Monday, August 24, 2009

Obama in the Center

Obama Ruling from the Center
Obama supporters are justly aghast at the vicious attacks by the US ultra-right on the President. The natural response is to assume that Obama is being attacked because of decent, liberal policies at home and abroad. But any objective analysis of the record shows that Obama is carefully following suicidal neo-liberal policy recipes in DC and doing even worse abroad, where he seems to be working overtime to achieve his own “Vietnam” in Afghanistan.
The intensity of the attacks from the right stems from the inability of Obama to come up with serious alternative policy initiatives. Obama looks less and less like he knows what he is doing, and this is tragic for a person with his intelligence. But he is growingly confused and frustrated. The ultra-right senses a chance to move into the political vacuum and goes of course for the jugular vein. By insisting that he will rule from the center, Obama has moved the entire scene to the right. Sad, very sad.
There is a parallel phenomenon here in Israel. Nothing remains of the sense of shock and urgency after Obama’s Cairo speech. But Netanyahu senses that Obama is really not that serious and Israel commences the big stall on settlements. If the settlement issue regarding which the U.S. has a clear declared policy is a tough nut to crack for Obama and Mitchell, then you can forget about any serious US pressure to advance peace. Netanyahu, who proves to that he knows how to snub Obama, looks good to the Israelis who admire this sort of thing. Obama’s weakness emboldens the settler right which starts telling Bibi that he should simply tell Obama to keep his nose out of “our business,” without the diplomatic niceties required from the Prime Minister.
Idiots of the Thomas Freedman genre get all excited by the pockets of prosperity in a few Palestinian cities heavily patrolled by the U.S. – Jordanian trained Palestinian peace forces. The new money being spread around is just another method of splitting the Palestinians. Now the social gap widens in addition to the geographic and religious divisions. The Palestinian leadership, which reflects the nouveau riche has forgotten how to say no for a long time. One might assume mistakenly that the Palestinian situation is hopeless if one just could ignore the fact that the basic rights of a people are at stake. The Palestinians have has arisen from abject defeat e in the past and the present dire straits and hardships can only delay but not eliminate the day of reckoning for those who believe that the Palestinians have been outfought, outwitted and eliminated from the historical equation.
We are on the eve of a new set of seemingly dramatic events in the region. But instead of hope, all the moves and their futility are nauseatingly familiar. Meanwhile Netanyahu flaunts his refusal to cease settlement activity and issues demands for immediate acts of normalization by the Arab world. Instead of real pressure on Israel, Washington is scouting its Arab allies for help in meeting normalization (before peace) promises to Israel. The “Iran first and Palestine later” line promulgated by Israel achieves de facto acceptance in DC because a rapidly weakening Obama seems less and less willing or able to take on Israel and its AIPAC buddies.
Obama is knee deep in the muddy of US orthodox diplomacy. Fearing even the slightest confrontation with Israel, the US is trying to fashion a game plan to unite the region against the “extremists.” All this smells of Afghanistan as we rapidly approach the moment when Afghanistan becomes the issue in Washington. All the real action is along the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran-Iraq axis. The U.S. is in a frantic search of partners and allies in the fight against the Taliban. Obama believes, in opposition to all logic and diplomatic savvy that he can and must win this war. If he persists, he may lose much more than a war on the outlying borders of the U.S. empire.
Meanwhile Israel arrogates the right to unilaterally announce all the important dates. According to Israel, the Iranians must satisfy U.S. expectations by this September or suffer the first round of sanctions. Israel has announced that the talks with the Palestinians will resume in September. The need for a good photo-op in Washington will be enough to overcome Palestinian reticence. For those watching the scene carefully, the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be final proof that nothing is happening on the Palestinian issue, but that Obama and Co. need to save face.

Dr. Niv Gordon Speaks Out
In a reasoned and coherent matter, Gordon made the argument, in a recent op-ed peace in the LA Times that only serious international pressure can save Israel from clinging to its chauvinist path to moral degradation and eventual political isolation. To reach peace, in the form of a two- state solution, Gordon favors pressure on Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli policy.
It is difficult to decide which element in the BGU’s President’s response is more dangerous: Prof. R. Carmi’s dangerous McCarthyite impulses or her ignorance of the politics regarding Israel in the international academic community. Carmi has no legal right or status regarding Dr. Gordon’s opinions or their form of expression. Her “coy” suggestion that Gordon should leave the country because of his views is a kind of sick jingoism which most university presidents would have the sense to avoid. However, the fact that Carmi demonstrates a total inability to understand the nature of Gordon’s views and their political meaning is no less disturbing. Gordon represent a more moderate view in academic circles in that he is striving to rescue Israel from its moral degeneration. Whereas thousands of serious academicians who follow the conflict contend that the occupation is only a single aspect of Israel’s colonial nature, Gordon tosses a life-line to serious Israelis showing them a path away from the Apartheid destroying Israel’s soul. Carmi should stop reviewing politics about which she understands absolutely nothing. In any event it is not the role of the University President to pass judgment on the views of the faculty.
Boycott is Legitimate
In judging the work of the movement for Boycott, Divestment, Sanction inspired by the Ramallah initiative it is important to stress the principle that all non-violent activity against the occupation and the denial of the rights of the Palestinians is moral and legitimate. The occupation is built of steel, weapons, firepower, prisons, walls, and dungeons. The right of peaceful protest against its daily implementation is natural and elementary. Every positive response to the call for boycott, etc., is welcome.
Even so, on the strategic level, the exact goals of the boycott activity according to the BDS are often rather unclear. There seems to be some confusion as to whether the object of the protest is ending the Israeli occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories, or whether the protest is directed against the very existence of Israel. There is a well known thesis that argues that all of Israel is essentially occupied Palestinian land and that all Palestinians suffer from a common set of repressive measures. Whatever the opinion on these distinctions, it should be clear that they have clear strategic implications for the movement against Israeli policy and practice. It should be clear that there are large constituencies for whom this distinction is critical in that they support boycott aimed against the occupation but insist that their activity does not undermine the existence of Israel.
Moreover, with all due respect for the Ramallah initiative, it is the local protest movements all over the world that must integrate the different considerations of “context, time and place”. It seems that the BDS people have a tendency to issue superfluous “encyclicals” dealing with fine distinctions of when and how to boycott and divest tactics.
In any event Dr. Niv Gordon has seized the moral high ground. Israel is becoming a pariah state. Every activity that points this out by boycott, divestment and sanctions is doing the Israelis a favor, whether they understand this or not.