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Obama: Step by Step with the Palestinians - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Europe sees in Obama another John Kennedy, and the United States sees in him Abraham Lincoln, who reconciled the country with itself after a bitter civil war, and then compares him to Franklin Roosevelt, the author of the “New Deal” who got the country out of its economic crisis in the thirties.

The Arabs do not have a political memory; their memory is like a mirror that does not see anything other that what is in front of it. If I may remind the Arabs of one US citizen who passed in front of their mirror, namely Dwight Eisenhower, the military president who dragged two empires (France and Britain) together with the potential empire (Israel) out of Suez (1956). Eisenhower did that not out of being madly in love with the Arabs, but because France, Britain, and Israel did not inform him in advance of the conspiracy to attack Egypt. The US revenge was terrifying, as it started a campaign to liquidate the colonial inheritance of the two empires in the Arab land, and replaced them by its own influence.

The United States has won the influence, but lost the credibility and the reputation among the Arabs. After Eisenhower, the US presidents committed a historic mistake by fattening Israel to become militarily stronger than all the Arabs, to emerge victorious over them in the wars, to swallow one piece of their land and build a settlement in another, and to refuse to pick up the olive branch, which is the only weapon the Arabs carry thinking naively that it would be sufficient to help them regain their lost land.

All the US presidents who came to the region did so without asking permission. Tomorrow, the tourist Obama comes carrying a Palestinian-Egyptian-Saudi visa, which he obtained by scolding Israel, the occupier and settler. With Obama comes the United States naked, and he wants to buy for it an Arab “cover” for its nakedness, and to restore its reputation and credibility.

Will Obama’s tourist journey and his mission succeed? The Arab group has just breathed out with relief, because Obama is not going to invade another Iraq, and will not topple pan-Arabism to establish a sectarian system, and then hand it over stupidly to Iran. Moreover, Obama’s United States is not Bush’s United States that demands the democracy of chaos from the Arabs, and tries to subjugate them to Israel’s hegemony in a new “Middle East.” All that Obama wants is to repair the relations with the Arab world, relations that were “damaged” by the hit-or-miss Bush.

However, can Obama do without the US bias in favor of Israel, can he withdraw the occupation, dismantle the settlements, and establish the Palestinian State? There are many Arab doubts, especially as Obama has not yet revealed the details of his initiative. What is worrying is that the senior members of his Administration – such as Hilary Clinton, Biden, and General Jones – keep stating: Obama wants this-and-that, as if it is Obama alone who wants these things, and not the United States, or even Obama’s Administration.

Another aspect of the Arab worry is caused by Obama’s desire to drag the Arab and Muslim worlds into normalization with Israel. He wants 900 million Muslims and 300 million Arabs to normalize their relations with Israel before he can withdraw a quarter of a million – merely a quarter of a million – settlers from the West Bank!

The military rulers of Mauritania have frozen their relations with Israel. I say it frankly and with pain that the Gulf is required to follow the example of Mauritania. The fabric of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] now is suffering from fatigue; the coordination between the Sheikdoms of its extremities and the bigger sister Saudi Arabia has diminished. The Saudi peace initiative says explicitly: No normalization with Israel before the establishment of the Palestinian State. Obviously this Saudi stance applies also to the Saudi Islamic stance toward Israel.

Why is the state first, and after that the normalization? This is because rejecting the normalization is the last card of pressure and bargaining in the hands of the Arabs. The economically-strained Israel wants to reach the Arab markets, especially the Gulf ones, because the Gulf consists of rich countries that are basically importing ones. Israel might not be interested in political normalization, but it aspires to open consulates and trade missions that would break up the Arab rejection of the Israeli goods.

From Cairo and Riyadh Barack Hussein Obama will address the Arabs and Muslims. The choice of the rostrum is an important political indicator. Barack has not visited Israel and the other Arabs, because he wants to stress to Iran’s Arabs the US confidence in the status of the Saudi and Egyptian regimes, and the US seriousness in dealing with them with regard to both the issues of Iran and Israel.

However, Obama will harm these two rostrums if he uses them to win the Muslim and Arab world by presenting pretexts for his blazing war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In short, I say, Obama’s war on jihadi and takfiri Islam ought to rely on his culture, and not on his war machine.

It is time for intellectual Obama to understand that the US war on terror ought to be transformed into a culture and education war. Yes to adding a humanitarian curriculum and cultural diversity to the religious curriculum in the Pakistani and Afghan schools; the cultural war takes generations, but it is nonsense to try to shorten it by means of the fast collective killing machine.

The United States ought to participate in financing the cultural and educational method rather than the military and oppressive spending. Also the secret Arab donations ought to be transferred to this new method. The pouncing by the takfiri jihad organizations on the Islamabad regime that is taking place these days is a lesson to every regime, society, or private institution: You cannot trust a temporary or permanent alliance with such organizations.

I will go now to Mahmud Abbas, and his negotiations commander, Saeb Erekat – O Saeb these are disasters [play on Arabic words of Saeb and Masib meaning disasters]. Is it wise to announce their readiness to rush hastily to negotiate with the government of settlers? Why do they not wait for Obama’s initiative? Why do they not announce the bases and rules that will govern the negotiations before their commencement? Why do they not wait for the possibility of the United States toppling the Netanyahu Government and forming a new government coalition from Kadima, Labor, and Netanyahu’s wing of the Likud? Since Madrid, Oslo, and Camp David, bitter experience has proved that every time the Palestinians engage in negotiations, the tempo of the settlements in the West Bank and the Judaization of Jerusalem accelerates.

Every time I call for a young Palestinian leadership I feel embarrassed in front of the elderly Abbas. It is true that Abbas together with his Minister Salam Fayyad have succeeded in imposing relative security. However, the “third power” they established away from Fatah chaos to confront Hamas mutiny is not sufficient without a popular base to support the negotiating position. Such a base can be secured by an imprisoned “president,” such as Marwan al-Barghuthi.

Iran remains the black horse of the region. Some Arabs are afraid that Obama might take Iran’s side. Some, such as Bashar [al-Assad], preach the “protectionist character” of Iran’s nuclear activity. Some others consider the normalization with Israel as a guarantee and as the security of the US protection of the Arabs from the Iranian expansion in the region. The region is facing possibilities and elections. In the elections the country is either honored or humiliated. Is the Iranian theocratic regime going to replace its civilian front (Ahmadinejad)? Perhaps it will present Musawi as a more reasonable front, a front that is regionally and internationally acceptable, which is something that the turban of the shy reformist Mohammad Khatami could not offer.