Remember Arafat? By Mike Whitney

Dandelion Salad

By Mike Whitney
November 11, 2008 “Information Clearinghouse

“Let Obama use his clout to end the occupation and dismantle the settlement project. Let him remember that human and civil rights also apply to the Palestinians, not only to black Americans” Gideon Levy, Haaretz News

Yasir Arafat died on November 11, 2004. Author Sonja Karkar has written a tribute to the man who–more than any other–embodied the struggle of the Palestinian people. For more than 40 years he fought against Israeli occupation hoping to establish his dream of a Palestinian state. In her article “”Don’t forget Palestine” Karkar says:

“Much will be written and analyzed about Arafat and his deeds, but for the Palestinian people, Arafat will always remain a hero…. This small man who was able to command the world stage for his beleaguered people, who could excite passions in men who served with him in the grimmest of battles, and who could to the last, hold together the Palestinian factions, rivalries and differences inherent in any society, deserved to see the peace he sought and negotiated. He didn’t. However, he did see out the terms of nine US presidents and eleven Israeli prime ministers and came closer to peace and the Palestinian dream than anyone had ever thought possible. He had tried everything and to the end kept the olive branch firmly in his grasp. Tragically, for all of us, it fell from his dying hand and the world lost the real peacemaker in the Middle East.”

Arafat chose to stay with his people and face the daily hardship of foreign occupation (in his battered Ramallah compound, the Muqu’ata) rather than live in luxory in exile. He was a real patriot and is still revered as the “father of his people”. Now, four years after Arafat’s death, there’s growing hope that the election of Barak Obama will create new opportunities for peace in the 6 decades long Israeli/Palestinian conflict. An article published Israel’s YNET News states that Obama’s advisers have been secretly communicating with leaders in Hamas. According to the YNET report:

“Ahmad Yousuf, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s political advisor, said that during the recent US presidential race a secret meeting between senior Islamist group figures and advisers to President-elect Barack Obama was held in Gaza.

“We were in contact with a number of Obama’s aides through the Internet, and later met with some of them in Gaza, but they advised us not to come out with any statements, as they may have a negative effect on his election campaign and be used by Republican candidate John McCain (to attack Obama),” Yousuf said in an interview with London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat, published Tuesday.

Yousuf said Hamas’s contact with Obama’s advisers was ongoing, adding that he was still on good terms with some of the aides he had befriended while residing in the US.”

The policy Obama will instate in the Middle East will differ from that of his predecessor George W. Bush, although it is clear that the region and the Palestinian issue will not be at the top of his agenda,” Yousef told Al-Hayat, “(the president-elect) will focus more on the economic crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan.” (ynet news)

At the very least, this article shows that Obama not only wants to break with Bush’s policies, but also respects the results the Palestinian elections which put Hamas in power. It also suggests that Obama may put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade of food and medical supplies to the Gaza Strip and suspend its policy of “targeted assassinations” until meetings between the two parties can be convened. Still, there are many critics of Obama (myself included) who are pessimistic about “real change” due of the power of the Jewish lobby (AIPAC) and its advocates in the US House and Senate. The appointment of the “hawkish” pro-Israel Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff is further proof that Obama has no intention of taking a more balanced approach to Middle East policy.

Journalist Hasan Afif El-Hasan summed it up like this in his recent article, “For Palestinians, There Are Two Obamas”:

“There are two Obamas, the old and the candidate, separated by the moment when Obama decided to run for president. The old Obama had Palestinian friends and he sympathized with the Palestinians, but the candidate Obama sided with the hard-line APAC, denied he had Palestinian friends and blamed the persecution of the Palestinians on the victims themselves.

He supported Israel’s policy in the occupied land including the Gaza siege and starvation its people in defiance of international laws and moral rules as self-defense and he endorsed keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli rule. He never criticized the settlements, the apartheid wall, the roadblocks and checkpoints. Obama even justified the Israeli 2006 war against Lebanon and the massacres of Lebanese civilians as self-defense. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote that Obama was “unequivocal in his praise for Israel and made it manifestly clear that he would do nothing to change the US-Israeli relationship”. After Obama’s speech to AIPAC convention, Haaretz wrote, “He sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Guiliani”. During his last visit to Israel, Obama spent two days meeting leaders of Israel’s major parties, spent only 45 minutes talking to the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas with no news conference and refused to visit refugee camps. He expressed deep sympathy with the Israeli victims of the conflict and nothing for the Palestinians. (For Palestinians, There Are Two Obamas, Hasan Afif El-Hasan)

Consumer activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader is equally skeptical of Obama’s credibility on the Palestinian/Israeli issue. In his “Open Letter to Senator Barack Obama”, Nader derides Obama for his wishy-washy approach to the conflict and challenges him to be resolute in defense of justice.

“To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires character, courage, integrity—not expediency, accommodation and short-range opportunism……You know quite well that only when the U.S. Government supports the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, that years ago worked out a detailed two-state solution (which is supported by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians), will there be a chance for a peaceful resolution of this 60-year plus conflict. Yet you align yourself with the hard-liners, so much so that in your infamous, demeaning speech to the AIPAC convention right after you gained the nomination of the Democratic Party, you supported an “undivided Jerusalem,” and opposed negotiations with Hamas—the elected government in Gaza. Once again, you ignored the will of the Israeli people who, in a March 1, 2008 poll by the respected newspaper Haaretz, showed that 64% of Israelis favored “direct negotiations with Hamas.” Siding with the AIPAC hard-liners is what one of the many leading Palestinians advocating dialogue and peace with the Israeli people was describing when he wrote “Anti-semitism today is the persecution of Palestinian society by the Israeli state.”

During your visit to Israel this summer, you scheduled a mere 45 minutes of your time for Palestinians with no news conference, and no visit to Palestinian refugee camps that would have focused the media on the brutalization of the Palestinians. Your trip supported the illegal, cruel blockade of Gaza in defiance of international law and the United Nations charter. You focused on southern Israeli casualties which during the past year have totaled one civilian casualty to every 400 Palestinian casualties on the Gaza side. Instead of a statesmanship that decried all violence and its replacement with acceptance of the Arab League’s 2002 proposal to permit a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in return for full economic and diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, you played the role of a cheap politician, leaving the area and Palestinians with the feeling of much shock and little awe.

Israeli writer and peace advocate—Uri Avnery—described Obama’s appearance before AIPAC as one that “broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning, adding that Obama “is prepared to sacrifice the most basic American interests. After all, the US has a vital interest in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace that will allow it to find ways to the hearts of the Arab masses from Iraq to Morocco. Obama has harmed his image in the Muslim world and mortgaged his future—if and when he is elected president.,” he said, adding, “Of one thing I am certain: Obama’s declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for the world and bad for the Palestinian people.” (Open Letter to Senator Barack Obama, Ralph Nader)

Author Abdul Basit is less strident than Nader and helps to put the present crisis in historical context so that readers can understand how apprehensive, but hopeful Palestinians are with the change of administrations in Washington. Basit invokes the language of Martin Luther King to drive home his point that Palestinians are victims of the same discrimination and oppression that blacks suffered in the United States.

“The Arab-Israeli conflict has been the central issue that has influenced the US foreign policy for the last 60 years and can be rightly considered as the mother of all tribulations. Most of the conflicts and hostilities particularly in the Middle East region during second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century have their roots in this crisis. This conflict including the question of Palestinian self-determination have directly or indirectly ignited other conflicts including the Lebanon crises, the war on terrorism, invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent two Gulf Wars, the deteriorating relationship with Iran and emerging nuclear showdown. This has also preoccupied the successive US presidents and will continue to haunt your presidency. In fact, the Middle East crisis has engulfed the whole world including the very stability of United States. This crisis has also deteriorated the relations between the communities of three major religions, namely Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities. If this issue remains unresolved it will not only further destabilize the relationship between the Palestinian and Jewish societies, but will also have negative effect on the American nation.

The question is why has it remained unresolved and smoldering for last many decades?

The main reason for the complexity in finding solution to the Palestinian crises is because of the lopsided solutions put forward by previous administrations as a result of the undue influence of certain religious lobby, vote-bank politics and internal political compulsion. This unwarranted influence and compulsions have blinded the successive administrations to the reality and hindered and misguided their effort in resolving this conflict. Instead, the policies of these administrations only created more mistrust and tensions between Palestinian and Israeli community. The punishment and sanctions that is being imposed on Gaza Strip by the same apostles of democracy who are hell-bent on installing democratic governments in the Middle East, because the Palestinian people utilized their legal democratic right of electing the Hamas government, proves the contradiction of the US foreign policy. The cataclysmic human and material sufferings inflicted by the Israeli regime on the people of Gaza strip with the endorsement and support of the Mahmoud Abbas and the Bush Administration, have only created more dissent and violence.

This unresolved crisis had ignited many new conflicts that have spread globally resulting in far- reaching consequences much beyond the borders of the Middle East region. If you want to make a difference from your predecessors and find solution to this crisis, you have to be bold enough to tread a different approach and overcome the internal compulsion and undue influence of these religious lobbies and address the issue based on justice for all and appeasement of none. The solution to crisis is important for world peace and well being and good relationship between Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities worldwide.

Mr. President, on this joyful occasion of your election as President, I want to take this opportunity to inform you that we as the people of the Third World and Middle East countries too have a collective dream….We have a dream that one day from the mountains, valleys and the olive and almond farms of the West Bank to Gaza that are currently sweltering under injustice, persecution and sufferings, the sons of the invaded and the sons of the invaders will sit together on the table of brotherhood while their children go to schools together to build a bright future without fear and insecurity. (Mr. President, We Too Have A Dream, Abdul Basit)

Finally, journalist Aijaz Zaka Syed ends on a more positive note saying that Obama has a chance to repair America’s image in the world and restore its honor by simply re-committing to its own stated principles and demonstrating those beliefs in its foreign policy; particularly in regards to the people of the Middle East.

“An Obama victory offers America an incredible opportunity to rediscover itself as the land of the free, the original promised land that has for long inspired men and women everywhere with dreams of freedom, democracy and prosperity.

Not long ago, America was lionized as the champion of freedom and democracy here in the Middle East too. The people here saw America as the ultimate utopia and loved everything that it stood for. Today, calling someone American or pro-American is akin to abuse. No prizes for guessing who got America here. This worldview can change overnight if you have a President Obama in the Oval Office.” (Waiting for Obama”, Aijaz Zaka Syed)

On this–the anniversary of the death of Yasir Arafat–what better tribute to the man than some positive sign that the Palestinians will be helped by Washington to achieve their goal of establishing an independent state. It all starts with Obama and the hope that he will defend the voiceless victims of repression who desperately want peace and a better future for their children.

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