Monday, May 23, 2011

"Obama to Palestinians: Eh, Colonization Happens"
While the focus of reactions to President Obama's speech last week and Sunday at the AIPAC conference have been about his reference to the long understood principle of the 1949 armistice line (i.e. 1967 lines or the Green Line) most have missed a very dangerous message Obama and Netanyahu have sent to the Palestinians that is yet another reason why American-led negotiations are bound to fail.

Obama explained on Sunday what Netanyahu and right-wingers in the US and Israel pretended to misunderstand. He never said Israel had to retreat to the Green line, he said that that would be the baseline for agreed upon swaps. This is of course nothing new as both Obama himself and his press secretary have been making clear since the speech on Thursday. I discuss how negotiators were using this principle before Obama was President and also how the US delegation to the talks sought to impose Israeli demands on the Palestinians when the swaps were not agreed upon.

But the message to Palestinians was sent not only through what Obama said but also what he didn't say. The speech marked a clear departure from the earlier attempts at a settlement freeze, a first-phase Israeli obligation under the Road Map which both parties accepted in 2003. Sure, it had been clear that Obama backed away from the settlement freeze initiative before this, but this coupled with the way he and Netanyahu described the Israeli settlements in the past few days indicates to Palestinians that there is no deterrence for further Israeli colonization of their land and no reason for the Israelis not to constantly re-leverage their bargaining position by continuously expanding these colonies.

In his address on Thursday, President Obama mentioned Israeli settlements once, and certainly did not directly condemn them. He merely said that "expectations have gone unmet" but who is at fault for this? Is it the George Mitchell camp for expecting too much of the Israelis (abiding by their obligations) or is it the Israelis for consistently violating those obligations? Obama doesn't say, but the newly resigned George Mitchell, listening to the speech in the audience at the State Department during his last week on the job likely has no doubt about what was intended.

The ambiguous language here is deliberate so as to avoid addressing a delicate issue which put the Obama administration in hot water with the Israel lobby previously. Unfortunately, this is precisely where Palestinians needed clarity and the obfuscation suggests to them instead that American domestic politics are still hog-tying this President.

Just look at how Netanyahu referred to the settlements in his remarks with President Obama after they met in the White House on Friday (emphasis mine):
the 1967 lines ... don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.
Even Netanyahu, who never has trouble communicating in English, floundered and paused in search for a euphemism vague enough to circumvent any mention of Israel's colonization.

Then, like clockwork, Obama reiterates practically the very same language in his address to the AIPAC conference two days later:
That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.
It is hard to tell what is most disturbing about this. There is of course the near vomit-inducing reality that an American President is repeating the narrative of a foreign Prime Minister before a room full of lobbyists who are lobbying for that very Prime Minister's interests. Then there is the narrative itself. To reduce the conscious and calculated process of colonization in the occupied Palestinian territory, illegal under international law, to the equivalent of moss growing on a tree for a few decades is not only ludicrous and offensive but it is the whitewashing of a crime which Palestinians have been the direct victims of.

500,000 Israelis did not fall to sleep in on one side of the Green Line in places like Tel Aviv only to wake up on the other side in places Kiryat Arba, Ariel, Har Homa and Pisgat Ze'ev. Colonization is not a passive natural process that happens over time, as described by the Israeli Prime Minister before being repeated by the American President. It is a violent and state-driven process which involves breaking international law, dispossessing land owners through the use of force and monopolizing the natural resources of another people.

The failure to condemn the process by which these demographic changes "have taken place", while asking Palestinians to simply accept this new reality, is tantamount to supporting the continued colonization of Palestinian territory. In short, the President of the United States, which is trying to convince Palestinians his country can be an even-handed mediator, is saying Israel will not be held accountable for violations of international law and obligations of the peace process by us, you Palestinians will just have to deal with it.

And this is supposed to lure Palestinians back into American-led negotiations?

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