Time to earn that Nobel, Mr President!
SOME of the loudest cheers over Barack Obama’s re-election originated in the Middle East. Although the Arabs and Muslims didn’t have much to celebrate during his first term, they still prayed for Obama, perhaps a little more than the rest of the world, hoping the future would prove better than the past.
Indeed, a collective sigh of relief was heard across the globe that the world had been spared another Bush and another four years of lunacy. The indirect international vote was for the promise and hope that the first African-American leader seemed to represent.
So it’s rather nice to see Obama repay and justify all that trust by standing up for Israel once again, as it bravely rains death and destruction on a defenceless people locked out in the largest prison on the planet for the umpteenth time.
On the day when an Israeli strike on a Gaza apartment block killed 10 members of a family, including a mother her four children – Obama defended Israel’s right to kill even as he lectured Asian nations on the blessings of democracy, human rights and a people’s right to choose their own destiny. So what if Netanyahu and the Israeli lobby actively canvassed for and bankrolled Romney nearly unseating the incumbent. Shrugging off the deepening mess in the Middle East, he is spreading sweetness and light in the distant Far East.
Evidently, the more things change in Washington, the more they remain the same – at least as far as the Israeli stranglehold over the US political class and foreign policy is concerned. The US Senate and House have lost little time in passing resolutions reiterating their fealty to Israel.
The US politicians’ wilful ignorance of the Middle East’s realities and horror of what has been going on in Gaza in full view of the world, with all its fine institutions, is breathtaking. Listening to US lawmakers and political pundits on US TV channels is nothing short of a surreal experience. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Are we living on the same planet? Apparently, the poor, peaceful and democratic Israel faces a clear and present danger from the Islamic terrorists – Palestinians, Arabs, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, you name it – all over again.
So what’s new? We have been here before – again and again and again. It seems nothing will ever change for the Palestinians, no matter who calls the shots in Washington and in Tel Aviv. Indeed, as Glenn Greenwald argues in the Guardian, the US is as much responsible for the continuing crimes and persecution of Palestinians as Israel: “The central enabling fact in Israeli lawlessness and aggression is the blind US support, and that continues to be the case under the presidency of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.” The blessed world community, on the other hand, isn’t any less complicit with much of the horror in the Holy Land by the ‘chosen people’ happening on its silent watch. The mysterious headless wonder comes to life only in the hands of the mighty. Might is still right. With the right friends in the right places, you can get away with murder, literally, as Israel always has. You can go on crying about international apathy and duplicity till kingdom come but it makes no difference to an uncaring world.
The agony and distress calls of a perpetually persecuted people would raise the dead but fail to stir the sleepy conscience of the international community.
The only ray of hope in this dark, oppressive night of endless terror is the perceptible change that has come about in Israel’s neighbourhood. The wave of awakening that swept the Arab world a year and half ago has transformed the geopolitical dynamics of the region. All these years, Israel colluded and worked with pliable friends and allies like Mubarak to do what it pleased with the Palestinians. Of course, the $2 billion annual US aid to Egypt’s generals did help. But it’s not the same Egypt anymore. Change has at last come to the Middle East even if Israel and America choose to remain stuck in a time warp, with their heads deep in the sand. The swift and stout response of President Mohammed Mursi to the Israeli outrage and his decision to dispatch his prime minister to Gaza even as the missiles and bombs pounded the densely populated enclave shows that the world has moved on.
And it’s not just Egypt; the newly liberated Tunisia has been equally scathing in its criticism of Israel even if it remains a marginal player in the neighbourhood for now. As journalist Rami Khouri argues, the new environment of the Arab public opinion, with new leaderships representing and reflecting the sentiments and aspirations of their people, has changed the whole game. Another close ally and friend Turkey has reacted furiously to the Gaza offensive demanding Israel be “held to account” for its crimes against civilians.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key US ally and only Muslim member of the Nato, has been pressing Obama to take a more assertive line. These are changes that Israel and its allies can ignore at their peril. Besides, the emergence of groups like Islamic Jihad and Salafists and their ability to strike deep within Israel, including Tel Aviv, has introduced a new element in the conflict. They may not cause much damage but they are getting better by the day. More importantly, they have managed to put the fear of God into the enemy giving it a taste of its own medicine. It was Israel’s intransigence and refusal to engage the ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership led by the inimitable Yasser Arafat that gave birth to the phenomenon called Hamas. History appears to be repeating itself as more hard-nosed groups like the Islamic Jihad and Salafists look to snatch the Palestinian leadership from Hamas. Thus the small window of opportunity for peace and resolution is fast closing for Israel, if it hasn’t already. If the Zionists think they can subjugate the Palestinians at gunpoint forever, they couldn’t be more wrong.