Monday, January 05, 2009
Palestinians look for a sliver of hope in Obama Presidency
Remember Barack Obama's pre-election visit to Israel and his position on the issue of Hamas rockets being fired at the Israeli town of Sderot? Newspapers quoted Obama saying that "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."
Well, it appears Obama is reconsidering his earlier stance to take into account the historical background of the Middle East situation. An Obama aid, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, told Guardian President-elect Obama was closely monitoring the situation in Gaza and had shown sympathy for the Palestinians. The aid reported Obama saying, "Yes, I said what I said in Sderot, but there is a caveat. If I am renting the house that is under rocket attack, and I find out that the person claiming to be the owner of the house is in fact someone who has expelled the real owner by force, and that expulsion has infuriated the real owner to the point where he is throwing rockets at this property, then it would be unwise of me to do anything but to speak to the 'landlord' and ask him why he rented me a property that he acquired by force."
Now that's jaw-dropping honesty and the president-elect is likely to attract the wrath of a powerful lobby. But meanwhile the word is out and the debate has begun.
Ex-president Jimmy Carter, whose book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" has already made him a pariah among supporters of Israel in the US, welcomed Obama's "deeper understanding of the issue." Talking to reporters in Atlanta, Carter said he would like to meet Obama and explore latter's vision of peace in the Middle East. Carter told reporters, "In this day and age no country can put people in concentration camps. But that is exactly what Israel is doing. Palestinians have been pushed in concentration camp type environments. I am sure Obama is as much a friend of Israel as I am and he too wants to see Israel strong and prosperous. But we also happen to be people who consider every human life, be that of an Israeli or a Palestinian, of equal importance. The logic that Israel can get stronger by discriminating on the basis of religion or by being tough on some people is fundamentally flawed. That is neither how a nation gains strength, nor how a modern democracy should operate. You just cannot move forward generating that kind of animosity towards yourself. South Africa did not survive that way, and Israel cannot survive with that type of arrangement."
When Guardian contacted AIPAC, the Pro-Israel US lobby, its spokesman declined to issue a rejoinder vis-à-vis Obama's latest comments. The spokesman reiterated the lobby's official stance that, "Both the US and Israel are victims of Islamic terrorism. That commonality makes the two countries natural allies in the global war on terror. To ensure their existence these two modern democracies must fight the menace of Islamic fundamentalism."
Commenting on AIPAC's stand, political scientist Norman Finkelstein said, "Yes, both the US and Israel are indeed victims of terrorism, but for very different reasons. The US is a victim of a terror machine, the international Jihad cartel, which the US built. But Israel is experiencing terrorism because the European settlers have initiated the terror by displacing an indigenous population." Speaking on the historical background of creation of Israel, Finklestein said, "It stands to reason that if the Nazis persecuted the Jews then after the Nazis were defeated the Jews should have been compensated with Nazi land NOT Arab land." Finkelstein added, "The European colonization experience in the Americas succeeded because we brought with us chickenpox that decimated large indigenous populations and we assimilated the rest of them. Israel could neither obliterate the local population--although people like Ariel Sharon tried very hard--nor it wants to assimilate it because Israel wants to remain a Jewish state."
In a statement issued from his hideout in Damascus Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said, "Any peace proposal missing the condition of expulsion of all foreigners who settled in Palestine after 1946 would be unacceptable to Hamas and the Palestinian people." Other Hamas leaders were less obstinate in their stand and signaled that any change in the unequivocal support of Israel by the US would be taken up with enthusiasm by the Palestinians.
With the Israel-Palestine debate raging again, Professor Noam Chomsky had a few ideas on an amiable solution to the conflict. Chomsky said, "It would be foolish of Hamas to believe progeny of people who settled in today's Israel is going to go back to their ancestral homeland, wherever that might be. Does anyone believe Poland would take back Livni? One state, from Elat to Golan, from Mediterranean to River Jordan, without any walls, with equal voting rights, is the only solution. And then it would take years for many 'Truth and Reconciliation' commissions to bring today's warring communities together, but I am hopeful it can be done."
Photo, courtesy of
(A.H. Cemendtaur in California and Angelina Matriati in London contributed to this report)