Saturday, May 21

Obama's Speech and other Matters

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minis...Image via Wikipedia

The much anticipated speech of Obama has come and gone. It was delivered on Thursday 19th May 2011. A day after his speech was delivered, Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in the US and had a meeting with Obama which was rather cold and emphasized their differences in approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After having read Obama's speech in the press, it is obvious that nothing new was said. Obama attempted at saying the right things to both sides to prevent controversy. The reaction to returning to the pre-1967 borders was predictable in Netanyahu's reaction. He stated that that the pre-1967 borders are indefensible. However, Netanyahu did hint that he was prepared to make wide ranging concessions for peace. What this means in practice is anybody's guess.

The speech was delightfully vague and diplomatically correct and did not offer any solutions

While Obama is aware of Israel's security needs and emphasized US commitment to Israel, he is also aware that Hamas's agreement with Fatah adds an additional problem to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and has been responsible for numerous acts of terror against Israel's citizens over the years. One can understand Israel not being willing to negotiate with Hamas being in the picture while its attitude against Israel's existence remains uncompromising.

On the other hand Israel's occupation policy, which is basically colonization of Palestinian lands by the continuation of building new homes in occupied Palestinian lands is also a great obstacle to peace and this has been going on for many years even before Hamas signed an agreement  with the Fatah ruled Palestinian Authority. Israel's colonization policies on the ground are proof that Israel does not intend to ever relinquish territory to the Palestinians in any peace agreement irrespective of Hamas being with Fatah or not. It is just an added excuse on Israel's part to maintain the situation as it is by not showing any willingness to freeze settlements in the West Bank. Nothing that Netanyahu says will convince any reasonable person of the contrary. The proof is in the pudding. The more settlements built in the occupied territories, the less viable will the future Palestinian state be. It is not about Israel's security being compromised; it is more about Israel's colonization policy of keeping the Palestinians without a state for as long as possible.

If Israel ceased building on occupied Palestinian lands and encouraging Israeli settlement there then we could say that Israel has no Palestinian partner for peace. Is Israel a partner for peace while it carries on its settler policies in the occupied West Bank

The inclusion of Hamas in the negotiating picture must be viewed as an added obstacle, but Israel's indecisiveness and expansionist policies must also bear part of the blame. Obama's speech to AIPAC  on Sunday 22nd May 2011, somehow did clear some misunderstandings. This speech was clear and proved the US commitment to Israel's security. Obama also made it clear that there is not much time and that withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines must be made with adjustments and land swaps agreeable to all sides. This was one of the most pro Israel speeches ever made by Obama. 

As mentioned in a previous article, Hamas was seeking a new godfather as they could not rely on the Assad regime of Syria and the Ahmadinajad regime of Iran to support them anymore owing to the uprisings in the Arab world. Both regimes are involved in suppressing opposition groups in their countries and Hamas realized that their support base was weakening in these countries.

Israel is losing another opportunity because of its expansionist policies and lack of foresight. The old orders are falling making way for a new order which is steered largely by the Arab youth against their traditional oppressive rulers. The direction it will take is still unclear. One thing is clear - zero tolerance for dictatorships. It means that Israel must accommodate itself to a new situation and show its support for the Arab uprising and its willingness to end the occupation of the Palestinians. Failure to do this will result in further isolation and condemnation.

Obama stated in his speech that the US would not support a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State in September 2011. This can be viewed as a temporary respite for Israel. However it is just that and no more. The fact that Hamas has signed an agreement with Fatah is not as negative as it seems. Hamas will take a low key in the peace negotiations which will be left to the PA. This means that Gaza will also be included. If negotiations begin and show signs of progress, the siege on Gaza will also end.

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Saturday, May 14

Israel's 63rd Independence Day

David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Isra...Image via Wikipedia
This may be the last Independence Day celebrations within Israel's indefinable borders.

It is not as scary as it sounds. The Arab Spring has new popular mantras. The fight for democracy, human rights, equality and freedom are threatening the old tyrants that have been ruling the Arab countries for many years. Hate for Israel and the desire for its destruction are not slogans of the Arab spring. The Arab nations are seeking drastic changes to the autocratic tyranny that oppressed them for many generations.

The evil anti-democratic autocrats of Tunisia and Egypt have been overthrown. Libya's evil dictatorship, under Muammar Qaddafi, is in the throes of civil war which will be protracted and bloody. Syria's President Bashar Assad, the evil tyrant, is also facing great opposition to his regime and is murdering hundreds of demonstrators in cold blood. Unrest is spreading to Yemen, Bahrain and no autocratic tyrant in the Middle East can rest without impunity. The Arab spring will reach them too sooner rather than later.

Bearing all these remarkable changes in mind, Israel cannot afford to be complacent. The future outcome of these incredible changes is not clear apart from the fact that the old despotic regimes are on the way out.

Independence Day celebrations have come and gone with its usual speeches by various Israeli Government leaders patting themselves on the back reiterating the same mantras of Israel's achievements and that it is a Jewish democratic state as if they were telling us something new.

Israel's leadership has failed to unite all Israeli citizens, irrespective of race, colour or creed. The reason is an historical one and the pain of the past cannot be erased simply by avoiding it or passing legislation making it illegal for Israeli Palestinians to commemorate their version of what happened in 1948. This version is Al Naqba or "catastrophe" which is part of the Palestinian narrative of tragic events that created a severe refugee problem compounded with hate for Israel.

How wonderful it would be if all Israeli citizens unite with patriotism and pride for the country that is their common native land. Those who are perceptive notice that Israel's Jewish and Arab population is just as divided as before. While Jewish Israelis are filling and littering the national parks with barbecues and celebrating with plastic hammers and canisters of foam spray, the Arab villages have no Israeli flags and they keep a very low profile. Surely something is not normal here.

Instead of uniting Israel's citizens the Israeli government is dividing them. Pledges of Allegiance to Israel are incumbent on non-Jewish Israelis. Laws are passed making the commemoration of Al Naqba illegal creates divisions between Jewish and Palestinian Israelis.

Why can Israel not afford to allow their Palestinian minority to commemorate their pain in the way we commemorate our pain? Palestinian Israelis have their history which is no less tragic than our own. All it does is make further dents in Israel's already threatened democracy. The Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman triumvirate ruling Israel is doing its share to fragment Israel's citizens even further.

Israel is well established and is in no danger of ceasing to exist. It does not need draconian laws to ensure its survival or to create animosity between the Jewish majority and Arab minority.

Instead what we are getting are ugly trends of racism such us the refusal to rent apartments to Arab students studying in Israeli colleges or universities. It even has the "Kosher" stamp of approval of rabbis in high positions in Israel's religious establishment. Our ancestors were persecuted by the Nazis. Almost all Israelis have lost a member of his/her family through Nazi terror. Are our collective memories only revived on Holocaust Day? Israel’s treatment of foreign workers through the “revolving door” policy is inhuman. Will they "contaminate" the Jewish majority if they are given the right to remain in Israel? The religious "paragon of virtue" Eli Yishai - the Interior Minister, is doing all in his power to deport these foreigners and their children born in Israel and speak no other language other than Hebrew.

The list of unjust discrimination goes on and on and this is a threat to Israel's democracy.

A country that does not have a common patriotism with which all its citizens can identify has failed in unifying its people.

From the occupation beginning in 1967 to the day after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994, Israel used a covert procedure to banish Palestinians by stripping them of their residency rights. This was revealed in an official document drawn up by the Israel Defense Forces’ West Bank headquarters. Surely here we have a sophisticated form of "ethnic cleansing" a term much maligned in Israel but in practice is part of the "final solution" to the Palestinian problem.

Israel's right wing policies and lack of foresight to move towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is also a catalyst that prompted the so-called signing of an agreement between Hamas and Fatah. There are other reasons as well which I mentioned in a previous article. There is nothing more dangerous than no decision in regards to ending the occupation.

There is no doubt that the enlarging of existing settlements in the West Bank serves to maintain the status quo and the occupation. The actions on the ground, despite Bibi Netanyahu’s lip service to the contrary in his famous Bar Ilan speech, in practise indicate business as usual.

At no time is it more important than it is today to unite Israel's citizens.  Failing this, Israel risks isolation in the world as it becomes identifiable with apartheid South Africa's abominable race policies.

A start could be made by recognizing the Palestinian narrative of Al Naqba rather than banning or suppressing it. Al Naqba should be the starting point of dialogue alongside the Israeli narrative. Palestinian identity and symbols should be part of the Israeli experience and be included in Israel's national symbols. Emphasis in education on both narratives should begin in integrated Arab/Jewish schools and teachers should be trained to deal with this subject when the pupils are still in their junior levels. Neither side need to compromise on their culture or identity but take pride in what they are.

Secular subjects should be taught to mixed Arab and Jewish classes. Perhaps separation could be for the purpose of religious instruction.

Naturally the right tools are required to initiate a change in the educational approach. This can only be achieved once there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Perhaps the air has been cleared for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians since Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement. Despite the great rift between Hamas and Fatah, the former had no alternative. Syria is in turmoil and Iran is showing signs of revolution. Hamas is seeking a new sponsor as the old sponsors are weakening.

In September 2011, a Palestinian state will be declared by the UN General Assembly. Israel will have no alternative but to accept this. Hamas will modify its attitude towards Israel in order to get world support. Instead of wasting time and refusing to negotiate with the Palestinians, Netanyahu should not condemn the Hamas-Fatah agreement. He is wasting precious time and wasting another opportunity. Hamas will find a way to negotiate even if it takes a back seat position in order to save face. In practice, it has agreed to the moderate Fatah leadership to carry on negotiations with Israel.

Israel should also reach out to the Arab demonstrators in the Arab world who are searching for values that are close to ours. We need to support them in their fight for freedom and at the same time we must end our old mantras of support for territorial aggrandizement and end the occupation.

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