Saturday, 21 May 2011

Posturing or policy? Time will tell

Obama’s new formula for lancing the 60-year-old Israeli-Palestinian boil would be a smart move if the world were ready for common sense in that arena, which remains to be seen. Any forward movement was inevitably going to ruffle the famously tetchy feathers of the Israeli leadership and its slavish echo chamber in the U.S., so that’s no surprise. Will it all amount to another round of meaningless phrase-tossing or lead to real movement? I note that the Egyptians who were transfixed by Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo were flipping channels 10 minutes into his latest oratory [NYT 5/20/11, no longer free to link to on the Web]. They, at least, were singularly unimpressed. In any case there are several curious elements to this sudden tough talk emanating from Washington.

Despite the disclaimers that the Palestinian push for a unilateral declaration of statehood backed by the UN is pointless, the Obama administration is pretty obviously worried about this outcome, especially the possibility that the Europeans would back it and leave Obama stuck with the Israelis on his own. So the Casa Blanca is desperately trying to head it off by offering what superficially looks like something real to the Pals. In exchange for this new stance from Washington, they will be pressured relentlessly and probably successfully to give up the declaration.

Obama is also correctly reading that in the new Middle East the interests of the European allies and the U.S. are not interchangeable. After all, these countries (Egypt, Syria, Libya) actually neighbor Europe and are historical spheres of influence for Britain, France and Italy. So it’s not surprising that the EU nations view the stubborn indifference of the Israelis to their 70-year-old refugee problem and the ongoing settler land-gobble as an immediate thorn that requires a plan of action. The U.S. view, fortified by those expecting The Rapture today, is that none of that matters since the Jews will soon welcome Christ and be converted.

But I digress. Sarcasm aside, the boiling cauldron generated by treating Palestinians as an apartheid underclass is not an urgent concern for the United States even though it bodes ill in the long run. But why not ‘extend and pretend’ like we’re doing with the insolvent banks? American policy has been to push the whole problem off for another couple of decades and enjoy the benefits in the meantime. Obama may have something else in mind, but if so he’ll have to follow up the pretty speeches with something concrete—after two years of kicking the Israeli-Palestinian can down the road with zero results, seeing is believing.

Not incidentally, the coverage of Obama’s smackdown of Netan-yahoo has included references to the importance of Jewish donors to the Democratic Party coffers. If O is abandoned by concerned zionists, where will he/they turn to pick up the slack? The millions of small contributors who got him elected and whom he (and Rahm) then told to get lost?

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