So much discussion about the latest elaborate dance between the US under Barack Obama and Israel. In many ways, little has changed over the years, as Washington occasionally talks tough with Israel but then never does anything more. Words are cheap in the Middle East, especially as the occupation deepens every day. And, as if most Muslims see America being on the side of the democratic angels in the Arab Spring.
Appearing before the annual conference of AIPAC, the American pro-Israel lobby, is what all candidates for president of the United States dream about. It’s their big chance to attract the Jewish vote and Jewish contributions. It’s the setting where they can reap the benefits of declarations of loyalty to Israel, elegantly bypassing anything that might rile supporters. That’s where, 16 years ago, Republican candidate Bob Dole announced a legislative initiative, at an inopportune moment, to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in one of the low points in the peace process.
No American president or presidential candidate has ever told this large Jewish audience of supporters of Israel the truth. Until yesterday, that is. Obama did not go to the AIPAC conference to iron out differences between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He went there to settle misunderstandings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon used to liken Israel’s participation in negotiations on the future of the territories to cattle being led through the corral to the slaughterhouse. When Netanyahu returns home, he will have to decide once and for all if he is ready to lose the support of an American president who yesterday went into the lion’s den or enter the corral of negotiations that in the end, and perhaps even from the beginning, will threaten him with political slaughter. Netanyahu’s choice not to attend yesterday’s convention session may indicate which direction he will choose.
For decades, Israel has been a bipartisan cause on Capitol Hill. It will remain so for a while, but Netanyahu is, through his pedantic and pinched behavior, helping to weaken Israel’s standing among Democrats. Why is this so important? Because Israel has no friends left in the world except for the United States (and in fairer weather, Canada, Australia and Germany). As it moves toward a confrontation with Iran, it needs wall-to-wall support in America. You would think that Netanyahu, who is sincere in his oft-stated belief that Iran poses quite possibly the greatest danger Israel has ever faced, would be working harder than he is to ensure Democratic, and presidential, support, for this cause.
This wasn’t slipping poison into the honey; it was smearing chemical sweeteners on to toxic pellets. Barack Obama listed what he sees as his country’s “core interests” in my country Egypt and my region; his country’s “core principles” governing how it will act towards us, and his policies to promote US interests within the frame of US principles. Let’s translate the US president’s description of his “core interests in the region” into effects on the ground:
“Countering terrorism” has implicated (at least) Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the US’s extraordinary rendition programme, turning our governments into torturers for hire and consolidating a culture of security services supremacy and brutality that is killing Syrian protesters today and manifests itself in Egypt as a serious counter-revolution.
“Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons” highlights consistent US double standards as Arab nuclear scientists are murdered, the US threatens Iran, and Israel happily develops its illicit arsenal.
“Securing the free flow of commerce” has meant shoving crony capitalism down our throats, bribing governments to sell our national assets and blackmailing us into partnerships bad for us.
“Supporting Israel” has led to land, resources and hope being stolen from Palestinians while Egypt becomes their jailer and dishonest broker, losing its credibility and self-respect.
Obama has all the information above; he knows that Hosni Mubarak’s dedication to delivering US “core interests” is why the Egyptian millions demanded his departure, why Tahrir proclaimed him an “agent of America and Israel”, and why he is now under arrest.
The blame is not all with America. We had a regime that was susceptible, that became actively complicit; assiduously finding ways to serve US and Israeli interests – and ruin us. But: we got rid of it. Peaceably, with grace and within the law. We Got Rid of It.
So when Obama says, “We will continue to do” the things described above, it’s a challenge. When he adds, “with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they are essential to them” – it’s obfuscation and an insult to every citizen across the world – including Americans – who followed our revolutions with empathy and with hope.
The problem with US policy in the Arab world is not only its insistence on broadcasting credulous US propaganda – easily fed to Americans, yet with few takers elsewhere in the world – but also that it continues to show a complete lack of familiarity with Arab political culture and insists on insulting the intelligence of most Arabs, whom it claims to address directly with speeches such as Mr Obama’s.
Opposition to the United States and Israel in fact is something espoused by the peoples of the Arab world, not by their leaders, who have been insisting for decades that the US and Israel are the friends of Arabs. Indeed the people of the region have been the only party that insisted that US policies and domination in the region and constant Israeli aggressions are what make these two countries enemies of the Arab peoples, while Arab rulers and their propaganda machines insisted on diverting people’s anger toward other imagined enemies, which the US conjured up for the region, while making peace with Israel.
Obama’s attempt to deny the hatred that Arabs feel towards the United States and Israel because of the actions of these two countries is nothing short of the continued refusal of the United States and Israel (not of Arabs) to take responsibility for their own actions by shifting the blame for the horrendous violence they have inflicted on the region onto their very victims. When Obama and Israel call on Arabs to take responsibility for the state of the region and not blame the US and Israel for it, what they are essentially doing is to refuse to take responsibility for what they have inflicted on Arabs.
Arabs have clearly taken responsibility and have been trying to remove the dictators that the US and Israel have supported for decades – and which they continue to support. The only parties refusing to take responsibility here are the United States and Israel. Obama’s speech, sadly, continues this intransigent tradition.