From the river to the sea,
Palestine will be free!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"What Obama Missed in the Middle East" -- Ali Abunimah

Portion below; whole thing here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/23/barackobama.israelandthepalestinians

When I and other Palestinian-Americans first knew Barack Obama in Chicago in the 1990s, he grasped the oppression faced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation. He understood that an honest broker cannot simultaneously be the main cheerleader, financier and arms supplier for one side in a conflict. He often attended Palestinian-American community events and heard about the Palestinian experience from perspectives stifled in mainstream discussion.

In recent months, Obama has sought to allay persistent concerns from pro-Israel groups by recasting himself as a stalwart backer of Israel and tacking ever closer to positions espoused by the powerful, hard-line pro-Israel lobby Aipac. He distanced himself from mainstream advisers because pro-Israel groups objected to their calls for even-handedness.

Like his Republican rival, senator John McCain, Obama gave staunch backing to Israel's 2006 bombing of Lebanon, which killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and the blockade and bombardment of the Gaza Strip, calling them "self defence".

Every aspect of Obama's visit to Palestine-Israel this week has seemed designed to further appease pro-Israel groups. Typically for an American aspirant to high office, he visited the Israeli Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall. He met the full spectrum of Israeli Jewish (though not Israeli Arab) political leaders. He travelled to the Israeli Jewish town of Sderot, which until last month's ceasefire, frequently experienced rockets from the Gaza Strip. At every step, Obama warmly professed his support for Israel and condemned Palestinian violence.

Other than a cursory 45-minute visit to occupied Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians got little. According to an Abbas aide, Obama provided assurances that he would be "a constructive partner in the peace process." Some observers took comfort in his promise that he would get engaged "starting from the minute I'm sworn into office". Obama remained silent on the issue of Jerusalem, after boldly promising the "undivided" city to Israel as its capital in a speech to Aipac last month, and then appearing to backtrack amid a wave of outrage across the Arab world.

But Obama missed the opportunity to visit Palestinian refugee camps, schools and even shopping malls to witness first-hand the devastation caused by the Israeli army and settlers, or to see how Palestinians cope under what many call "apartheid". This year alone, almost 500 Palestinians, including over 70 children, have been killed by the Israeli army - exceeding the total for 2007 and dwarfing the two-dozen Israelis killed in conflict-related violence.

Obama said nothing about Israel's relentless expansion of colonies on occupied land. Nor did he follow the courageous lead of former President Jimmy Carter and meet with the democratically elected Hamas leaders, even though Israel negotiated a ceasefire with them. That such steps are inconceivable shows how off-balance is the US debate on Palestine.

Many people I talk to are resigned to the conventional wisdom that aspiring national politicians cannot afford to be seen as sympathetic to the concerns of Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims. They still hope that, if elected, Obama would display an even-handedness absent in the campaign.

Without entirely foreclosing the possibility of change in US policy, the reality is that the political pressures evident in a campaign do not magically disappear once the campaign is over. Nor is all change necessarily for the better.

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