THE SPINE OCTOBER 1, 2010
Every so often I sit down with a Palestinian contact of mine, and he unburdens himself.
About the “blind to opportunity” Palestinian leadership, about the “incorrigible” Israelis and about the “knows from nothing” president of the United States.
The “blind to opportunity” phenomenon is an old story. The most egregious instance of it was the Palestinian rejection of Ehud Barak’s initiative, coached and coaxed by Bill Clinton, at Camp David in 2000. But the letter from George Bush initiative of 2004 outlining the “road map” to a settlement was a further instance of the Palestinians’ throwing away opportunities that might occur again.
The experience with “incorrigible” Israelis is also a familiar. The very latest example was when the country’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, addressed the General Assembly with ideas completely out-of-synch with the prime minister’s views and with the positions of his coalition. All that Netanyahu could do was slap Lieberman’s stubby fingers. My view? The f.m. is a liar and a thug. Alas.
But, in a way, the person who has most defined the recent history of the conflict is President Obama whose ignorance of the real issues is matched only by his arrogance about the wisdom of his views. I gather that this arrogance extends to other matters. But there is no issue—certainly in foreign policy—about which his passion is stronger, whether his passion was shaped by Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University’s Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, or not. Alas, passion mixed with only a glimmer of learning is toxic when it is expressed with power and control.
The president’s haughtiness on this congeries of issues seems to know no limits. A New York Times article, “Obama Tries to Calm Tensions In Call for Religious Tolerance,” by Helene Cooper on September 11 indicates that “relations between the United States and the Muslim world (are) perhaps at their most frayed since the invasion of Iraq seven and a half years ago.” Isn’t it ironic, then, that—if the assertion is correct—its essence should have come about nearly half-way into Obama’s term and after he had so indulged Islamic sensibilities in both the religious and political spheres. Still, Ms. Cooper paraphrases the president as criticizing the “continued vilification of Islam in the United States.” Does he really believe that he is without sway on these matters? If he does wouldn’t it be better if he could just keep quiet?
But, of course, he doesn’t think he is without sway. So the president has spoken of his Christian faith on several occasions—in fact, only the day-before-yesterday, answering a woman’s question in an Albuquerque backyard. If he were a Republican liberals would have gotten the willies: what’s all this Christian stuff? Yet a dopey 20% of this slightly dopey nation believes that the president is a Muslim. Oy, vey!
Why? Because he feigned knowledge of Islam that he probably didn’t have.
And he took a clear Palestinian view of their conflict with the Jewish state, Israel.
Indeed, it was only in what I guess was desperation that he for the first time admitted (in his speech at the United Nations) that the land the Romans called Palestine was actually “the historic homeland of the Jewish people.” This admission was very, very late in coming, and it certainly was not something that Khalidi taught his innocent pupil. Perhaps it was a sop to the Israelis to get them to continue the ten-month construction moratorium on the West Bank. This moratorium, which was established at Obama’s insistence, had been in effect for more than nine months without the Palestinians negotiating at all. The Israelis hadn’t even gotten one session when they sat down across a table with the Palestinians. (Not sitting down with the Jews is an old Arab habit, going back to the Paris peace conference which opened on January 19, 1919 and continuing on and on until only recent times. But then you had two presidents who understood the issues: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.)
The currency for verbal intercourse was now that the Israelis stop construction in the territories. But whose idea was this? The fact is that Obama made it the center of his peace strategy from the beginning. This put Israel in a bind. But, worst of all, it put the Palestinians in a much greater bind. They had no room to maneuver. If the president of the United States insists that new building not be done even in settlements that every one knows will remain with Israel how can the Palestinians palaver in any other circumstance? The Palestinians are trapped in Obama’s truculence. The president also urged the Palestinian Authority to consult with the Arab League about its conundrum. This is the most concrete evidence that Obama knows squat about the region. The Arab League always takes a hard-line. And that is what it will do this week. In fact, as Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post report, the League is planning to bring the matter before the Security Council.
George Mitchell has already landed on the troubled turf. And then the desperate Baroness Ashton of Upholland arrived, also expecting to see Netanyahu and Abbas. Before flying she had wasted the time of Hillary Clinton with whom she held a bullshit press conference. Of course, she also demands an extension of the moratorium. I’d like one, too. But I don’t believe it will do anything but prove once more the false peace bona fides of the Palestinians.