Is Barack Obama, who is marking his mid-term as president, any different from his predecessors, except Dwight Eisenhower, as far as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned?
Expectations were high when Obama walked into the White House. After his triumphant trips overseas, especially to Cairo, there was hope that he will usher a new positive era in US relations with the Muslim world and resolve the 63-year-old conflict between Israelis and Arabs.
His intimate acquaintance with prominent Arab-American intellectuals in his hometown, Chicago, and exposure to the other side of the coin raised hopes in the Middle East that a fair settlement was imminent.
But to date Obama has turned out to be a great disappointment and the likelihood that he can still usher new thinking within his administration borders on wishful thinking, at least there are no signs yet that he may sidestep the pro-Israel lobby.
This latest disappointment came amidst the unprecedented roiling under way in the Arab world where two leaders have just been overthrown, and several others are on the edge of another great precipice.
For the first time, the US was all alone vetoing a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning illegal Israeli colony expansion in Occupied Territories on the West Bank and, more significantly, occupied east Jerusalem where the Palestinians hope to establish their capital.
Even Britain, France and Germany, key American allies, did not support the US action. It was the tenth time since the year 2000 that the US exercised its right to veto a UN resolution. Nine of those votes were in defence of Israel.
The three riled allies declared in a joint statement that they had voted for the resolution “because our views on [Israeli colonies] settlements, including [occupied] east Jerusalem, are clear: They are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace, and constitute a threat to a two-state solution. All settlement [colony] activity, including [occupied] east Jerusalem, should cease immediately.”
As expected, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country “deeply appreciated” the US use of its veto, entitled to the five permanent members of the UN apparently despite US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, stressing that the US action “should not be misunderstood to mean we support [Israeli colony] settlement activity.”
Along with the widespread Arab denunciation of the American action, there were several Israelis who shared the Arab disaffection. Gideon Levy, a prominent Israeli commentator, said the US veto “is not friendly to Israel; it supports the settlers [colonists] and the Israeli right, and them alone ... a [colonist] enterprise that is most damaging to Israel.”
Akiva Eldar wrote: “Thanks, Obama, for taking off the mask and showing us your real face. It is high time we took a look at ourselves in the mirror.”
The Obama administration’s UN action followed an important international security conference held in Herzliya, Israel, earlier this month where Defence News reported that the “overwhelming consensus” was that “American influence in the [Middle East] region — or at least the perception of it — was in considerable decline.” The Israeli speakers did not hesitate to blame increasing threats to US policy missteps.
Major General Amir Eshel, planning director on the Israel Defence Forces General staff, was quoted as saying that “this region will be influenced by Iran, Turkey and Israel”.
Rafi Barak, director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, added surprisingly that Israel can no longer rely solely on its patron ally — the US — and is exploring alternative alliances should a declining US choose to turn its back on it.
The former Israeli ambassador in Washington, Zalman Shoval, argued that the White House’s focus on Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories is the principal source of regional woes.
Retired US Marine General James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser until last October, dismissed claims of Washington’s decline. He went on to emphasise that Palestinian-Israeli peace process as “a matter or urgent necessity.”
He argued that time is not on Israel’s side, warning that “the growing isolation of Israel is a very real concern. The number of countries that recognise a Palestinian state can outrank the number of countries that recognize Israel.”
Despite this give-and-take it is high time for the Obama administration to stop sitting on the fence and step forward, speaking loudly and clearly and stop worrying about its chances for a second term. He then will be assured a place in history.
Whatever, the Palestinians, who will be marking their ‘day of rage’ tomorrow, are now planning another confrontation next September when they hope to apply for admission to the UN General Assembly. They feel certain that the growing number of states, especially from South America, recognising the state of Palestine along the 1967 border will put this step within reach.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at email@example.com.