As Abbas falls, have no doubt that he got pushed by an inept administration that similarly gets weak-kneed whenever it feels pressure from either the Israel lobby or the Israeli government.
Yesterday, State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, was asked: “What role specifically did the United States play in pressuring the Palestinian Authority to make that decision [to shelve the Goldstone report]?
Kelly, squirming like an eel, responded:
(Goldstone discussion begins at 6 minutes 55 seconds.)
Well, I don’t know if I would accept your characterization of pressuring. I think that we recognized that we had serious concerns with the recommendations and some of the allegations. We felt very strongly that while these investigations should be investigated and addressed, that we thought on the one hand that Israel had the kind of institutions that could address these allegations. And of course, we urged Israel to address these very serious allegations.
But I think we had a broader concern that we didn’t want the report to distract us from our ultimate goal, which was to address the root causes of the tragic events of last January, and that’s the lack of a regional and lasting peace between the two parties – between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So we were concerned that we stay focused on that ultimate goal.
And we are not saying that the allegations in the report – we’re not saying that they should be ignored. We simply do not want the report itself to become any kind of impediment to this ultimate goal. We appreciate the seriousness with which the Palestinians approach this very, very difficult issue, and we respect this decision to defer discussion of the report to a later date for the reasons that I just stated – that we want to make sure that we stay focused on the ultimate goal here.
What kind of tortured logic is this? On the one hand war crimes committed in Gaza are somehow extraneous to an understanding of the root causes of the conflict, yet the root cause of the conflict is conflict itself?
The administration needs to make up its mind: Either this conflict is all about violence, in which case Israeli violence can’t be ruled out of the equation. Or, the violence is merely symptomatic of underlying political injustices and a natural outcome of addressing those injustices will be a long sought peace. Take your pick.
Of course, the true sentiment that few American officials are crass enough to utter, yet apparently everyone believes, is that when Israelis kill hundreds of Palestinians they really don’t intend to kill any (“we shoot and we cry”), yet when Palestinians kill a dozen Israelis they merely fall short of accomplishing their genocidal intentions.
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After taking stabs at solving the Middle East conflict, engaging Iran, bringing about global nuclear disarmament, healing the rift between Muslims and the West, shoring up the global financial system, tackling climate change and reforming America’s health care system, there are strong indications that Obama came into office intoxicated by his image as a world savior.
Even so, his cool created the impression that he might actually be impervious to the influence of adulation, but even though some of us thought he had risen above the massive projections that were being imposed on him, the evidence is that to some extent he got sucked into the myth that had been created around him.
To see Obama now as either a tragic figure or as the victim of circumstances essentially absolves him of responsibility for his own actions.
I don’t think it’s premature to be conducting an autopsy on Obama’s Middle East initiative and the first question to ask is this: Did he manage to cross the most minimal threshold for a defensible approach? That is, can he claim at least to have done no harm?
Unfortunately, the harm appears grossly evident and it hinges on his choice to raise expectations across the region and then allow those expectations to founder. Expectations dashed are much more destructive than expectations never formed. (George Bush never disappointed anyone because no one took his promises seriously. In office and life he mastered the art of setting a low bar.)
So, could Obama have entered the situation differently and put himself in a better position to at least live up to the Hippocratic oath (which, incidentally, all politicians should be forced to take)?
He could have acknowledged that he had on his plate more than any human president could address (“sorry folks, I’m not the Messiah”) and he could in his first days in office have said something like this:
“The Middle East conflict is a wound to which no easy remedy can be applied. I do not come into office claiming to have any greater powers than all of my predecessors who struggled with limited success to deal with this issue.
“I do know this, however: setting aside the many intractable political issues, there is right now a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We haven’t had time to assess the scope of this crisis but having appointed George Mitchell as my Middle East peace envoy, I’ve asked him to put the crisis in Gaza at the top of his agenda. In the next few days he will be visiting the area to assess which needs must most urgently addressed.”
At that point, the Israel Lobby’s wheels would have started spinning frantically. But how do you conduct a campaign focused on preventing Mitchell going to Gaza and addressing a humanitarian crisis?
No doubt, phones in the White House and the State Department would have been ringing off the hook as Abe Foxman and other Jewish community leaders and Israeli officials objected, saying that such a move would not be “helpful”. But seriously, how do you conduct a public campaign whose direct aim is to prevent help reaching tens of thousands of people whose homes had been flattened?
What happened in reality? Obama and Mitchell made the choice of staying out of Gaza. Neither of them had a gun pointed at his head.
Obama had the opportunity to craft a policy that grew modestly and organically from the facts on the ground. A combination of fear, arrogance and perhaps lack of political imagination, led him to pass up that opportunity.