Anyway, we have waited, and at last Obama has spoken. Here's what he had to say today, while welcoming Hillary Clinton to the State Department and appointing Establishment grandee George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East:
Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel's security. And we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats. For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror.
To be a genuine party to peace, the quartet has made it clear that Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements. Going forward, the outline for a durable cease-fire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm.
Yesterday I spoke to President Mubarak and expressed my appreciation for the important role that Egypt played in achieving a cease-fire. And we look forward to Egypt's continued leadership and partnership in laying a foundation for a broader peace through a commitment to end smuggling from within its borders.
There you have it. The invasion of Gaza -- which began after Israel broke the ceasefire, launched provocative and deadly raids inside Gaza, and had also tightened its death-grip blockade to a level quite legitimately comparable to the Warsaw Ghetto -- was actually the fault of (wait for it, wait for it).... the Palestinians. Thus sprach Barack.
But do let's be fair. The new president also feels the pain of the Palestinians in Gaza. He feels it so much that he is going to ensure that any reconstruction in Gaza is controlled by the kleptocracy known as the Palestinian Authority -- the same faction that tried -- with American and Israeli backing -- to overthrow the legitimate, democratically elected government of Palestine, instigating a vicious civil war that, lo and behold, left Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation weak and splintered. Now hear the words of the Compassionate One:
Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so, too, is a future without hope for the Palestinians. I was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent days and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza. Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clean water, and basic medical care, and who've faced suffocating poverty for far too long.
Now we must extend a hand of opportunity to those who seek peace. As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime, with the international and Palestinian Authority participating.
Relief efforts must be able to reach innocent Palestinians who depend on them. The United States will fully support an international donor's conference to seek short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term reconstruction for the Palestinian economy. This assistance will be provided to and guided by the Palestinian Authority.
At every point, the control of the "Palestinian Authority" -- which means, of course, the Israeli government -- is stressed. Even Obama's dramatic call to open the crossings that Israel has imposed on the open-air prison of Gaza, where many thousands of people have been living in refugee camps for 60 years, and where the entire 1.5 million-strong population is kept stateless and imprisoned, is carefully hedged: the crossings will require "an appropriate monitoring regime" -- i.e., the same regime that has been monitoring the crossings for years on end: the Israeli government. Of course, the PA -- the former insurgent group that has turned itself into the Judenrat of the occupation, doing the Israeli government's dirty work for them -- is to be cut in on the action, along with unspecified "international participation." Of course, the recent deadly attack on UN buildings in Gaza has given us yet another in a long string of demonstrations of how Israel treats "international participation" within its domains and targeted territories.
Now we can see why Obama kept silent on Gaza while Bush was still in the White House: because he held precisely the same views as Bush on the subject. There is nothing in Obama's statement that could not have been said -- or was not actually said -- by Bush. You couldn't slide a piece of onion-skin paper between the stances of the two men on Gaza.
Meanwhile, Professor As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," takes an equally dim view of today's developments:
Well, it took two longs days before Obama dispelled any notions of a change in US Middle East policy. For some reasons, many Arabs and many American leftists I know (you know yourselves) have wanted to believe so bad that Obama will deviate from the Zionist path of US foreign policy. I knew that it would be a matter of weeks that he would prove me right, but I did not know that he would prove me right in a matter of hours. His speech on the Middle East today could have easily been written by Benjamin Netanyahu....
Obama's speech was quite something. It was like sprinkling sulfuric acid on the wounds of the children in Gaza--those who survived the Israeli terrorist festival of butchery and massacres. His remarks leave you with the impression that there are two sets of problems in the holy land: that there was terrorism against civilians in "southern Israel" and then there is some undefined civilian suffering in Gaza from some undefined natural disaster--an earthquake or hurricane.... He then followed the Zionist line that all aid should pass through the transparent gangs in Ramallah--but that is important because Fatah has a very long record of integrity, transparency, merit, and high ethical standards--along with collaboration with Israel.
AbuKhalil also points us to this analysis of Obama's chosen partner in Middle East peace, the man who was in fact the first foreign leader the new president called upon taking office: Palestinian "president" Mahmoud Abbas. (The quote are required because Abbas' term has actually ended, but he is still somehow president of a rump Palestinian Authority.) From The National:
The reasons for Abbas’s demise are few, and they predate the Israeli attack on Gaza: he long ago placed all of his eggs in the Israeli-American basket. Acting as if his chickens had already hatched, his inability to deliver any tangible achievement has instead meant they came home to roost with a vengeance.
Key to this is Abbas’s relationship to his people: simply put, it never existed. Arafat saw the Palestinians as the ace in the deck to be played when all else failed, and understood that his leverage with outside actors derived from their conviction that he represented the Palestinian people. If he consistently failed or refused to properly mobilise this primary resource, he at least always held it in reserve.
Abbas has by contrast been an inveterate elitist, who seems to have regarded the Palestinian population as an obstacle to be overcome so that the game of nations could proceed – there are after all only so many seats at the table where great statesmen like George Bush and Ehud Olmert together create the contours of a new Middle East....
Cursed with exceptional self-regard, Abbas has always shown disinterest in the opinions of others. From the moment he convinced himself of the sincerity of Bush’s visions, which put the onus on the Palestinians to prove they qualify for membership in the human race and are worthy of being spoken to by Tsipi Livni and Condoleezza Rice, there was no turning back. Henceforth the Palestinian security forces would point their weapons exclusively at their own people, and only Saeb Erakat would be aimed at Israel. At the United Nations, once a primary arena for the Palestinian struggle, Abbas’s emissary Riad Mansour was too busy drafting a resolution declaring Hamas a terrorist entity to deal with more trivial Palestinian concerns. It was simply impossible to steer Abbas towards a change of course, let alone a national dialogue that could produce a genuine strategy.
By the expiration of his presidency on January 9, his constitutional status had become the least of his problems. Each and every one of his policies had failed. In the West Bank, settlement expansion was proceeding at an unprecedented pace while the Wall neared final completion, rendering talk of a two-state settlement all but moot.
After Hamas triumphed in the 2006 parliamentary elections, Abbas’s ceaseless scheming to remove the Islamists from office and overturn the election’s results – characteristically in active partnership with outside forces rather than the Palestinian electorate – was a veritable carnival of folly and incompetence. When Hamas acted first in 2007, it took the Islamists only several days to dispose of those few forces still prepared to fight for Mohammed Dahlan [the PA's ruthless "security" enforcer and much-beloved Washington favorite].
This then is the broken reed upon which Obama proposes to build "a lasting peace in the Middle East." An unconstitutional, totally compromised puppet leader rejected by his people, whom he disdains.
What, wasn't Ahmad Chalabi available?
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This story was published on January 23, 2009.