By Professor Lawrence Davidson
On September 23, 2010 it was President Obama’s turn to take the podium at the United Nations. There was a world of problems for him to draw on but, not unexpectedly, he chose to concentrate on the Middle East. Thus, as has been the case with almost every President since John Kennedy, Mr. Obama is also trying his hand at cutting the Gordian Knot and drinking the sea dry. That is he is trying his hand at making peace between Israel and Palestine. Will he succeed where all others have failed? Not likely, and his speech at the UN points to one reason why. His approach is ahistorical and, at least publically, ignores the context from which all this strife has emerged.
This is not unusual for President Obama. From the beginning of his administration he has ignored history. His most notable early example was when he refused to investigate the prima facie war crimes of his predecessors, crimes which the Nuremberg prosecutors would have easily recognized. Instead he proclaimed a new day. We will look forward he said, and not backward. It was a foolish statement for such a reportedly bright man, for where does he think the new day and the fresh future come from? The present and the future are built on the past. With all due respect, only the very near sighted can suppose that they can defy historical gravity and float above it all, sublimely free of all roots.
So now President Obama takes the podium in New York and tells us the following:
1. Obama: “Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas–who stands up for his people in front of the world–is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.”
A. Historical Context: “President” Abbas is a heartily disliked fellow who helped usurp power from the legally elected government of Palestine. The United States under George Bush Jr. helped him do so. Thus, the Abbas’s regime, internally supported by little else than the remnants of Fatah, is now in control of the West Bank and cooperates with the Israeli occupation army. Given such an historical record Abbas cannot “stand for his people in front of the world” except in the propaganda picture painted by his American ally. Abbas’s regime is wholly dependent on U.S. and European money and American weapons and military training.
We can surmise two probable reasons why Abbas is presently sitting at the table with the Israelis:
- The Obama administration has twisted his arm, perhaps by threatening to abandon him if he does not “negotiate.” They probably hope they can pressure him into signing a “peace” deal that no other Palestinian leader would ever touch. What “courage” Abbas has, at least to this point, does not go so far as to stand up to the Americans on whom he is so dependent.
- The Obama administration has promised him support, whatever that might mean. This same level of dependency means Abbas must conveniently forget history–that such promises coming from Washington have always been worthless.
Obama: “If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that come with their own state [and] Israelis will never know the certainty and security that come with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to coexistence.”
A. Historical Context: The Palestinians have been struggling for a state of their own for at least 75 years. They have been betrayed by outsiders so often that it defies reasons to believe that any American President truly cares about their pride and dignity. After so many years of struggle facing a foe who, by the way, has never cared a fig about “stable neighbors” or “coexistence” or even about “security” (which Israel equates with being armed to the teeth by the U.S.) the Palestinians have been able to find “pride and dignity” in one thing only–resistance.
3. Does President Obama know any of this? If so does he understand it? It is questionable for him next tells us that killing Israelis is not resistance and “it will do nothing to help the Palestinian people?” Oh. Well then, what will? What has? What can?
A. Historical Context: Only someone devoid of historical knowledge and context concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can possibly believe that it is the Palestinians who presently, as a strategy, go out of their way to target “innocent women and children.” What isolated incidents of this sort you can find pale in comparison with the behavior of the ally Washington arms and protects. There is a recent B’Tselem report entitled, “Void of Responsibility: Israeli Military Policy Not to Investigate killings of Palestinians by Soldiers.” It demonstrates that the Israelis have been killing innocent Palestinians with impunity. Historically, they have been doing so from a time before President Obama was born. Against this tireless brutality, Palestinian attacks on imperialist settlers and firing rockets devoid of warheads from that open air prison of Gaza that Israel has created, are tragic expressions of despair. And, sadly, historically, they are the only source of “pride and dignity” Israel and the United States have left to the Palestinians. Finally, it would take enormous hypocrisy for Obama, or any American leader whosoever, to point a moral finger at the Palestinians. Their hands are much too bloody to stomach anything like that.
4. Obama: “It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakable opposition of the United States.”
A. Historical Context: Well, speak for yourself Mr. President. You certainly do not speak for a fast-growing number of people worldwide whose efforts in this regard you cannot stop. And it is this effort, this movement of civil society both within and without the U.S., that has the best chance of bringing down the racist regime to which you pledge such solidarity. Ideally, what will it be replaced with? Well, U.S. leaders are always saying they want to see more democracy in this world. And that is what Israel needs. It needs the Zionist government to be replaced with something truly democratic that will support real civil and political rights for all Israelis, regardless of religion. So, one can only hope that standing against those “chipping away” at Zionist racism puts President Obama on the wrong side of history.
It was Oscar Wilde, a man who had his own confrontation with a viciously discriminatory social system, who once said, “A set of assumptions committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.” And so it was on September 23 in New York. After so many years of tragedy we still witness our political leaders working from assumptions that are suicidal. That destroy justice and prolong oppression.
Lawrence Davidson is a Professor of Middle East History at West Chester University in West ChesterPennsylvania.He is the author of America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (University Press of Florida, 2001), Islamic Fundamentalism (Greenwood Press, 2003), and, co-author with Arthur Goldschmidt of the Concise History of the Middle East, 8th and 9th Editions (Westview Press, 2006 and 2009). His latest book is entitled Foreign Policy, Inc.: Privatizing American National Interest (University of Kentucky Press, 2009). Professor Davidson travels often and widely in the Middle East. He also has taken on the role of public intellectual in order to explain to American audiences the impact of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Davidson is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.