Obama’s Middle East star gazing

“Despite the inevitable difficulties, so long as I am President, the United States will never waver in our pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians.” President Barack Obama, Washington, April 26, 2010.

“There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue, including Clinton who is a personal friend, and there will never be, at least not in the lifetime of anyone in this room.” US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, in a meeting during his most recent trip to Israel and the West Bank.

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If the two-state solution is a destination, then any US president who claims he has an unwavering commitment to get their should demonstrate that by stating an estimated time of arrival. A goal is a dream with a deadline.

But if the two-state solution is a reference point — something akin to the North Star when viewed by an ocean navigator — then keeping it in sight has nothing to do with getting there.

Thus it is with President Obama’s carefully chosen words: his stated commitment is not to the resolution of the conflict but to the pursuit of a two-state solution — a star he promises to gaze at for at least three and maybe seven more years.

And if George Mitchell is right in saying that Obama is the best we can hope for in the White House in our lifetimes, should we abandon hope that the conflict will be resolved, or should we abandon the idea that in this foreign arena a US president is an indispensable agent of change?

Among Washington’s peace dreamers, the latest star upon which many are hoping to hitch a ride is “linkage”: the idea that the prospect of more dead American soldiers Afghanistan or Iraq — deaths that can loosely be associated to an adjacent festering conflict — will help galvanize a domestic sense of urgency, required for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But here’s a problem with that idea. If the president won’t set a target date for resolving the conflict, and he sees American troops thereby placed at further risk, are we to infer that he views the duration of the deployment of those troops with equal uncertainty?

To argue that the Middle East conflict endangers the lives of American troops in the Middle East would seem to make their withdrawal as great if not a greater imperative than resolving the conflict. After all, which is an American president more likely to be able to accomplish? Order the withdrawal of the troops under his command, or end a conflict that has lasted for most of the last century?

But if there is an imperative upon which those who seek Middle East peace should really be focused, it is not the national interests of the United States; not the need for solidarity in opposing Iran’s nuclear ambitions; nor the need for stability across a region fractured by conflict; but to address and make amends for the injustices upon which Israel was founded; injustices whose perpetuation have for 62 years fomented anger and resentment which will never be pacified until a just solution can be found.

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3 thoughts on “Obama’s Middle East star gazing

  1. pabelmont

    Better than “linkage” (of anything to anything else), USA policy could (but, of course, will not) be based on (or limited by) international law.

    The occupation may or may not be illegal per se. If illegal, it should be ended. Period. If not illegal, it may be permitted to continue. (It’s illegality might arise from the its clear de facto purpose and effect as a seizure of territory by use or threat of force.)

    But even if the occupation is itself legal, the wall and the settlements and the settlers living within the settlements in occupied territories are illegal and should be removed. There is no legal question about this. The occupation can continue and, nevertheless, the settlers and wall be removed.

    Obeying the law is not “linkage”. It is proper behavior. We are all supposed to obey the law. It is not a novel or difficult concept. President Obama could pick up on this. It would be one small step in PURSUIT of peace, not merely star gazing.

  2. Christopher Hoare

    The pursuit of peace; that’s a telling point. It belongs in the dream realm along with the pursuit of a cure for cancer, the pursuit of an end to drug addiction, the end of ignorance, the end of hatred, the end of organized crime …
    All these pursuits are excellent for the GDP, and for jobs, and to boast about from podiums, and write in ones memoirs …
    It’s a pity that the pursuit is more attractive than the goal.

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