Israeli-Palestinian Problem and President Obama’s Swansong


By Edmond Y. Azadian

The long-simmering Israeli-Palestinian conflict once again grabbed the headlines because of the Obama Administration’s parting shots.

This conflict has been one of the most intractable struggles in the world since 1948, when the state of Israel was created. However, many similar conflicts which initially seemed equally intractable have been solved, such as apartheid in South Africa, the independence of East Timor, the creation of South Sudan, the bloody Catholic-Protestant sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, and so on.

Yet the Palestinian question remains one of the topical issues of the world press and diplomacy, because the explosive ingredients of the problem will never neutralize each other. As much as the US wishes to play the role of an honest broker, there are compelling domestic issues which force each succeeding administration to arm and politically support Israel’s position, thus confining US policy to unproductive realms.

From the Armenian perspective, the issue is viewed in two different dimensions; one is moral and emotional, while the other one is rational. Armenians sympathize with the Jews in Israel who are survivors of the Holocaust. But the similarities do not stop there; they go back deep into history with Babylonian and Egyptian captivities and Roman occupation (Masada syndrome), all the way to Russian pogroms and expulsion from Spain in the 15th century.

Similarly, Armenians empathize with the Palestinians who have witnessed massacres, expulsion from their own lands and enduring harsh colonial rule to this day. Armenians have been expelled from Jerusalem and their lands have been expropriated like the Palestinians.

Therefore, on an emotional and moral level, we wish both parties may live in peace in their secure homelands.

As far as politics is concerned, Armenians have all rights to observe an equal distance from both sides; when Israel supplies $5 billion worth of sophisticated weaponry to Azerbaijan, knowing full well that the only target of those weapons is Armenia, Israel loses the pretense of being a friendly country. In addition, officially it continues to deny the Armenian Genocide.

On the other hand, the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, visits Baku and consoles President Ilham Aliyev with words reminding him that the Palestinians understand the Azeris’ pain, having lost their territory just like them.

As we can see, Armenia and Armenians are disposable on the world political marketplace with impunity.

But today, the issue has made news across the world again after the United Nations Security Council passed UN Resolution 2334 declaring settlements on the West Bank illegal. The resolution passed with a 14-0 vote, with the US abstaining. And then, Secretary of State John Kerry, blowing up with exasperation after eight years of negotiations, made an impassioned plea to the Israeli leaders not to bury the two-state solution, which may lead Israel to an impasse.

With the UN vote and Kerry’s six-point-solution proposal to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, all hell broke loose. Responding to Mr. Kerry’s speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired back, “Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders.” And this only after a few weeks following the Obama Administration’s agreement to supply $38 billion in modern military hardware to the Jewish state.

The last eight years have been very uneasy between Mr. Netanyahu and President Obama, especially after the Israeli Prime Minister gave his abrasive speech in 2015 criticizing Obama for making peace with Iran, at a joint session of the US Congress, at the invitation of the Republican opposition, while snubbing the president.

In addition to unequivocal military support, the US has extended full diplomatic support for all Israeli actions, whether they harm US interests or not.

Douglas J. Feith, a member of the Neo-Con cabal, which has pushed the US into bloody misadventures, signed an article in the Wall Street Journal (December 29, 2016) titled “The War on Israel Never Ends,” as if the Obama administration had declared war against that country by refusing for once to back an illegal Israeli action that the world condemns. The paper’s editorial reinforces Mr. Feith’s line of thinking with the headline “Kerry’s Rage against Israel.”

The New York Times editorial on the same date, by contrast, validated the US position by the following statement: “President Obama has used the American veto and its diplomatic muscle more assiduously than any previous American president to shield Israel from unwarranted criticism. But nowhere is it written that an American president is obligated to shelter Israel from international criticism that is consistent with decades-old American policy and with American interests.”

That kind of logic does not cut much ice with the incoming president, who has tweeted, “Stay strong Israel. Come January 20, things will be different.”

Mr. Kerry recognized at the end of his speech that the incoming president might reverse the Obama policy and encourage the settlement policy. Since 2009, when Obama took office, the number of Israeli settlers on the West Bank has shot up by 100,000 to 400,000; that number has reached 208,000 in East Jerusalem from the previous 193,000. The current Israeli administration has been creating facts on the ground to render the two-state solution impossible. Although his right-wing coalition has given up on the two-state solution a long time ago, Premier Netanyahu continues to pay lip service to the formula to lull the world. The New York Times states in its editorial that “This cynical cycle of the settlement movement: when the world is silent, Israel can build settlements. When the world objects, Israel must build settlements. Under any scenario, settlements will grow and the possibility of a two-state solution will recede.”

The right-wing settlers are counting on continued US support and time to bury the two-state solution. A coalition partner, Naftali Bennet, declared, “The era of the two-state solution is over.”

While Mr. Kerry and friends like Thomas L. Friedman worry that down the road Palestinians will outnumber Jews which will hamper Israel’s desire to be Jewish and democratic, extremists like Avigdor Lieberman, the minister of defense, have other designs: to expel Palestinians to Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula and solve the demographic disaster. Israel had already some secret plans with Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi’s administration to accommodate the expelled Palestinians in Sinai. That was one of the reasons for the downfall of Morsi.

Even in Mr. Kerry’s six-point proposal, there is no right to return for the Palestinian refugees. Once the precedent is set, the world will forget the refugees. Armenians lost their land and today no one asks or remembers their right to return.

At this time, the question is why did Mr. Obama choose this moment to enunciate his policy when his departure is around the corner. He has proven to be a compromiser who tends to avoid confrontation. He reconciled with Cuba and signed a nuclear treaty with Iran. He avoided invading Syria, even after Turkey created a false-flag operation by interjecting chemical weapons in the battlefield, to the extent that he was thought to be weak by his opponents. But he expelled the Russian diplomats and he confronted Israel. Those acts, especially the latter, will haunt him and will define his legacy.

President Jimmy Carter published his book in 2009, titled Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. For his stand, the news media almost rendered him a political pariah. Undeterred, last November he called on President Obama to recognize the state of Palestine before the end of his term.

Mr. Obama made this issue his swansong, recognizing that of all his actions, his last decision will weigh heavily in defining his legacy. After all, even President Roosevelt’s legacy is being revised for his tepid treatment of Holocaust survivors arriving at US shores.

The way politics is set up, there seems to be no immediate and equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But Mr. Obama is free to sing his swansong.