Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Obama and the “Cradle” of the Palestinian Issue | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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When US President Barack Obama wanted to address the Islamic world he went to Saudi Arabia and said he wanted to start his trip from the cradle of the Islam. By the same token, if he wants to deal with the Arab-Israel conflict, which is one of the objects of his visit to the Middle East, he should start from the “cradle” of the Palestinian problem.

When we demand that Obama undertakes this historical mission we are not asking him to go back to the Crusade Wars, the Balfour Declaration [ 1914], or the British Mandate; we are only demanding that he goes back to the cradle of the Palestinian case as embodied in the UN General Assembly Resolution No 181 adopted in 1947, which called for establishing two states in Palestine; a Jewish state, and an Arab state where, historically speaking, Israel was established in Palestine, while the doors are still closed for establishing the Palestinian Arab state.

We will also like to remind Obama, if he goes to the cradle of the Palestinian problem that the US Government rushed to recognize Israel in less than one hour after the declaration of its establishment [1948]. We are not interested here in the issue of recognition; we are more interested in the fact that the recognition by the United States did not take into consideration that it had recognized a state that went vastly beyond the borders drawn for it by the United Nations and expanded to Um al-Rashrash, which is now called Eilat, on the Red Sea, [and expanded north to include the whole of Galilee]. The US Government, thus, legitimized the Israeli-administered areas and officially recognized it as early as 1948.

This was the only precedent by the United States; even more dangerous was the second precedent after the June1967 War when Israel occupied the lands of three Arab states– Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The United States ended up supporting Israeli attempts to annex part of these lands in the name of Israel’s need for recognized and secure borders — as did Henry Kissinger; or on the pretext of the impossibility of dismantling the settlements established and the return to the borders of 1967, as did President George H. Bush and President George W. Bush.

The United States, thus, breached the international custom and the international law and encouraged Israeli aggression and occupation. If Obama is to be faithful to his ideal of “change” and sincere in his wish to return to the roots of the issues, it is his responsibility to go back to the roots of the Palestinian issue from the US point of view that is the UN Partition Resolution. Is he prepared to do that?

We pose this question while bearing in mind Obama’s call for Israel to freeze the building of settlements, to which he regards as necessary for beginning Arab-Israel negotiations that will lead to a two-state solution. He posed a sound principle in this case, but he left it without content and open for mockery. Obama has repeatedly confirmed the necessity for stopping the building of Israeli settlements; but he did not mention dismantling the settlements to which Israel regards as “legal”, where 85 percent of the settlers in the occupied West Bank live. This is very important, particularly as the avoidance of any talk about dismantling these settlements comes with an implicit and explicit approval of Israel’s annexation of parts of the land occupied in 1967. Is this what Obama wants?

If that is what Obama wants, where will it leave his slogan and call for “change”, if he continues to follow the same policy of the previous US Governments? Moreover, on the basis of the slogan of change that he raised, how long will he continue to raise sound principles without enriching them with the necessary practical content?

We put these questions after listening to Obama’s speech that he addressed to the Islamic world from Cairo University on 4 June. It was a qualitatively new speech, in which he talked about the Palestinian problem. His words were nice, but they were deficient. Will his words continue to be nice and always deficient?

In his address to the Islamic world, President Obama spoke of the Palestinians and Israelis. He showed his sympathy with the Jewish experience at the hands of the Nazis in Europe; and his sympathy with the Palestinians’ experience at the hands of the Israeli occupation, without naming it, yet in a way that expressed his deep sense of pain. But his comparison was deeply faulty. He saw the two tragedies as equal. He saw a Jewish tragedy on one hand, and a Palestinian tragedy on the other, and that justice has to be done for both.

No one can accuse Obama of ignorance; he is a university professor with wide range of knowledge, but like the Europeans he is absolving himself and the Western civilization of the responsibility for the Jewish tragedy, and is asking the Palestinians and Arabs to understand that tragedy. He is completely ignoring the fact that the Palestinian tragedy was caused by the Zionist occupation of part of the Palestinian homeland and then by the Israeli occupation of the rest of that homeland. Can we, in the light of this, speak of two parallel injustices?

It was positive that he talked about a Palestinian state; but why the details are always lost when talking about any Palestinian issue? What kind of the Palestinian state are we talking about? Are its borders those of the UN Partition Plan or the borders of the Israeli occupation as expanded since 1948? Are they the borders of 1967? Or are they the borders drawn by the Partition Wall?

Moreover, with all due respect to Obama’s firm stand in principle against the “continuation” of settlement building, why is there no mention of “dismantling” the settlements that were built? Why is there no mention of the illegality of the settlements in accordance with the international law and the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 Relative to the Protection of Civilians that decides what is and what is not permissible during occupation?

Obama’s speech is important and positive, and we should deal with it accordingly. However, we should also point out all its defects in relation to the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic issues that it dealt with, and we should call on Obama to fill these gaps and defects that affect millions of people, just to change Obama’s speech from being a speech about intentions, into a speech for building a new type of historical relations.

I should also mention here the responsibility of all our Arab states and the governments to fill in the gaps and deficiencies in Obama’s speech. Their responsibilities here begin with their duties to lay down a new and detailed Arab plan that should include all our approaches and demands, to be presented to President Obama as being the demands of the Arab and Islamic world, and as a condition for cooperating with him on the issues that he wants or demands. We know that Obama is looking for Arab and Islamic cooperation to help him deal with his failing wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. As we express our readiness to extend a helping hand, we should demand in exchange that the United States extends a helping hand in solving our problems; most prominent among them is the issue of Palestine. Unless we do that, Obama will get our help, and we get his sweet words in exchange.

So far, Obama has left behind the policies of the neoconservatives and is trying to deal with the evil that they caused. This in itself is a historical achievement and represents what is valuable and positive in his speech. After removing the consequences of the policies of the neocons, he has to build on the new US policies, particularly those relating to our problems, in relation to which we have not yet seen any real progress.