On Barack Obama’s latest bailout of Israel

So US President Barack Obama is promising to use a Security Council veto to block any attempt by Palestine to gain UN recognition, and he has told the parties to go back to negotiations – even though Obama knows full well how fruitless that route would be, given how intransigent the Israelis have proved themselves to be on the issue of settlements. So far, the Obama administration has been unable (or unwilling) to talk the Israelis into any meaningful concession on settlements – which continue to remorselessly encroach on the land available for any future Palestinian state.

To comprehend the moral vacuity of the Obama position, one only has to consider how the US would be responding if the UN resolution in question involved a guarantee of Israel’s security. Why, then we would be hearing from the White House about how very important it was for the international community to take a moral stand, and how useful such a resolution would be for the negotiators and how they should be heeding the voice of global opinion. Instead – and in a position where, as always, US foreign policy remains captive to Israel – the White House is doing all that it can to frustrate world opinion, and to deny even a symbolic expression of Palestinian statehood.

Given the lunatic reality of US domestic politics on the eve of a presidential election campaign – where serious Republican contenders like Rick Perry have been invoking the Biblical spectre of Armageddon as the basis for US foreign policy in the Middle East – Obama’s stance hardly comes as a surprise, but it is still disappointing. Especially when, by contrast, President Nicolas Sarkozy has blown away the US and Israeli rhetoric by tabling a genuine compromise – which would set a meaningful timetable for any return to negotiations on a two-state solution:

Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “Let us begin negotiations and adopt a precise timetable.”

The timetable he suggested is resuming the negotiations in one month, agreeing on borders and security within six months and finishing a definitive agreement within one year.

The Palestinians have sought a specific timeline, suggesting that endless stalling was slowly erasing the chances for a two-state solution.

By advocating a timetable for closure, Sarkozy really has exposed the moral bankruptcy of the Israeli/US position. Obama’s stance seems particularly disappointing at a time when Benjamin Netanyuhu’s internally riven government is increasingly isolated. Israel’s formerly reliable regional partners like Hosni Mubarak have departed the scene and relations with the new Egypt have significantly deteriorated in recent months, and it is no longer even on speaking terms with Turkey, its former friend.

In the short term, such regional isolation is not likely to make Israel pay heed to any UN resolutions – it has routinely spurned them in the past – but a UN resolution right now on Palestine would underline just how unsustainably exposed the Netanyahu government now is, and that perception among Israelis is likely to speed Netanyahu’s demise. To that end, the fact that Israel has had to rely on the help of a disdainful Barack Obama to bail them out of this week’s embarrassment at the UN does still constitute a diplomatic victory of sorts, for the Palestinians.


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