Mr. Abbas Goes to Washington

May 28, 2009 (click on link for article hyperlinks)

If the Oval Office guest list is an indicator, President Obama is making good on his commitment to try to revive the long-dead Arab-Israeli peace process. On May 18 President Obama received Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu; today he met with Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

As this process gets under way, the United States--Israel's main arms supplier, financier and international apologist--faces huge hurdles. It is deeply mistrusted by Palestinians and Arabs generally, and the new administration has not done much to rebuild trust. Obama has, like President Bush, expressed support for Palestinian statehood, but he has made no criticisms of Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip--which killed more than 1,400 people last winter, mostly civilians--despite evidence from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UN investigators of egregious Israeli war crimes. Nor has he pressured Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are refugees, are effectively imprisoned and deprived of basic necessities.

Obama has told Netanyahu firmly that Israel must stop building settlements on expropriated Palestinian land in the West Bank, but such words have been uttered by the president's predecessors. Unless these statements are followed by decisive action--perhaps to limit American subsidies to Israel--there's no reason to believe the lip service that failed in the past will suddenly be more effective.

On the Palestinian side, Obama is talking to the wrong man: more than half of residents in the occupied territories do not consider Abbas the "legitimate" president of the Palestinians, according to a March survey by Fafo, a Norwegian research organization. Eighty-seven percent want the Fatah faction, which Abbas heads, to have new leaders.
Hamas, by contrast, emerged from Israel's attack on Gaza with enhanced legitimacy and popularity. That attack was only the latest of numerous efforts to topple the movement following its decisive victory in the 2006 legislative elections. In addition to the Israeli siege, these efforts have included a failed insurgency by Contra-style anti-Hamas militias nominally loyal to Abbas and funded and trained by the United States under the supervision of Lieut. Gen. Keith Dayton. If Obama were serious about making real progress, one of the first things he would do is ditch the Bush-era policy of backing Palestinian puppets and lift the American veto on reconciliation efforts aimed at creating a unified, representative and credible Palestinian leadership.

None of these problems is entirely new, though the challenges, having festered for years, may be tougher to deal with now. Netanyahu did add one obstacle, however, when he came to Washington. In accord with his anticipated strategy of delay, he insisted that Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist as a "Jewish state" as a condition of any peace agreement. Obama seemingly endorsed this demand when he said, "It is in US national security interests to assure that Israel's security as an independent Jewish state is maintained."

Israel has pressed this demand with increasing fervor because Palestinians are on the verge of becoming the majority population in the territory it controls. Israel wants to ensure that any two-state solution--something that looks increasingly doubtful even to proponents--retains a Jewish majority. This explains the state's longstanding opposition, in defiance of international humanitarian law, to the return of Palestinian refugees who were expelled or fled from homes in what is now Israel.

But can Israel's demand be justified? A useful lens to examine its claim is the fundamental legal principle that there is no right without a remedy. If Israel has a "right to exist as a Jewish state," then what can it legitimately do if Palestinians living under its control "violate" this right by having "too many" non-Jewish babies? Can Israel expel non-Jews, fine them, strip them of citizenship or limit the number of children they can have? It is impossible to think of a "remedy" that does not do outrageous violence to universal human rights principles.

What if we apply Israel's claim to the United States? Because of the rapid growth of the Latino population in the past decade, Texas and California no longer have white majorities. Could either state declare that it has "a right to exist as a white-majority state" and take steps to limit the rights of non-whites? Could the United States declare itself officially a Christian nation and force Jews, Muslims or Hindus to pledge allegiance to a flag that bears a cross? While such measures may appeal to a tiny number of extremists, they would be unthinkable to anyone upholding twenty-first-century constitutional principles.

But Israeli leaders propose precisely such odious measures.

Already, Israel bans its citizens who marry non-citizen Palestinians from living in the country--a measure human rights activists have compared with the anti-miscegenation laws that once existed in Virginia and other states. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has long advocated that the nearly 1.5 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel be "transferred" from the country in order to maintain its Jewish majority.

Recently, Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party has sponsored or supported several bills aimed at further curtailing the rights of non-Jews. One requires all citizens, including Palestinian Muslims and Christians, to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state. Another proposes to punish anyone who commemorates the Nakba (the name Palestinians give to their forced dispossession in the months before and after the state of Israel was established) with up to three years in prison. Ironically, Lieberman is an immigrant who moved to Israel from Moldova three decades ago, while the people he seeks to expel and silence have lived on the land since long before May 1948.

And as Obama continues to remind us of America's "shared values" with Israel, another proposed bill passed its first reading in the Knesset this week. According to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, the law would prescribe "one year in prison for anyone speaking against Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state"--making it a thought crime to advocate that Israel should be a democratic, nonracial state of all its citizens.

It would be sad indeed if the first African-American president of the United States were to defend in Israel exactly the kind of institutionalized bigotry the civil rights movement defeated in this country, a victory that made his election possible.

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I will be interested to see how people respond, especially in light of Obama's upcoming visit to Egypt.
Hamas is a terrorist organization. They don't represent the mainstream Palestinians in the West Bank. The polling cited is biased, as usual. The author, a decent person, though, has spent his life sabotaging the two-state solution and is the advocate of the impossible notion of the One State solution. Ali Abunimeh is a Palestinian elitist who engages with other Palestinian elitists in marginalizing moderate voices and mainstream Palestinians in an effort to undermine criticism of Hamas, the Jabha (far leftwing secular extremists) and others who insist that the only solution is to go back to their pipe dream of 1947 and create one state. It ain't gonna happen and all of Ali Abunimeh's bullying and the bullying from his supporters is not going to make that happen. But, Ali Abunimeh and others like him can help undermine peace and prevent the two-state solution.

One day we can have an open discussion about the failings of the Palestinian leadership that Ali Abunimeh represents and the role they have played in helping to block and undermine the Oslo Peace accords and all of the peace accords that were signed by Rabin and Arafat. They made it easy for Netanyahu and his ilk to also contribute to undermining peace. And frankly I see no difference between the Israeli extremists and the Palestinian extremists. They are all yelling the same mantra of anger and rejection and NEVER offer a realistic, achievable solution.

They love to dish out the criticism but they hate to take it.

Ray Hanania
I find it impossible to disagree with any of what Ray wrote above.
Ali Abunimah has shown once again that he can clarify situations with documented facts, clever analysis and substance. He also writes well, with excellent phrasing and invigorating prose. These attributes indicate he has given proper thought and careful preparation to his writings. He never resorts to demagoguery, insinuations, attacks or false representations. One might counter, his arguments in a pointed manner, but generalized rebuttals that also label his manner indicate to me the antagonist has no argument.
Although I don't claim infallibility, I cannot find one fact he recites that is not verifiable. His rendition leads inexorably to his exploration and to logical conclusions. Unlike the myriad of derivative articles that appear daily in all media, Ali's article is a fresh and original contribution to a difficult topic.
I don't agree with Abunimah's characterization of President Obama's incipient policies. President Obama leans towards an 'America first' policy, one in which the U.S. will try to settle the disastrous Bush polices without harming the U.S., a difficult undertaking, in which the U.S. will no longer use the world for its personal benefit , and where the political failures of other nations (Israel) will not harm U.S. interests and relations with others. Obama is smart. He knows Americans always accept an 'America first' policy. The U.S. president will take a slow and deliberate process to resolve the Middle East conflict. israel should be prepared to learn the world wants it to vacate most of the settlements and get itself a true democratic constitution that protects the rights of all its citizens.
I am astounded at the latest laws Israel is proposing to stifle opinion and further decrease Palestinian rights. Obama will take note of these extremist laws and react as a true progressive and social thinker. israel is rapidly dooming itself.
I'm sure President Obama reads Ali Abunimah.
Dan Lieberman
Ray: Ali is by no means a Hamas supporter (I know him personally and I know his political stance is very progressive leftist, pro gay etc). Just because he does not support the sell-outs of Abu Mazen and his thuggish tiny group, does not mean he supports Hamas or extremism. Even in Fateh, peopel don't like Abbas. All the Fateh parliamentarians here have now boycotted the new "government" appointed by his majesty Abbas. Just because he is liked by Israel and the US does not make him a good guy ;-)
Also, I did not agree with you on any generalizations about either Hamas or any one else. These kinds of generalizations are common in this forum from extremist political Zionists including those who masquerade as peace advocates. But any rational investigation will reveal that they are simply false. I hope you can come visit us in Palestine soon and we can introduce you to the diversity of points of view here (including among and between Hamas supporters). The reductionist approach while emotionally satisfying is certainly not reflective of reality here.

And yes, I like Ali's book "One Country"
Well, Mr. Mazen , so you think among those you've described as "thuggish" and" tiny", who don't like Abbas? then do you think they like HAMAS? Haven't you generlized when you described Abbas's group as thuggish and tiny?
I wonder also if Mr. Ali doesn't like Abbas, is it because the Pres. is anti gay?
Thanks to Mazin Qumsiyeh for posting this encapsulation of the current events in Israel /Palestinian efforts for detente.

Ali Abunimah's," Abbas Goes to Washington" refreshes the discourse surroundin peace talks and the new Israeli leader's sentiments concerning what form a Two State solution would take with his blessings. Netenyahu is said to seek a growth of settlements and autonomous region in the West Bank for a Palestinian state, but this "state" would be disarmed , exist in bantustans which are disconnected and be subject to perhaps similar assaults from US armed Israel if Netenyahu feels that there is a threat to Israelis. This is not the "two state solution discussed at Oslo and lack even the credibility to discuss it without feeling as if the cards are stacked heavily, as usual, in Israel's favor.

Analysis of sentiments emanating from Great Britain's activist communities which support Equal Human Rights for Palestinians seem to be leading towards Equal rights ann justice being the precursor to talks of a Two State solution, which seems to be gaining traction rapidly in Gaza, some parts of the West Bank and in the Jewish community within Israel which also seeks Equal Rights and justice before any settlement for peace or nationhood for Palestine can be realised.

While Israel has been the "decider" or sorts in any real discourse for peace due to their military superiority and US hegemon at the UN with it's vetos of resolutions calling for justice for Palestinians, Palestinians justifiably, are frustrated.

The tide of personal discourse between prominent representatives of Palestinian rights has, however ,taken the turn towards pro Palestinian legal positions as the most defensible and therefore reasonable in terms of good standing in truth and honest appraisals of whom is aggressor and terrorist and whom, the victim and denigrated party as understood by legal minds privy to the rulings and statutes of the Nuremberg principles, Geneva conventions and several UN resolutions and the Original mandate and letter of the Balfour Declaration.

Each authority respective of their particular expertise has weighed in and found Israel to be errant in a number of it's abuses of the land, people and human rights of Arab living in Palestine, which bodes well for the position of Palestine to be chartered as a nation with it's capitol in East Jerusalem and the settlements which restrict free and unfettered access to contiguous communities under the rule of the Palestinian government.Wold Bank reports on Land rights abuses, water rights abuses and court rulings abuses by Israel indicate a premeditated attempt by Israel to dislodge Palestine for it's moorings and derail any contiguous Palestinian efforts to unite as a people, have free and fair elections and serve their people as unchallenged authorities with no intimidation from Israeli IDF forces and settlers. The documentation is available from the World bank, Al Mezan In gaza and from the UN, Geneva summit on racism and Norwegian human rights legal counsel working with Palestine.

The litany of terrorist attacks on Israel by militants from Palestine is also documented and the attacks are in many ways horrible and represent a macabre sense of justice or revenge that has set Palestine back grievously from achieving it's rights Statehood and emancipation from control by the IDF and Israel. Better reason, and an appreciation of the suffering these attacks has caused Israelis has been communicated with vigor to Hamas officials and some good measures of restraint have been ordered by Hamas and are being followed as they try to be a pantner in peace talks with Abu Mazin and are moderating their views towards Israel.

Anyone familiar with the punditry, analysis and commentary of both Israel's viewpoints and those of Palestinians in all of their disparate camps can recognize that as Hamas and Abbas moderate Israel seems to be retracting into protectionism, rhetorics of half truth and postures of aggressive growth of settlements regardless of US presidential requests to discontinue settlement growth and dismantle illegal settlements.

The notion that Israel is stalling in these current events to proliferate it's settlements, marginalize Hamas and Gaza and build Ramallah as their paragon while ruining the peace in Hebron with outrageous acts of hubris by the IDF and settlers is
disturbing and shows that Israel is once again not honoring it's commitments, restricting it's settlers from violent acts against Palestinians and continuing to gain water and land control , spelling certain doom for the Two State solution as anything but a ruse . Abu Mazin's negotiator Erekat has reinforced these notions in his press releases and indicated to the press that Two State talks bare little interest if only Israel's desires are to be honored while Palestinian rights continue to be egregiously violated as evidenced in the january attack on Gaza.

In speaking with the US campaign to End the Occupation of Palestine's sterring committee, they also reinforce this paradigm presented by Mr Erekat as the representative for Abu Mazin, so the current status of the Two State solution is just as muted and unachievable as is one state, with one exception, One state is already a reality, the Human rights, free press, free speech and freedom of movement, voting rights and land rightsa are the sticking ppoints which preclude this paradigm from being discussed as the reality of Israel whether Netenyahu and Lieberman will admit it or not, one state is HERE NOW, it must however be furthered that The US is decidedly restless concerning this development as is Netenyahu and the hard right wing of Zionism. Individual human rights of Israels are also to be considered if one state gains traction.

It is important not to be obstinate as these new developments occur and be prescient, clear and forthcoming with the work of freeing both Israels and Palestinians of every ilk to speak their piece now as this is going to be a serious debate for the real state soon. The time is come for those who seek peace to declare their platform, institute their documents into the records and be clear as to who wants what and when, as for my opinion, I see one state looming large on the horizon.
Luc wrote: "I am sure the general Israeli population actually relishes the sights it saw of the death and destruction in Gaza."

Why are you so sure that Israelis are so EVIL, Luc?

We know that there were many documented joyful celebrations of 9/11 after 9/11 in many Muslim countries and even in neighborhoods elsewhere where Muslims live. Lakemba and Auburn are suburbs of Sydney where such spontaneous celebrations erupted. Muslim leaders chided the faithful with public statements that in effect said: We understand your joy but the non-Muslim community misrepresents and misinterprets such public celebrations, so in future please limit such public celebrations.
Paul, this person's ridiculous remarks are unending.
Actually polls did find that the carnage in Gaza was hugely popular among Israelis and in fact many wished for more devastation in Gaza. These polls were done by Israeli polling agencies and were a fair representation of the state of mind (some would say depravity) that brainwashing has achieved so that anything and everything is justified.
Well all I can give is my personal thoughts. As an Israeli, I wasn't rooting for carnage and destruction and had mixed feelings about the whole war. I don't think Israelis were prowar because of a bloodthirsty desire to kill Palestinians--although I'm sure there were people like that. I think they felt (rightly or wrongly) that the invasion was the only option available while rockets continued to rain down on Israeli residents.
Good to see your comment



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