Bright Moments: Mahmoud Rappin with Barack
He told “a round unvarnished tale”
For those with any understanding of the facts in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, President Obama’s speech before the United Nations on Wednesday was an embarrassment. And for Americans of conscience who value truth, freedom and justice it was shameful if not sinful.
In the President’s speech only the security concerns of the Israeli’s was discussed; a nation with one of the world’s top military establishments armed with the most advanced weaponry and a nuclear arsenal larger than Great Britain’s. It was left therefore to President Mahmoud Abbas to present the counter-narrative, to tell the Palestinian side of the story. And, like Othello, what a round unvarnished tale he told.
Those Americans who took the time to watch the speech on CNN got an extremely rare opportunity to hear the Palestinian case presented unfiltered by an American media that is openly biased in favor of Israel; in fact most of their copy sounds as if it was written in the Israeli embassy. Hence for many Americans President Abbas must sound like a man from Mars. For the picture he painted so vividly is one of a victimized people; a people whose lands and wealth was plundered by foreign invaders.
He told how the Palestinian people are the victims of colonial/settlers, the European and American Zionist, who disposssed them of their lands, instituted a racist Apartheid system, and in spite of 60 years of resolutions and agreements, many of which originated in agreements supervised by the UN, the Palestinian people continue languish under Israeli military occupation and are forced to stand idly by as Israeli settlers, Zionist Jews from all over the world, continue to gobble up Palestinian lands by building new settlements and carving up their territory with “security walls.”
It sounded as if Mahmoud and Barack were talking about two different worlds; as if the situation looked different ways on different days. The narratives are so radically different that there seems little reason to hope that a catastrophe can be avoided in the Middle-East. Thus while the American President spouted nonsense, putting forth an argument that can only make sense if viewed from the imperatives of an American domestic politics dominated by the Israel Lobby, arguing that there is no road to Palestinian Statehood except through bilateral negotiations with an intransigent Israeli government, Mahmoud Abbas took his case to the United Nations General Assembly and asked the world to recognize their inherent right to a national existence as a sovereign people with all the rights and privileges that are accorded independent nations.
His overview of the crisis beginning with the founding of the Zionist state of Israel in Palestine was heart rending, a damming case of conquest, colonial occupation, and racial apartheid. By the time Mr. Abbas announced his intention to apply for membership, proudly holding up the document for the assembly to see, the wildly applauding crowd stood in ovation. As far as I can see, only the American and Israeli delegations remained quiet. Thus we can clearly see the intractability of the crisis in the Middle East.
If the response of Richard Hass, Editor of Foreign Affairs, one of Americas most distinguished journals devoted to international relations, is any measure things look grim indeed. Mr. Hass, who is widely regarded as one of our nation’s most knowledgeable and prescient foreign policy analyst, expressed disappointment with Mr. Abbas’s speech and assured us that while it inspired ovations in the UN General Assembly, and will inspire cheers on the West Bank and Gaza: It would only harden the Israeli resolve to maintain the status quo. And he appeared to think this was a reasonable stance.
I see it differently; it is a course of action that can only swell the ranks of the Jihadist all over the Middle East. There is no question that this will happen, because that is how mass transformative movements work. Of the many factors that contribute to the growth of a movement the most potent factor is the presence of a clearly identified enemy. And that means real trouble for the US, since we are regarded as Israel’s enabler in the region.
Not long after President Abbas ended his triumphant speech, the Israeli Prime Minister took the stage and presented yet another narrative in which Israel is the victim and the Arabs are the dangerous ones. He skillfully painted a picture of a beleaguered Jewish homeland besieged by crazy murderous Muslims. I say Muslims because his attacks were not confined to the Arabs, aside from the Jihadists his greatest invective was reserved for Iran, which is Persian.
And the Israeli Prime Minister willfully misrepresented some critical facts. The worst of which is to suggest that Iran, a Shiite nation, would give a nuclear weapon to Sunni Jihadist; it is a claim that defies history and denies present realities. But it is a great ploy to rile up a millions of Americans who are already dwelling on the verge of anti-Muslim hysteria.
Yet at the end of the speechifying, I had the funny feeling that all three political actors were playing to audiences that were not present in the General Assembly. They are all tightrope walkers who must delicately balance their performance to appeal to several audiences. I believe that, if left to their own devices, these three rational and skilled statesmen could work out a deal. But if they wish to survive in their high office each of them must do the bidding of constituencies that are irrational, and if their hopes and dreams are not addressed they may do no telling what.
In President Obama’s case, failure to veto the Palestinian resolution would make him political enemy #1 to the Israel Lobby and Christian Zionist. The President cannot afford to make such powerful enemies just now; not at a time when he is conducting three wars abroad and trying to devise a cure for the protracted crisis in American capitalism.
And the situation threatens to get worse in an economy with recession level unemployment. Furthermore he has the bizarre problem of trying to raise his approval rating among the Israeli populace; lest they give the order to the Israel Lobby and Christian soldiers of Zion the order to ice him – a call that would energize and mobilize their troops against the President’s reelection.
Prime Minister Netanyahu sent the President a strong message when he came to Washington recently and addressed a joint-session of Congress and got 18 standing ovations – more than the President got on his last State of the Union Address! The not so subtle message was: “I own your Congress Mr. President!” As sad as the situation is, it is nonetheless true that a failure to veto the Palestinian proposal was tantamount to committing political suicide!
Since politics is the art of the possible and I am a political animal, I fully support the President’s decision to veto the Palestinian proposal in the spirit of a circus performer who holds his nose and kisses a skunk because that’s what the script calls for! It is, by far, a lesser evil than a Republican victory in the 2012 election. If Mahmoud Abbas thinks that the Palestinian people will ever have a better friend in the White House than Barack Obama he is delusional.
That’s why, in spite of the undeniable righteousness of his cause, Mr. Abbas may well have injured that cause by not acceding to the President’s request to delay his proposal for statehood a while longer so that he can try to work other options. An American veto of this proposal will almost certainly strengthen Hamas, Mr. Abbas’ nemesis, as well as swell the ranks of Jihadists, who are the avowed enemies of secular democratic leaders like Mr. Abbas. But once the independence motion became an option, there is no way he could have withdrawn it. That would surely have finished him with the cheering crowd massed in Ramallah.
Ironically, Bibi Netanyahu may have won this test of wills with Barack Obama, but he imperiled the security of Israel in doing so. It was a pyrrhic victory and Netanyahu is too smart not to know it. Hopelessness spawned from long standing injustice is the incubator of terrorist! Simply because justice too long delayed becomes justice denied and in such situations the oppressed will resist by any means at their disposal including suicide bombers!
Yet Bibi must bow to the will of his Likud Party – which an article in the September 23 New York Times describes as “a governing coalition dominated by right-wing and religious parties” – or face a revolt from right wing fanatics that could bring down his government Mucho Pronto.
Alas, there are positions Bibi must take in deference to the realities of Israeli politics even if he thinks he has better options. That’s the fundamental problem with courting unthinking fanatics who operate from an irrational perspective…such as religious dogma. We can see that the Israeli Prime Minister is concerned about the optics of their intransigence; it explains his impassioned plea for Mahmoud to return to the bargaining table…and his surprising offer to conduct the talks right here in New York right now.
However his refusal to address the issue of expanding settlements his peripatetic rant, suggest that his overtures were purely cosmetic. In the end it appears that we are witnessing a real life drama that combines elements of classical tragedy, Shakespearean intrigues and a post-modern theater of the absurd! Only one thing is certain: unless these three leaders can find a way to elevate reason, courage and integrity over the imperatives of political survival, an unspeakable catastrophe looms on the horizon.
Barack and Bibi: Who’s the Boss?
Is the tail wagging the dog here?
Harlem, New York
September 24, 2011