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Middle East: two state solution? « Previous | |Next »
June 8, 2009

In Obama and the Middle East in the New Review of Books Hussein Agha, Robert Malley argue that Obama's rapprochement---eg.,the dazzling performance of Obama's Cairo speech--- with Islam and diplomatic engagement with the Middle East is focused:

at the outset .... on improving conditions on the ground, including the West Bank economy, curbing if not halting Israeli settlement construction, pursuing reform of Palestinian security forces, and improving relations between Israel and Arab countries....Judging by what the new president and his colleagues have suggested, attending to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is a matter of US national interest. The administration seems prepared to devote considerable diplomatic, economic, and, perhaps, political capital to that end. And the goal, once the ground has been settled, will be to achieve a comprehensive, two-state solution.

The Israeli settler movement has spiralled out of control and Obama's unequivocal demand for settlement expansion to come to a grinding halt is certainly a break with previous US policy, which under Bush amounted to blind support for Israeli expansionism and intransigence. It means Netanyahu must either confront the settlers -- since that is what Obama is, in effect, asking him to do -- or give in to them, and risk losing American support.

This is a stark choice. Netanyahu must preserve, at all costs, Israel's strategic relationship with Washington; yet on the other hand, he has right-wing coalition partners who are obsessed with the status of the outposts. Something is bound to break, and when it does, the Netanyahu coalition government collapses.

The land grabbing settlers and the right wing parties in Netanyahu's coalition are opposed to Obama's path of reconciliation. Theirs is a apocalyptic Jewish nationalism, with its sense of sense of eternal victimhood, the evoking of a constant fear of recurrent Holocausts, the branding of every new adversary, be it Arafat or Ahmadinejad, as a new Hitler, and its construction of Iran as dedicated to the nuclear annihilation of Israel. This is a survival-in-the-face-of-annihilation narrative which holds that the Iranian regime exists in order to destroy the Jews.

On the other hand, if the leaders of Fatah and Hamas want a Palestinian state, then they need to close ranks. Agha and Malley say that Pesident Mahmoud Abbas cannot continue to talk peace with Israel when Israel is at war with Palestinians and that Palestinians cannot make peace with Israel when they are at war with themselves.

They go to say that though the idea of Palestinian statehood is alive, this is so mainly outside of Palestine:

Establishing a state has become a matter of utmost priority for Europeans, who see it as crucial to stabilizing the region and curbing the growth of extremism; for Americans, who hail it as a centerpiece in efforts to contain Iran as well as radical Islamists and to forge a coalition between so-called moderate Arab states and Israel; and even for a large number of Israelis who have come to believe it is the sole effective answer to the threat to Israel's existence posed by Arab demographics.

The more the two-state solution--two states living side by side--- looks like an American or Western, not to mention Israeli, interest, the less it appeals to Palestinians. The political reality is that there is overwhelming popular opposition to the intrusive and violent American military, political and economic interventions in many countries in the Middle East.

If we turn back to US policy it is a reasonable to interpret Obama's Cairo speech as a repudiation of the Bush Republican policy towards the Middle East. Robert Dreyfuss reminds us of the core elements of that policy:

Bush's War on Terror, which in a moment of candor he called a Crusade, was widely viewed by Arabs, Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis, and others as an assault on Islam itself, a conclusion that was reinforced by right-wing US Christian denunciations of Islam as a religion of violence and by neoconservative and pro-Israeli efforts to exaggerate the importance of Al Qaeda in the broader Muslim world. The Bush administration's policy of regime change -- applied in its ugliest form in Iraq -- was originally intended to include Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan, as well, creating the image of the United States as a born-again imperial power in a region still recovering from the British, French, Italian, and other colonial powers that exited the region only recently. And Bush and Co. lumped together all of the region's anti-Western political forces, rolling Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran's Shiite clergy, Saddam Hussein, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia's Wahhabis, and the Syrian Baath party into one big "Islamofascist" ball of wax.

So Obama is saying no to the Bush legacy: --I'm not Bush. He had to, given the devastation left behind by eight years of Bush and his neoconservatives as a result of choosing military over diplomatic means.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:56 PM | | Comments (11)


Oh what's the point? Really.

In a few years the Oval Office will bounce back to the far-right and Palestine will drop off the radar. The same rabid lobbyists will crawl out from under their rocks (as they've done for decades) and the Palestinians will get shafted... AGAIN.

Until the American VOTERS make it clear that they want justice in the Middle East, it aint happening.

American culture appears to require an external enemy for its unity --eg the commies. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, this role was taken over by Islam.

So we had, under the Bush Republicans, the cartoon representation of cruel, fanatical, bloodthirsty Islam; Islam as the religion of murder and destruction; an Islam lusting for the blood of women and children.

Obama has put that myth aside--that's a big step for the US.

Maybe, but Agha + Malley do ask some good questions:

The other question is how in the current climate the Israeli and Palestinian people would welcome a two-state solution. Would they view it as authentic or illegitimate? Would they see it as ending their conflict or merely opening its next round? Would it be more effective at mobilizing supporters or at galvanizing opponents? What, in short, would a two-state solution actually solve?

They say that partitioning the land can, and most probably will, be an important means of achieving a viable, lasting, peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. But it is not the end.

"Obama has put that myth aside--that's a big step for the US.

But will Obama's pragmatism flow through to Montana, Michigan and Mississippi? Or will those folks still insist on associating "Palestinian" with "terrorist"?

I can't remember where I saw it now, but there is a survey around somewhere on American opinion on the Israel/Palestine thing, and American attitudes are not as automatically pro-Israel as they used to be. I wish I could remember where it was. It was very surprising.

In the recent past we've seen open acknowledgement of Israel's nuclear weapons and Obama named Palestine, as if the Palestinian state already exists. It's argued that Obama's words are empty, but naming Palestine is new to US foreign policy rhetoric. If rhetoric can call a war on terror and WMDs into existence, why not Palestine?

probably not. But Obama's Cairo speech was still an important speech:

"The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism - it is an important part of promoting peace."

This deflates rather than exaggerates the threat posed by al-Qaeda while still taking it seriously. Their challenge is rightly placed on the marginal fringe of Islam.

On the other hand, he says that t the U.S. must remain in Afghanistan and Pakistan until:

we [can] be confident that there [are] not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.

The US is going to be there for a long time then.

Obama did say that "Islam is a part of America." That directly challenges the way that an idealized, supposedly secular America is juxtaposed against nasty religious Islamic countries.

That would have been an important thing for the Middle East to hear - that there are mosques all over the US, that there is a Muslim America.

I'm not being very good with sources here, but I read somewhere that following the speech ordinary Egyptians were hoping Obama would change their lives, improve their living conditions, as though he's their president. There seems to be an expectation that he can hold their own leaders to account.

He can't, of course, but he's introduced a very different, and very powerful, new version of American power.

The other thing about the difference between political words and deeds is that we assume that all peoples are like Australians - content to sit back and wait for the government to fix things. Elsewhere, the seeds of ideas are acted upon by populations. Instead of ranting on about the American model of democracy, he just said that leadership should have the consent of the people. It must sound like a great idea to a lot of people in the ME.

There is only one feasible two state solution: Israel and Jordan; except Jordan will be expanded to include the West Bank.

Gaza, of course, poses problems. Who would want it? By rights, Egypt should have to take Gaza for creating the problem in the first place.


Actually, Obama said nothing that every US pres since Carter did not also say.

you have forgotten Bush and the neo-cons. That was game changing.