Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Obama & the Mideast

President Obama is beginning his much-anticipated Mideast trip today in Saudi Arabia that includes a heavily promoted address to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt tomorrow. This trip coincides with President Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, making news criticizing Israel's settlment policy in the occuppied territories. With respect to the criticism, Israel's settlement policy is both illegal and immoral.

Obama's willingness to criticize Israel for it is certainly a change in rhetoric from standard American practice in recent years. The real test however will come as the Netenyahu government continues to defy the world and build within existing settlements. Will there be any consequences? I doubt it.

At this point there is no organized counterweight to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee ("APAC"). As a Jewish American who cares about Israel, I once again express my regret that an effective counterweight to APAC does not exist. Without one, Israel will continue down a dark and perilious path and eventually reap a catastrophic whirlwind. In the meantime, blood is being shed.

I suspect Obama's Israeli criticism is partly calculated to enhance his credibility prior to engaging the leadership of the Muslim world. Translation: "I'm being honest with Israel and not coddling them. So I'm going to be honest with you too and say, Israel has legitimate security concerns that need to be addressed." That won't be enough.

In fairness to Obama, I don't see how any president can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Netanyahu, even if he wanted too, can't deliver diplomatic breakthroughs without fracturing his fragile coalition or provoking civil war with Israeli settlers. The Palestinian leadership under Abbas is even less capable of coming through with what is known in the world of diplomacy as "deliverables." With Hamas shut out, the Palestinian Authority has no credibility with its own people as it struggles to survive.

Both Israeli and Palestinian societies are dysfunctional. After forty years of a brutal occupation, the Palestinians don't have the institutions or an established civil culture to govern itself as a peaceful neighbor. That won't change unless Palestinian society can have a transition period without the heavy yoke of occupation. The Palestinian young have known nothing but struggle, hardship and violence. They are jaded and easy prey to do the terrorist bidding of demagogues.

Meanwhile, Israeli society has been morally corrupted as an occupier and the extremist settler movement further ties their government’s hands. Even worse, there is no effective political left in Israel serving as an opposition. The onetime proud Labor Party is serving in Netanyahu's coalition and the opposition Kadima Party is not much better than Netanyahu's Likud government. Curiously, the Israeli press is far more critical of the occupation than the American press. Nonetheless, no viable center-left opposition party capable of challenging Israel’s posture towards the Palestinians exists.

It's heartbreaking but the cycle of violence appears unbreakable.

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