Obama's dreaded 3am phone call may soon be to tell him Palestinians protesting for their freedoms, as their Arab neighbours are doing, have been mowed down at Israeli controlled checkpoints. What will he suggest to Netanyahu then?
In American politics the phone call warning of foreign policy disaster is always tipped to come at 3 in the morning. Presidents, as presidential hopefuls are quickly made aware, are supposed to be in possession of such mental alacrity that they bolt immediately from the sound slumber of the just to engagement of the steely decision-making capacity required for the position of leader of the free world.
It is to be hoped that US President Barack Obama will be lying wide awake should the phone ring at that allegorical hour, not because he can’t make the dash from zoned-out to zoned-in within a nanosecond, but because he’s contemplating the folly of his extraordinary hypocrisy on the international stage over the last week.
He’s possibly wondering if anyone noticed how much he loves being connected to the freedoms and aspirations of the Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa who have given their blood and lives to throw off oppressors and pursue a better, democratic life...except of course if they happen to be Palestinian Arabs.
In case he really is curious, the disparity has indeed been widely noted.
The man who campaigned for President on the ticket of ‘Hope’, has for domestic self-interest motivated by fear of losing campaign funds from wealthy American Zionists, sold the very people he professed to be on the side of and dashed their hopes.
He delivered an extraordinarily elegant speech (natch) to the UNGA in which he heaped accolades on participants in the Arab Spring, including the Libyans whom America helped under the auspices of NATO in aerial bombing to drive out the resident dictator. Nothing however about Palestinians who have been living under occupation for 44 years.
Obama talked of the suffering of the Israeli people and Israeli children. Absolutely worth the mention. Apparently the Palestinians haven’t suffered much worth acknowledging. Children rotting in jails for throwing stones, families dreadfully impoverished by illegal Israeli settlements and the separation barrier all built on stolen lands, olive orchards burned or uprooted and water diverted by settlers under the armed protection of the Israeli Defence forces.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said on visiting Israel, the similarities between it and apartheid-era South Africa were all too clear. He saw the humiliation of the Palestinians at the checkpoints and roadblocks, “suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about”.
Obama however sees re-election.
He has turned his politically-tuned eye to other roadblocks. Those that are popped in the way of a once promising political career should a US politician dare question Israel.
For that alone he should lie awake sweating at how such ‘pragmatism’ is read by the majority of the world for what it is -moral bankruptcy.
Obama raised the hopes of the Palestinians in ambitious timetables for renewed peace talks, in talk of settlement construction freezes, of a Palestinian state by September 2011, or land defined by the 1967 borders, in glib chatter about the human rights and political changes sweeping through the Middle East...and he reneged on them all because he didn’t have the backbone to stand up to the right wing Israeli politicians or the lobby of wealthy pro-Zionist benefactors who live not in Israel, but in the United States.
There is nothing wrong with Israel having allies. There is nothing wrong with the US being a strong ally of Israel. There is a truckload wrong with parroting one side of an extraordinarily disputed historic narrative in order to justify actions that buy a second term in office.
It is not as if he is dumb.
America has had its fair share of dummies at the helm – as most countries have – but Obama is not one of them, intellectually at least.
Where he’s dumb is in enabling the exceptionalism, entitlement and immunity that Israel claims for itself. Goodness Mr President, Israel doesn’t even reserve such goodies for America, yet it knows it would be down the proverbial gurgler should America not purchase them on Israel’s behalf.
Obama is wilfully blind to the fact that good friends or allies sooner or later have to speak out on the self-destructive behaviour of said friend or ally.
In doing Israel’s bidding for it, Obama is not only contributing to the further isolation of Israel, but he is isolating the US, particularly in the Middle East, but also in other areas of the world.
The majority of countries want to see an independent state of Palestine which is sovereign and viable. That means free of occupation and not chopped up into little Bantustans destroying a people economically, socially and culturally.
The respect with which the international community showed Abbas in his UNGA speech was palpable. The disrespect Arabs will have for Obama will be equally, if not more, tangible.
Watching the US delegation sit stone-faced during the fifteen standing ovations accorded Abbas was painful. It was even more so when that same Susan Rice-led delegation applauded Netanyahu, particularly when so much of his speech was a vicious attack on the UN itself.
This “theatre of the absurd” he called it...this “house of many lies” and a“ place of darkness” as a Rabbi warned him the UN would be. He cemented Israel’s victimhood by evoking the old favourites – the “insatiable crocodile of militant Islam”, ‘9/11’, the hostility the UN always shows towards Israeli, Israel’s biblical right to Palestine, and of course no Netanyahu UN speech is complete without the Holocaust.
At least Rice was able to applaud while sitting as there was no standing ovation for Mr Netanyahu which is so surprising since apparently unlike Abbas, he just wants peace.
For the Palestinians the guts Abbas showed in refusing to buckle under the huge pressure of the US to withdraw its bid for statehood has signalled a new era in Palestinian diplomacy, even though no sovereign state materialized overnight.
Obama may have convinced other Security Council members to turn down the Palestinian request for full UN membership and so save the US the naked humiliation of having to wave its veto in public, but at the very least the Abbas game-changer should secure the Palestinians a status up-grade to non-member state. That will give it Israel’s feared PLO access to international human rights and legal forums to wield in ending the occupation.
What is to be hoped is that very soon Obama realises when he is lying awake with his conscience, that the ‘bully pulpit’ afforded Presidents of the free world is for use in brow-beating, strong-arming, pushing, badgering, prodding, bulldozing – call it what you will – but it is bullying those who are wrong into seeing the error of their ways, even if the offender is your mate.
You don’t allow your mate to keep beating his wife or partner, you don’t give you mate his car keys if he is drunk, you don’t help you mate bash up the little guy in any playground – local or global.
What diminishing political capital Obama had to flash around in the Middle East is now overspent. What will he do if Palestinians, like Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans and Syrians decide enough? Abbas said “enough” and dealt with it diplomatically. What about “enough” physically? Will Obama trumpet the human rights and aspirations of freedom-seeking Palestinians when they are mowed down by Israeli soldiers?
What will Obama do if the 3am call is to let him know that 10 or 20 or 50 Palestinians have been shot dead for confronting the checkpoints, or trying to tear down the separation wall, or taking their land back from extremist settlers? It is a phone call that may come any night soon and the resident in the White House is ill-prepared for it.