ITT Blog: Bibi and Obama’s Speechifying vs. Global Palestinian Solidarity

by Miles Kampf-Lassin

The following article was published on May 25, 2011 on The ITT Blog.

A bizarre spectacle played out on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Israel”s Prime Minister, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, gave anaddress to a joint session which, judging by the non-stop and thunderous ovations, could have easily been mistaken for a campaign rally. And looking back on the speech, it is hard to interpret it as anything else.

While it was billed as “a major Mideast peace policy speech,” taken in the context of the other three addresses on Israel in the past week–Obama”s speech at the State Department, as well as both his and Netanyahu”s speeches at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference–this was pure political maneuvering. Neither Obama nor Netanyahu presented any new policies or broke any new ground on the peace process.

In fact, Netanyahu doubled down on Israel”s continued violent settlement policy, the rejection of 1967 borders with Palestine, the refusal to negotiate around the contested capital of Jerusalem, and the blockade on repatriation of Palestinian refugees. What”s more, he also insisted that any peace deal between Israel and Palestine would have to result in an increased Israeli military presence along the Jordan River while a future Palestinian state must be entirely demilitarized.

None of these stances open the door for a peace accord, rather they serve to bolster the concept, fully ingrained in most U.S. Congress members, that Israel should only enter peace negotiations once all of their demands have already been met, no matter how indefensible.

Obama, for his part, reiterated many of these same conditions in his speeches, but also clearly stated what has been U.S. policy for decades, that the 1967 borders should be the basis for negotiations, with the caveat that this would also include “mutually agreed upon land swaps.” It was this statement that drew the most pointed criticism from Israeli leaders and supporters, as well as members of both parties in Congress, again despite the fact that this has been longstanding U.S. policy. And it was this statement that Bibi publicly rejected, first at a meeting with Obama at the White House, then at AIPAC and yesterday in front of both houses of Congress.

So after over two years of attempted negotiations, which Obama once declared “historic,” the U.S. has proven completely inept at either reining in Israel”s aggressive actions (including, but not limited to, the extreme expansion of settlement activity), or finding common ground on preconditions for negotiating between Israel and the U.S., not to mention Palestine. President Obama”s special envoy George Mitchell, considered by many as the last, best chance for brokering a peace deal, has retired. Fatah, the leading party in the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, deemed a “terrorist organization” by both Israel and the U.S., have formed a unity government in Gaza, further outraging Israeli leaders. And now the U.S. President and Israeli Prime Minister find themselves in a public kerfuffle over the issue. The chances for a lasting peace in the region have consequently been deflated, not buoyed, under the Obama administration.

Another Movement for Peace

But outside of this bubble there is another, more palpable movement for peace and justice occurring. Tuesday night at DePaul University in Chicago, two leading Palestinian scholars and activists, Remi Kanazi, Palestinian poet and political commentator, and Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, spoke on some of the recent developments in the Palestinian solidarity movement aimed at achieving a just peace with Israel.

DePaul has gained international attention recently through a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign led by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to remove Sabra Hummus from the campus. The campaign targets Sabra specifically because it is owned by the Strauss Group, an organization which has supported the Golani and Givani brigades in Israel which have been accused of multiple human rights violations. SJP was able to bring the issue to a referendum vote which, while it failed to garner enough votes to pass, did come very close; 80% of those who voted did so in support of the boycott.

Abunimah and Kanazi both pointed to this as a victory for the movement, in that it gained media attention around the world and in doing so drew attention to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Israel”s history of war crimes. Other recent BDS victories, including the cultural boycott of Israel by artists such as Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron and The Pixies, serve the same purpose of delegitimatizing the Israeli occupation.

On the geopolitical level, Israel has already isolated itself in recent years, a point that Obama made clear in his speeches this week. The international community is increasingly coming together around a resolution proclaiming an independent Palestinian state which will be brought up for a vote at the United Nations General Assembly in September. Obama made clear that while the U.S. would veto this resolution, the tides are moving against Israel; as the demographics change and the Palestinian population eclipses that of Israel, and as new technologies emerge, the isolation of Israel will only grow stronger.

Abunimah argues that this is the key takeaway from a week of speechifying: Israel will continue to recklessly support the status quo and the U.S. will continue to support them in every way with no accountability. But in the end this support will mean very little, because the movement for justice has already inflamed much of the rest of the world, and campaigns like the one at DePaul prove that the movement is growing in the U.S. as well. It will take much more than a high-five speech to Congress on the part of Israel”s Prime Minister to reverse this isolation; it will take substantive steps toward achieving peace.


posted by Miles Kampf-Lassin

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