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Palestine in the Obama speech

With a better track record of positive action, Barak Obama could have returned to Cairo to deliver his latest speech on the Middle East. Having failed to deliver on his many promises, however, he chose to speak instead from the US State Department. No one had any delusions about what to expect. This was about protecting American interest in the region; US support for democracy in the region is there simply because Washington doesn't have much of a choice at the moment.

Few in the Middle East forget that for decades America's policy was based on the strategy of promoting stability rather than democracy. Hence, the US supported resolutely the despotic regimes which denied their people freedom, dignity and decent standards of living. Of course, successive US administrations have made public ritual condemnations of the regimes, but behind the scenes they extended velvet-gloved hands to the despots.

It was natural therefore that the reaction to Obama's speech has been dismissive. Indeed, it is widely seen as an attempt to go with the flow and hope for the best. Inevitably, questions have arisen about America's moral authority to teach others about the virtues of democracy.

Only hours before the President delivered his speech, Jewish fundraisers belonging to the Israel Lobby in America laid their marker before Obama; either he stops pressuring Israel's Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu over the illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian or he must do without their funds for his re-election campaign. Can a democracy that is hostage to big money in such a way be reconciled with the universal values of freedom and justice that Obama spoke of?

Few statesmen who stride the world stage have the courage to put their values before interests, and Barack Obama demonstrated he is not about to join them. Not for the first time, he chose his personal ambitions over his convictions. When still in the early stages of his presidency, his Cairo speech demanded an end to Israeli settlements; he gave the impression that he was convinced of their illegality and immorality. Two years on, as he starts on the road to seek re-election, he didn't even mention them solely, we must assume, to advance his career. Within a matter of hours the Israeli government, with typical arrogance and ingratitude to their benefactors, announced plans to construct 1,500 new housing units in occupied Jerusalem. 

Obama and his administration have a duty and absolute right to protect America's interests, but to do so at the expense of other people is immoral and offensive. In what was evidently a threat to the Palestinian leadership regarding the plan to call on the UN General Assembly to recognise a Palestinian state in September 2011, Obama said, "For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state." It is bizarre that the self-declared guardian of democracy should oppose an open and frank debate within the "family of nations". The Zionists went to the UN in 1947 to get their state, so why can't the Palestinians do the same 63 years later? Has America suddenly become a substitute for the UN?

For better or worse, the President's speech amounted to a clarion call for democracy for everyone in the region… except the Palestinians. He mentioned America's anxiety and misgiving about the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas. As a committed democrat Mr Obama should have welcomed this development, not least because it was concluded in response to popular demands from the Palestinian people who have grown sick and tired of disunity.

While Netanyahu and his Likud Party could form alliances with the neo-fascist Yisrael Beituna party led by the racist Moldovan settler Avigdor Lieberman and get unconditional support from America, every Palestinian attempt to form a government of national unity has been scuppered by Washington at the behest of Tel Aviv. Has anyone in the US Congress ever called on Lieberman to recognise the Palestinians' right to live on their own land? Of course not, even though he and his far-right party proclaim openly that Jordan is the alternative home of the Palestinian people and population "transfer" should be an option open to the Israeli government as a way to deal with the "problem" of Palestinian demography.

It is self-evident therefore that the issue of Hamas is simply a red herring used by the US to avoid its obligations. Whatever the case, Palestinians, it seems, can do nothing to satisfy the US and Israel. Since these bastions of democracy reject Hamas because it espouses armed resistance to Israel's military occupation – a right endorsed in law – how is it that Israeli security forces can shoot, kill and maim non-violent protesters in Bil'in who demonstrate weekly against the hideous apartheid wall? Mr Obama believes that the answer lies with the absurd concept of a "non-militarized [Palestinian] state" living in peace side by side with nuclear-armed Israel.

Obama's references to secure borders are insignificant in the absence of any reference to the settlements. Faithful to the script approved by his American Jewish funders he even called for recognition of Israel as "a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people". In other words, we must accept the right of all Jews in the world to migrate to Palestine, while Palestinian refugees must accept permanent exile. Palestinians are, therefore, right to view that the problem lies not simply with hudud (borders) but more importantly wujud (existence) in their own land.

In his attempt to ride the popular tide, Obama acknowledged that throughout the region, "many young people have a solid education [but] closed economies leave them unable to find a job". This may be true for Tunis and Egypt, but for the many young graduates in the Gaza Strip it is the American-backed Israeli blockade that has forced them to turn to tunnelling in order to provide for their families.

If the Palestinians have to wait for America to act on their behalf, they will have no freedom, no independence and no democracy. The unpalatable fact is that America is part of the problem in the region and, in his heart, Obama might possibly acknowledge it if it wasn't for his dependence on the Israel Lobby's money and influence. Like it or not, Mr President, your country has supported dictatorships and undermined the democratic will of the Palestinian people; you cannot be part of the solution with that background.

However, the world is not America and there are new powers emerging; the economic, military and industrial powers in Asia and Latin America, for example. The people of the Middle East should now forge ties with them because there are too many contradictions between American interests and the aspirations of the Arab people, including the desire for freedom, for the US to be considered as an honest broker for peace.

In any case, America can't afford to allow too much democracy in the region, because it is not in its interest to do so. As such, the reality is that America, despite Obama's attempts to persuade the world otherwise, will never sit back and allow real independence for any Middle Eastern country. As for the Palestinians, well, justice and freedom for them would be just too much for Obama's paymasters to stomach, and he knows it. The occupation post-Nakba is 63 years and counting; who knows when it will end?

Asia & AmericasCommentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestineUS
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