maandag 8 juni 2009

Peaceniks about Obama's Cairo speech

Reacties van Joel Beinin (hoogleraar aan Stanford), Reuven Kaminer (veteraan peacenik in Israel, zijn stuk is iets ingekort), Nurit Peled (dochter van Matti Peled, de generaal die indertijd een dialoog voerde met de PLO, en moeder van een dochter die omkwam bij een bomaanslag), Neve Gordon (hoogleraar aan de Ben Gurion universiteit in Beer Sheba) en Ilan Pappé (hoogleraar in Exeter). Meningen die overeenkomen met de mijne, zie ook mijn eerdere posting over Obama in Cairo). Ik heb deze stukjes gecopieerd van de blog van Jewish Voice for Peace (zie de lijst van interessante blogs hier op deze site). Ik denk dat dat ze dat niet erg vinden.

An articulate and charismatic President of the United States named Barack Hussein Obama giving a speech at Cairo University co-sponsored by al-Azhar, the most eminent institution of Muslim learning - now that's a new picture. Its enormous symbolic value is President Obama's biggest asset as he implements policy on the entire range of difficult issues he mentioned. The President stated, "Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail." This is an excellent basis for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The President did not provide details on how the conflict should be resolved beyond general support for "two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security." But the meaning of this formulation is now contested due to its empty repetition by presidents and prime ministers whose actions and inactions have undermined it. Instead President Obama emphasized U.S. rejection of "the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," saying nothing about the future of those settlements already existing and their nearly 500,000 inhabitants. By limiting himself to an apparently pragmatic "first step," President Obama may have made his task harder. If he does not produce concrete results very soon on this limited, albeit it absolutely necessary, measure, then the potential value of his fine words in Cairo will soon diminish.
Joel Beinin


The Constantly Widening Gap Between Words and Deeds

There are political circles and commentators who live from minute to minute. For them, every squeak from a world leader is a virtual earthquake, a real revolution. This is especially true now that we are dealing with a US president, who is handsome, articulate and even eloquent. The present level of manipulated excitement stems from the non-revelation that Barak Obama is against settlements and for the two state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also sees importance in improving the tainted image of the United States in the Arab and Moslem worlds. Now who can ask for anything more?

It is not that I disregard the significance of declarations but these must be carefully sifted so as to distinguish changes in the usual discourse. Repetition of old and pious wishes means little, while the appearance or disappearance of different formulations and elements is worth attention. But even before seeing how Obama is stacking up to his recent declarations, seen in Israel as criticism of Israeli policy, there is one new Obama element which demands urgent analysis.

The Normalization Gambit
Obama has added a new, problematic, and dangerous dimension to the formula for the solution of the conflict. He has called on both the Palestinians and the Arab countries to take immediate steps, before the conclusion of peace with Israel, so as to normalize their relations with Israel. Now this demand is quite embarrassing for the so-called moderate pro-USA, Arab countries which already maintain a high level of geo-political coordination with Israel despite the occupation. Moreover, Obama's demand that an occupied people, the Palestinians, who are denied the most basic of rights to their very existence, should take steps normalizing their relations with the occupying power as a condition for reaching a peace agreement is ludicrous, to say the least. This idea, coming from Obama, may indicate a certain lack of understanding of the conflict. Any expression of moderation by the Palestinians has always been interpreted by Israel and its allies as a sign of weakness, and full scale
normalization in the region before peace will become the ultimate proof for the Israeli argument that the occupation is no barrier to peace.
Reuven Kaminer

Nurit Peled:
Well I enjoyed it tremendously. It was, like all his other speeches, a breath of fresh air. This man is honest, educated, extremely eloquent, extremely human, determined to do the right thing and has the best interest of people at heart.

The only thing that bothered me was that whereas he spoke of Violent Muslim extremists around the world, emphasising these were a potent minority of Muslims, He declared that Palestinians must abandon violence, as if all Palestinian are violent, as if this is their way of dealing with the problems, while we all know that most PAlestinians are not violent, dont have weapons and resist the occupation in non violent ways that should have been admired by such a man. Also, he did not use the word violence even once when describing Israel's conduct, instaed he limited himself to the settlelemts and the general evil of occupation.
But this is a marginal remark. I do believe he means business and will force the Israeli government to stop lying and do the right thing.

Neve Gordon:
President Obama is a great orator and, at least ostensibly, his Cairo speech does signify a change in US foreign policy in the Middle East. I would like to pause, however, on one sentence, the one in which he declares that the US "will not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity" in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I wonder why Obama inserted the word "continued" into the sentence and how does this word change the meaning of the phrase.

The word continued could refer to the illegitimacy of continued settlement growth, it could mean the illegitimacy of the ongoing settlement project, etc. The purpose of the word continued is accordingly not to clarify, but rather to render the meaning of the sentence unclear, imprecise. In a speech where every word is examined again and again, this is not an accident. If Obama had not inserted the word continued in the speech, everyone would know that in his opinion the settlement project as a whole is illegitimate, but he chose to be vague even if this is in fact what he thinks.

At the end of the day, though, it is less the words that count, and more the actions. Israel does not intend to freeze the settlement build-up nor is it going, of its own free will, to dismantle the illegal settlements and bring the settlers back home. The question, then, is what Obama will do. Will he exert enough pressure to save Israel from itself? Or will he allow, following his predecessors, to become a full blown Apartheid regime?

Ilan Pappé:
The speech was refreshing in its music and tone. It was impressive to hear reference to Iran not as a demonised entity and to learn that the USA is in no need anymore for such demons in order to define itself and its role in the world.

I was impressed with the reference to the term and concept of Palestine and not a Palestinian state as well to his recognition that Palestinian suffering did not begin in 1967, but at least in 1948.
I noticed, like everyone else, the correct pronunciation of Arabic and the employment of Islamic discourse and how well it was received. However, although it won accolades in the hall, I doubt whether it would satisfy people around the Muslim world. Many of them would wait for deeds and would be less impressed by gestures.

But on the whole, I have to admit that I was not disappointed, as I did not expect much. The substantial issues were not included in the speech, and I did not expect them to be. Even the settlements appeared only as illegitimate if they are continued, while their very existence is illegitimate. If the deal is, as one gathers from Rahm Emmanuel, is an America willingness to replace a Netanyahu government by a Livni government in return for endorsing systematic human rights violations in the Arab world, it means that cynicism still reigns. The Palestine issue would not be solved, human rights issues would not be improved and the destruction and dispossession of Palestine would continue.

But let us speak sweetly as we may have to eat our words, hopefully in this case. Whether this was a charade or a genuine opening of a new chapter only deeds and time would tell. Can Obama at all oppose Israel's source of power: the Congress? If he can, this is a different ball game.

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