ABC This Week featured one of Barack Obama’s first major news interviews in weeks. He covered some new ground on Iran and gave some disappointing answers on issues like Gaza. For some reason, Obama feels empowered to strike out on his own in announcing a decisive break from Bush policy toward Iran (but not Gaza):
…We are going to have to take a new approach. And I’ve outlined my belief that engagement is the place to start. That the international community is going to be taking cues from us in how we want to approach Iran.
And I think that sending a signal that we respect the aspirations of the Iranian people, but that we also have certain expectations in terms of how a international actor behaves…
…Well, I think a new emphasis on respect and a new emphasis on being willing to talk, but also a clarity about what our bottom lines are. And we are in preparations for that. We anticipate that we’re going to have to move swiftly in that area.
This is a blessing and a relief to so many Americans who voted for a decisive break with Bush’s disastrous policies of bellicosity and threats.
On a related matter, the AP has reported that Dennis Ross is likely to be named the special Mideast envoy possibly supervising Iran and Israel-Palestine matters. There are many in the progressive community who are concerned with this development because Ross comes directly out of the Aipac environment. During and after Camp David in the Clinton administration he placed full blame for its failure at Arafat’s feet and refused to blame either Clinton or Barak as other witnesses to the events did.
While I share concerns about Ross, I’m trying not to let them exercise me for two reasons: first the statement above. Obama has given a clear view of his agenda and it will Ross’ job to implement his boss’ views. It will NOT be Ross’ job to implement his own views. Second, I heard Rob Malley interviewed on Friday on To the Point and he said that Ross’ appointment didn’t concern him because he didn’t see Ross as a freelancer, but as a team player. I trust Rob Malley’s instincts on these matters.
So while I have no great love for Ross, as long as he pursues Obama’s policy of engagement and negotiation over saber-rattling, I have no problem with him.
The big disappointment in the interview concerns Gaza. Obama insists on keeping his eyes on the prize, which is an overall settlement of the conflict. All that’s to the good. The only problem is that the Gaza disaster could wreck any chances of getting to a comprehensive agreement in the near to medium-term due to the bitterness not only of Palestinians, but of all Muslims and Arabs. Here’s how he addressed the subject beginning with a defense of Israel’s attack:
I think a basic principle of any country is that they’ve got to protect their citizens. And so what I’ve said is that given the delicacy of the situation, the one area where the principle of one president at a time has to hold is when it comes to foreign policy.
We cannot have two administrations at the same time simultaneously sending signals in a volatile situation. But what I am doing right now is putting together the team so that on January 20th, starting on day one, we have the best possible people who are going to be immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process as a whole.
That are going to be engaging with all of the actors there. That will work to create a strategic approach that ensures that both Israelis and Palestinians can meet their aspirations.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But as you know, in much of the Arab world, your silence…has been interpreted as callousness. And we also had a viewer question on this, Marin Guerrero of Riverside, California, asks you: “Why is Obama remaining silent on the Gaza crisis when so many innocent people are being killed?”
OBAMA: Well, look, I have said — and I think I said this a couple of days back, that when you see civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, harmed, under hardship, it’s heartbreaking. And obviously what that does is it makes me much more determined to try to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But more broadly, will your policy in the Middle East, will it be building on the Bush policy or a clean break?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that if you look not just at the Bush administration, but also what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach.
And I think that players in the region understand the compromises that are going to need to be made. But the politics of it are hard. And the reason it’s so important for the United States to be engaged and involved immediately, not waiting until the end of their term, is because working through the politics of this requires a third party that everybody has confidence, wants to see a fair and just outcome.
And I think that an Obama administration, if we do it right, can provide that…
So the best that Obama’s willing to give us is that the Israeli-Arab conflict will be a high priority from day one. But he refuses to tip his hand as to what even his most general philosophical outlook will be. Personally, I think he’s rolling craps on this. If his gamble pays off he can ride out the Gaza attack and get into the bigger picture of solving the Israel’s major conflicts with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. But if the gamble fails and the well is poisoned in the Arab world for months or more to come because of the heinousness and barbarity of Israel’s actions, then he won’t look so smart.
I think he’s missing an opportunity. A statement that reflects sympathy for both parties while calling on Israel to ratchet down the violence and embrace an immediate ceasefire might also be a gamble. But isn’t a gamble worthwhile when 900 Gazans have already died and the Arab world is clamoring for Israeli and U.S. blood?
As you know I’ve never expected anything from Obama, so I’m not disappointed.
But I am over-joyed that Jon Stewart discussed Gaza: the occupation, the checkpoints.
This is an amazing break with the Main Stream Media, which never goes beyond, “They’re firing rockets at our people.”
If we are lucky, the people will lead on this one, and the politicians will bring up the rear.
from Jewish Voice for Peace:
“On The Daily Show’s January 5 “Strip Maul” segment, Jon Stewart did what few American television personalities have dared to do: he criticized Israel’s campaign against Gaza, making it clear that bombing will not bring peace for Israelis or Palestinians. He mocked the one-sided response of U.S. politicians by calling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the “Mobius strip of issues because there’s only one side!” He’s sure to get thousands of complaints, so send Jon a letter of appreciation and then ask all your friends to watch this segment.”
So many opportunities…so little time in the scheme of things.
Marilyn Shepherd says
Well the Israeli hardliners are calling this a triumph in one breath because 13 countries abstained but surprisingly Canada voted against it. 33 others and not the arabs league alone voted for the condemnation of Israel’s action.
What is interesting is how the poor Palestinian guy was dismissed immediately by the ugly zionist movements as insignificant which about sums it up and Canada sang the hasbara song sheet verbatim almost.
Dennis Ross though has written pieces published here in Australia calling for us to be more even handed instead of just siding with Israel and today in Haaretz even the hawkish Aluf Benn has an excellent piece about the double standards of Israel with the UN.
In Australia we had been moving away from the US on this but when the attack by Israel started the deputy PM immediately blamed the Palestinians without bothering to discover that the israeli’s had deliberately broken the truce after acknowledging that Hamas wanted to work through diplomacy.
She has never apologised for that racist attack but if Palestinians has slaughtered 900 Israeli’s she would be ranting. So she hates me again. But she has since I told her she was a savage for supporting locking up innocent children in what amount to concentration camps in their strictest definition of prisons for innocent civilians, not those other horrors.
And it is not only the arab world clamouring for US and Israeli blood. Even my very mild mannered librarian is.
We can dress it up however one likes but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Obama is basically going to passively enable the IDF to undertake its current offensive. What it boils down to is that more civilians will be killed in a disproportionate response after the ceasefire was broken by the Israeli forces. This is really unacceptable; I always knew that Obama would never really be able to fulfill all the hopes progressives had of him but I never expected him to start disappointing so soon.
It is not surprising that Iran is more important than Gaza or the Palestinian people. Iran is a country, like them, hate them, they have economic potential and they can be a serious threat. It is important to pay attention to them.
The Palestian people on the other hand, are a people without a country, they currently have little economic value to the world in general, other than Isreal (if they woke up), they are under occupation and they cost money!!
Civilians, children, little babies get killed or maimed and the international community don’t seem to care. In the eyes of a lot of people, they are terrorists or as good as! If so many are dying, it’s their fault. It’s disgusting.
Isreal may be very much in the wrong, but I blame the international community even more, for not caring and not pressuring them.
Isreal hasn’t come to terms yet, with what they can do with the Palestinian people. Their choices are limited. They can’t deport them, no Arab country could afford +/- 3 million Palestinians, plus it would be the wrong message to send the world. They can’t exterminate them, it would be a PR nightmare, plus I don’t think they have the stomach for it… thank god! They can’t integrate them into one big Isreal because they would lose their Jewish majority, soon enough. What is left, is the 2 state solution. They should make friends, sooner versus later.
There are a lot of very, very good people in Isreal, but some days, it is very hard, if not, impossible, to like them as a society.
Walter Ballin says
Richard wrote: “So the best that Obama’s willing to give us is that the Israeli-Arab conflict will be a high priority from day one. But he refuses to tip his hand as to what even his most general philosophical outlook will be. Personally, I think he’s rolling craps on this. If his gamble pays off he can ride out the Gaza attack and get into the bigger picture of solving the Israel’s major conflicts with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. But if the gamble fails and the well is poisoned in the Arab world for months or more to come because of the heinousness and barbarity of Israel’s actions, then he won’t look so smart.”
I never expected Obama to tip his hand, and this is especially so since during the campaign he has been accused of being anti-Israel and everything else that he’s been accused of. I go by what Obama said before he became a U.S. Senator and before his Presidential campaign, where he has been sharply critical of Israel and our government’s Israel-Palestine policy. So when Obama says that “the Israeli-Arab conflict will be a high priority from day one,” I take it that he means that he will be putting pressure on all side including Israel to settle this dispute. When Obama speaks to whomever the next Israeli Prime Minister is, even if it happens to be Netenyahu, I expect that Obama will be telling whomever it is that the U.S. can no longer provide Israel billions of dollars of aid and weaponry while it continues the occupation, refuses to tear down the settlements, and refuses to negotiate in good faith. If Obama tells the Israeli Prime Minister this, he or she will have no choice but to accept that. I see Obama as a very smart person who understands that this crisis will blow up in his face and destroy what he’s trying to do to solve our domestic problems — that it will destroy his administration if it is not solved. As mentioned here before, Obama has been in touch with Jewish peace organizations such as Brit Tzedek V’Shalom and Americans for Peace Now. Of course I don’t know absolutely for sure what Obama will do until he takes over and I could be wrong, but I think that he wants to properly settle this dispute. If he does, there are not going to be many people complaing about that. AIPAC will be isolated, since their only mission and purpose has been for there to be unconditional support for Israel by our government.
Walter Ballin says
I got this from Brit Tzedek V’Shalom. Although Congress passed a resolution supporting Israel’s incursion into Gaza, Brit Tzedek was able to get some concessions. The resolution recognizes the suffering of the people on both sides, including the terrible living conditions that the people in Gaza have been living under before this most recent situation. Brit Tzedek also reports that “Finally, the resolutions recognize the need for “United States Government efforts to promote a just resolutions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a serious and sustained peace process that leads to the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure State of Israel.” The inclusion of this statement is highly significant because it highlights the only path forward after a ceasefire is reached to reach a sustainable peace resolution.” So it looks like this is the direction that Obama and the Democrats are going.
BRIT TZEDEK V’SHALOM
A Force To Be Reckoned With
Our growth into a significant political force was clearly evident last week. Brit Tzedek supporters from across the country, together with those of J Street, made well over 4,000 phone calls requesting inclusion of our pro-Israel, pro-peace message in impending House and Senate resolutions on the Israel-Gaza crisis. Collectively our voices changed the status quo.
Typically AIPAC is the initiating force on Israel-related legislation. In this case Congressional staffers initiated and wrote the resolutions, seeking input from AIPAC and the pro-Israel, pro-peace community.
Both resolutions placed all the blame on Hamas for the current situation and did not mention Israel’s blockade as having created a humanitarian crisis. Nevertheless, the demands of the pro-Israel, pro-peace camp were heard and taken seriously.
Brit Tzedek called on Congress to demand an immediate ceasefire, to acknowledge the suffering on both sides, and to demand U.S. leadership in reinvigorating the peace process. All three points were alluded to in both the House and Senate resolutions.
Write your Representative and Senators to let them know that we will be continuing to press them on this issue.
A number of Congressional members also responded to our outreach by writing their own statements. See a list of Congressional statements that reflect a pro-Israel, pro-peace message.
And finally, 24 Democrats in the House of Representatives, many of whom our chapters have developed close relationships with, wrote a letter to the President and the Israeli Ambassador urging them to take immediate steps to relieve the deplorable humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Please thank them.
The bottom line: We, along with our pro-Israel, pro-peace coalition partners, including J Street, American for Peace Now, and the Israel Policy Forum, are advancing the pro-Israel pro-peace movement. Let’s keep moving forward!
BEHIND THE SCENES
Initially, both Sen. Harry Reid (Senate Majority Leader) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (House Majority Leader) had opposed calling for an immediate ceasefire. Nevertheless, the final version calls for “a durable, enforceable, and sustainable ceasefire as soon as possible,” as Brit Tzedek requested. Considering the strong resistance to any call for a ceasefire, the final wording is a reflection of a positive development in Congress.
Secondly, we asked Congress to acknowledge the suffering on both sides. And the final resolution texts included not only a condemnation of the attacks Israel is suffering, but also call for the long-term improvement of daily living conditions for the ordinary people of Gaza and recognizing the humanitarian needs of the residents of Gaza.
Finally, the resolutions recognize the need for “United States Government efforts to promote a just resolutions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a serious and sustained peace process that leads to the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure State of Israel.” The inclusion of this statement is highly significant because it highlights the only path forward after a ceasefire is reached to reach a sustainable peace resolution.
Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206
Acai Berri says
why isnt there a pro-Hamas, pro-peace lobby?
Walter Ballin says
Acai Berri wrote: “why isnt there a pro-Hamas, pro-peace lobby?”
I don’t know if you meant to be sarcastic and I’m not accusing you of this. Anyway there are Arab-American peace organizations. There is the Aram-American Anti-Discrimination Committee http://www.adc.org/. There is the Council on Arab-American Relations http://www.cair.com/, and there are other organizations. The problem is that these organizations, just like the Israel Lobby consisting of AIPAC, don’t have the money that the Israel Lobby has. This is changing though.