Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will President Obama Stand Up to Bibi Netanyahu?

On Tuesday, March 23rd, President Barrack H. Obama will have a one-on-one meeting with the visiting Prime Minister of Israel. Already, the event is being touted as a kind of political heavyweight throw-down,underscored by tensions related to Israeli policies of occupation, and the planned erection of "Jewish-only" housing units in the traditional Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem.

Others of us hope, and pray, that there are two heavyweights in the ring today-and that one of them will stand up for international law and human rights.

Over the course of the last several weeks, prominent American politicians, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have taken a few soft swings at the Israeli Prime Minister over the planned construction of 1,600 exclusive Jewish housing units in East
Jerusalem. Some public media comments have characterized the criticisms as indicative of a 20 year "low point" in the bilateral Washington-Tel Aviv relationship.

But Secretary Clinton, in an obvious attempt to send a different signal, mentioned in her remarks to the AIPAC banquet crowd last Monday that the relationship between the two governments is "secure". And now, it iss up to President Obama to remind the Israeli Prime Minister that the relationship is not.

Of course, it's important to frame the issues of contention is a way that is absolutely unambiguous. No one is talking about proposed break in diplomatic relationship between the two nations, or a denial of any of the fundamental human rights of the people of Israel to live in peace and security.

But what President Obama must put on the table for his discussion with Netanyahu is the categorical American rejection of land theft, ethnic cleansing, and certainly, the inhumane Israeli embargo of the people of Gaza. The current flow of U.S. arms, technology, and money to Israel facilitates Israel's ability to commit these actions, including the Gaza embargo that was characterized earlier this week by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as "unsustainable" and causing" unacceptable suffering of human beings".

But what if-and I imagine this will be the case-President Obama faces an intransigent Israeli Prime Minister? Well, there is another big card our president's hand that he should be prepared to play-and that is the suspension of U.S. military assistance to Israel until there is a freeze on illegal settlements, and full Israeli compliance with human rights laws pertaining to not only the populations in the West Bank and Gaza, but to the Arab Christian and Muslim population of the State of Israel.

Such a stand would have major political risks, to be sure, given the power of the pro-Israel lobby and their incorrigible support of the Jewish state. But there is another element of the political equation that President Obama should consider: there is also a rising voice of American Jewish opposition to the policies of Israeli occupation and the settlements, as well as the Gaza blockade. He, and AIPAC, should both realize that there is no absolute AIPAC monopoly on Jewish American opinion in the matter of uncritical support of Zionist ambitions.

What the American president, and government, must confront is the question of whether they are willing to be on the right side of both international law and morality, or on the side of convenient pro-Zionist politics. If the long-term goal of all (reasonable) parties is the creation of a state of mutual justice, security, and non-belligerence , the U.S must be prepared to use its enormous political weight to stop the policies-on both sides-that impede progress.

Arguably, Israel's security would be enhanced if both the embargo of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank were both to end, along with the end to the illegal settlements on the West Bank. These actions could no longer be used as a pretext for the sporadic attacks made against Israeli civilians coming from Gaza And the US could then offer (interim) security guarantees to the satisfaction of both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, until a final two-state solution could be hammered out.

Is this an ambition, and even risky, push-back on Netanyahu from the U.S. government? Yes. But it pales in comparison to the danger of continued damage to the United States, especially in the Muslim world, as a result of continuous U.S. support for Israel's policies of occupation and ethnic expulsion.

For the sake of real peace and justice for both Israel and Palestine, let's hope that President Obama has his gloves on-and does a gut check-when he climbs into the political ring with Benjamin Netanyahu.

No comments: