Through Crystalline Lenses, Looking at Obama

October 24, 2011

In News

United States Should Step Aside as Mideast Broker

by Mouin Rabbani

When it comes to Arab-Israeli diplomacy the American monopoly on mediation needs to be terminated. The reason is simple. Washington’s systematic failure over several decades has disqualified it from acting without adult supervision.

Rather than the marriage counselor who must be balanced because both spouses are angry, the US is the arbitrator who sleeps with and solicits bribes from the more powerful disputant, and fixes outcomes accordingly. Given the US mantra that it cannot want peace more than the parties themselves and that negotiations without preconditions are the only acceptable formula–meaning that Israel has a veto over every decision large and small–it is high time the Obama administration makes room for the many who value peace more than occupation.

In November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly recommended the establishment of separate Arab and Jewish states in Palestine. Israel was established the following year, and currently occupies all of the territory allotted by the world body to both states. It is a reality that could not exist without consistent and increasingly uncritical American support of Israel.

Since the 1970s, the international community has routinely prescribed a two-state settlement to resolve this prolonged conflict. It took the United States until the 21st century to join the community of nations in endorsing a Palestinian state, though this never went beyond the declarative level. Indeed, the main achievement of the diplomatic process initiated by Washington in 1991 and monopolized by it ever since, has been the exponential acceleration of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. The reality is that a process carefully designed to fragment and disenfranchise Palestinians to the largest extent possible, and consolidate Israeli control over Palestinian lives, would not have proceeded differently.

Last month, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) submitted an application for UN membership for the missing state to the Security Council. In response, Washington all but declared a global state of alert. The ferocity of its campaign to deny Palestinian statehood, including the credible threat of yet another veto on Israel’s behalf, the incessant bullying of friend and foe alike, and punitive Congressional sanctions, conclusively demonstrate that the US is incapable of mediating anything other than a one-state outcome, comprising perpetual Israeli domination from the River to the Sea rather than equality between them.

American claims of support for Palestinian statehood ring more hollow than ever. Consider President Obama’s September 2010 proclamation from the UN rostrum that he hoped to see Palestine as a member of the world body. Yet, he has stopped at nothing to prevent it. Similarly, Washington consistently enables further settlement expansion and systematically shields Israel from censure and consequences, while verbally opposing Israeli colonization of Palestinian land.

This begs the question why does Washington remain so committed to extending its perfect record of abysmal failure? The answer increasingly provided by Palestinians and Arabs alike is that the US is devoted to its monopoly precisely because it views its involvement as a success–for itself and Israel, at the Palestinians’ and the international community’s expense. If there are indeed other factors that explain why Washington opposes even a symbolic Palestinian diplomatic initiative, and goes rabid at the very suggestion of multilateralism, these have yet to be persuasively presented.

For those Arabs who still listen to President Obama’s speeches, the contrast between his proclaimed support for Arab self-determination and determined opposition to its Palestinian variant was at least as clear as daylight on a cloudless afternoon.

Obama fools only himself if he thinks Palestine will not be the litmus test of American intentions towards the region’s peoples. By yet again sabotaging a Palestinian attempt to break free of perpetual Israeli domination, he has made a mockery of American claims to support not only Palestinian but also Arab aspirations. In Tunisia Obama at least had the sense to hail the uprising once Ben Ali’s plane reached 30,000 feet. In Palestine, he poured copious amounts of fuel on a raging regional fire despite repeated warnings from the four corners of the world.

While Obama’s total embrace of Israel was as objectionable to Arabs as it was delightful to Avigdor Lieberman, it was the American President’s insistence on business-as-usual yet again that grated most. Denouncing diplomacy at the United Nations as “unilateralism” in order to preserve America’s monopoly over the “peace process” only added insult to injury.

Not all successful mediators are neutral, yet America’s seemingly limitless devotion to the colonizer against the colonized cries out for a counterweight. To the extent Washington succeeds in excluding other actors from the equation, it will increasingly be called to account by the region’s citizens. As Ben Ali, Mubarak, and other trusted American friends are forced to make room for more representative leaderships, Washington’s startling incongruence with the spirit of the times is creating a massive problem for itself.

It is anyone’s guess when, how, and by whom American interests in the region will pay the price of US Middle East policy. In order to minimize that cost, and retain what prospects remain for a constructive relationship with the Arab world, Washington’s politicians would do well to at least stop digging. To paraphrase Obama’s message to Syria’s Asad: if he cannot lead, he should follow and if he refuses must get out of the way before being forced aside.