense about endless (and quite unrealizeable) “confidence building” continue for any longer.

It is time to put up or shut up. Pres. Obama, let’s see if “Yes, you can.”

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