Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, U.S. Foreign Policy, and the Obama Administration: Diplomacy or Continued Warfare?

Will Obama Advocate Same Old Policies in Palestine?

By Rayfield A. Waller

President Obama rode into office on the winds of change promising, post-Bush, diplomacy rather than belligerence as the new US foreign policy. But he has yet to speak up clearly and decisively against Israel’s policy of underdevelopment and ‘removal’ deployed against Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

Obama’s voice overseas, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is mouthing policies nearly identical to those of the Bush White House; so much so that the Palestinian newspaper, Al Quds, has editorialized against her, dubbing her ‘Condoleezza Clinton’, a reference to Bush’s Secretary of State, Iron Maiden Condoleezza Rice. Secretary Clinton in her recent trip to the Middle East offered Israel only words of appeasement even as the ominous figure of an incoming Israeli prime minister who loudly opposes Palestinian statehood-—Bebe Netanyahu-—is making it clear that more violent conflict and less diplomacy will likely be Israel’s course. What are we to call Israel’s policy? We ought to call it what it is: Palestinian Removal.

The criminal violence carried out by Israeli forces against Gaza’s civilians in December has yet to be condemned by the Obama administration. Meanwhile, Israel is stepping up the frequency of evictions carried out against Palestinian families and the razing of Arab homes in occupied East Jerusalem while building new, illegal settlements there.

Clinton’s clear message at a Gaza reconstruction conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, in early March, was not a repudiation of Palestinian Removal, but an announcement that the US will withhold recognition and support for the democratically elected Hamas. Clinton’s remarks continued the Bush policy of ‘West Bank and Fatah First’ while Hamas was excluded from the very conference that supposedly was called to raise funds for Gaza, which Hamas represents.

In the face of Israel’s continued strangulation of Arab civilian society by encroachment in Jerusalem, by embargo against Gaza, and by the use of bulldozers and tanks rather than diplomacy to settle Arab/Israeli conflict, Clinton announced no significant change in American foreign policy in the Middle East now that Obama is in the saddle: She formally made a promise of $900 million, ‘not a dime’ of which will go to Hamas, so as to ensure the eventual creation of a Palestinian state that will be “peaceful and responsible.”

Is this Orwellian doublespeak Obama’s ‘change we can believe in’?

Even as Gaza’s survivors digest the devastation of, in approximate numbers, 22,000 buildings destroyed, 1,300 dead, 500 or more injured, and 300 or more Palestinian children killed by Israel’s planned, mechanized, and targeted attack in December upon civilians and upon civil infrastructure, it seems that yet another American administration rears up in the White House and in Congress to turn a blind eye toward huge sums of US tax dollars funding Israel’s Removal Program against Arabs in the West Bank, Golan, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. With prime minister-designate Netanyahu’s ascension to power, increased Israeli hostility against Lebanon and Syria seems likely, despite Clinton’s overtures toward dialogue with Syria. Netanyahu’s track record as a hawk doesn’t suggest he will support the US in unilateral dialogue with his Arab neighbors.

Does Obama plan to continue the US policy of supporting ‘Israel’s security’ through direct weapons sales, huge subsidies and favored nation trade status, and by providing billions of US dollars in aid to Israel? In 2008, Israel received 2.4 billion in military financing, according to The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA), which dwarfs the 900 million promised to Palestine By Clinton in March. The Congress has averaged the (comparatively paltry) figure of $100 million US dollars annually in aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA); the new pledge of money to rebuild Gaza and cover budget shortfalls for the PA will be controlled by the US Agency for International Development, earmarked for what Clinton called “institutional reforms and economic development”.

Such a statement seems outlandish. It is as if American foreign policy is as detached from reality now as it has always been where Palestine is concerned: infrastructure projects, the meat and bread of any ‘economic development’ and now necessary to rebuild Gaza, is to be funded by the US while far greater expenditures of USAID dollars continue to go to funding Israeli destruction of that same infrastructure. Hamas was banned from Sharm el Sheikh while Israel flat out refused to attend, even though it is not clear whether Hamas will allow what aid is finally sent into Gaza if it is sent under conditions that hamstring Hamas. Nor is it clear that Israel will even allow the aid through its military blockade of Gaza, which is after all, still under occupation.

This is not the diplomacy Obama promised but merely the continuation of the mendacity that US policy toward Arab-Israeli peace has always shown itself to be, along with the entrenched assistance of the U.S. based pro-Israeli lobby (AIPAC—the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee).

Unless Obama ceases deploying irrational expenditures of monies said to ‘secure’ Israel, and favors instead a sane, diplomatic approach to peace that includes rather than excludes all representative parties at ground level, not only will Israel continue to be less secure, but Palestinian lives will continue to be sacrificed. Destruction of cohesive Palestinian daily life and culture is Israeli policy. Israeli bulldozers wreck homes rather than building this ‘economic development’ Secretary Clinton speaks of. The Removal Policy will only pick up speed and funding from soon-to-be Prime Minister Netanyahu. In any event, the reins of American foreign policy now firmly belong to President Obama.

If the new President chooses to ride the same old discredited nag of Bush’s policies, he will be riding not the winds of change but a whirlwind into continued conflict and bloodshed, only now the blood will now be on his hands.

Professor Waller is on the adjunct faculty of the department of Africana Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. He’s a freelance journalist, and contributing writer to Progreso Weekly and to The Michigan Citizen.



This is a very important gesture and effort by Alice. Many more black intellectuals, activists, and artists from this country need to show their firm public support of the Palestinian people in their heroic fight against Israeli colonial occupation and apartheid and for their own much deserved sovereignty and national independence.


The Color Purple' author traveling to Gaza
Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt - Pulitzer-prize winning author Alice Walker, who wrote "The Color Purple," is traveling to Gaza along with other female activists to highlight the devastation of the Israeli offensive on Gaza's residents.

"I feel that what is happening in the Middle East is very important because the situation is so volatile," said Walker, speaking by telephone Saturday from the Rafah border crossing as her group waited to travel into Gaza. "I love people, and I love children and I feel that the Palestinian child is just as precious as the African-American child, as the Jewish child."

Walker is part of a group of about 60 women going to Gaza to deliver aid and meet with NGOs and residents. The trip, organized by the U.S. anti-war group Code Pink, is intended to push both Israel and Egypt to open the borders into Gaza, said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink who helped organize the trip.

The trip comes as efforts to reach a long-term cease-fire between Israel and the militant group Hamas have hit a roadblock. An Israeli offensive on Gaza, intended to stop rocket fire into southern Israel, ended Jan. 18 with separate cease-fires declared by both Israel and Hamas.

Members of the group intend to stay in Gaza until March 11, Benjamin said. During their trip, timed to coincide with International Women's Day on March 8, they will also deliver baskets filled with personal items such as shampoo for women in Gaza.

Walker, who was making her first trip to Gaza, said it was important for Americans who give so much military aid to Israel to understand how their money was being used.

"It's very important that they understand what is happening, and that we hold our own administration accountable," she said.