donderdag 2 juli 2009

Obama and Israel: on the right track?

Obama took office at the end of january. So he has been in function almost half a year and the question now is: where are the changes we were waiting for in the Middle East?
A few positive things can be noted: there is definitely a change in atmosphere. Obama's insistence that a two state model is the solution to the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian quarrel, the clear signals from him, secretary of State Clinton and special envoy Mitchell that there has to be a halt to the building and expansion of and in the settlements, has brought home the feeling (among Americans as in Israel) that a new era has begun in the relations between the US and its faithfull ally. Obama's Cairo speech on the 4th of june, in which he in fact signaled the end of Bush's war on terror, has increased this all the more.
AIPAC the American Jewish lobby started already to behave quite defensively, as the mouthpiece of a minority, which in reality it is. At it's last conference in Washington. AIPAC director Howard Kohr held a apocalyptic speech in which he warned that the groundwork had been laid for 'the abandonment' of Israel, as if a kind of Shakespearean drame is unfolding before our eyes, and in which he pictured AIPAC as a last bastion aggainst this trend. In Congress the first signs are visible that some dare to challenge the lobby and its attitude of unconditional faithfulness to the government in Jerusalem. In Israel itself Obama is not at all popular, which also seems to underline that some real change is taking place.
But how real a change is it? If we are talking of momentum and opportunities, yes, it might be more than true. But if we look at the facts, there is not really much cause for optimism. Two times I wrote on this blog (here and here) that Obama made mistakes by refering to the Roadmap for Peace instead of outlining his own views, and - worse - by invoking the idea to accompany a building stop in the settlements and an easing of the possiblities to move for the Palestinians on the West Bank, by a simutanuous 'normalization' of the ties between Israel and its Arab neighbours. I wrote that this would lead to endless haggling about quid pro quo's before Israel was ready to give in to anything and attempts by Israel to cash in on improvements in the relations with its neighbours before it had delivered.
Palestine, or rather what is left of it. Le Monde diplomatique pictured it as little isles in a sea of settlements and confiscated land. (Click to enlarge).

If we read today's and yesterday's papers we see the results: tuesday's meeting between Barak and Mitchell in Washington did not yearn concrete results and todays Haaretz tells us (here) that an Israeli official says that, since the Americans are unable to committ the Arab countries to improve their ties with Israel, Israel is under no obligation to make concessions on the West Bank (note: concessions like halting building programs in settlements that are all illegal under international law).

On the ground it is doubtful whether the situation is better. Haaretz signaled some days ago that out of 35 checkpoints ony ten were still functioning. But others are h more skeptical than the paper. OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humantarian Affairs said that there were 613 obstacles of various kinds (see the picture) of which 68 are manned checkpoints.There are dozens of impediments like this which prevent the Palestinians from using certain roads with their cars. (foto B'tselem).

Members of MachsomWatch, an organization of women who monitor the checkpoints said that in the north the situation had improved, but that in the south of the West Bank their was no change. Others mentioned that travelling from Ramallah to Jenin (70 km) now took one and a half hour instead of many hours beforehand. But they also said that at some checkpoints the soldiers had only moved to the side of the road and were inactive, but could return to their normal behaviour in a matter of seconds.
So what is going to happen? Things are moving, but isn't it too little? And late?

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