Thursday, May 27, 2010

Peace in the Middle East: Will Obama Do Any Better?--Doha Debates Chez Chiara


As indicated by this poster, this Doha Debate was held last month, on April 26, 2010. Since then news of the oil "leak" (more of an undersea geyser, it seems), has dominated many newscasts in the US. However, the Middle East peace process is of course still a pressing concern.

It seems that the US is always squarely in the middle of this process, whether by invitation, inclination, expectation, or a desire to complete a job started, even to one up previous presidents who have fallen short. Obama started off making this one of the (many) priorities during his first year in office. In this he has done better than other presidents who tended to leave the topic to the second half of their second mandate. Also, to date, the most progress seems to have been made by Presidents Carter and Clinton, which bodes well for a Democrat such as Obama.

Obama's deliberate outreach to the Muslim world with his Cairo speech, his attitude of greater discussion with "rogue states", his firm stand against further Israeli settlements, and a knowledgeable assertive Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, kept firmly in check (and even more so, her husband President Bill Clinton) all seem to be argue Obama's strength on this issue. Yet the current Israeli government, headed by conservative Benjamin Netanyahu, seems to be doing as it chooses--even when "ordered" differently by the US, or "snubbed" by diplomatic protocol.

Does Obama have the strength, will, popular mandate--both at home and abroad-- to make progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks? Are other concerns more pressing? Does Israel do what it wants anyway? These are some of the questions that came to mind when I saw the title and motion of  this Doha Debate. I look forward to your comments and impressions of the debate as held and excerpted below.

Please remember to stay on topic and remain civil to other commentators. Sometimes a great comment is marred by an introductory "X, you fool" (or more graphic idiom) and/ or a final "So there!" (or more graphic idiom).  I don't wish to edit, or worse to poof such comments. All are welcome to share their perspective, being mindful that people, including readers and commentators here, may differ, and certainly don't individually control the actions of their own governments, past, present, or future (if I did, Omar Khadr would being living with his maternal grandparents in Toronto, and attending university).

Enjoy the debate, and please comment!

For more information on The Doha Debates generally, which follow Oxford Union debating rules, see the website of The Doha Debates, for more information on The Doha Debates and The Doha Debates Chez Chiara see the introductory post, and the blog Category Doha Debates (DohaDebates) on the sidebar. The following includes excerpts from the panelists' biographies, the debate transcript, and the final result. A summary statement precedes each of the dialogues with a particular audience member whose photo is included. Full information for this debate is here. The full transcript may be read here. The full debate may be viewed here, and the podcast link is available on the main site for this debate.


The Motion
This House believes Barack Obama is too weak to make peace in the Middle East


TIM SEBASTIAN
Ladies and gentlemen, a very good evening to you and welcome to the latest in our series of Doha debates, coming to you from the Gulf State of Qatar and sponsored by The Qatar Foundation. We've seen decades of American engagement in the Middle East, and when Barack Obama took over The White House a surge of hope, that this youthful, dynamic new leader, might succeed where his predecessors had failed. Last June, with the world still enthralled by him, he told an audience in Cairo that Israel's settlements had to stop, and that the situation for Palestinians was intolerable. Since then Israel has rejected his call, the building work in the settlements goes on and it's the talking that's come to a halt. So, did Mr. Obama dangerously overestimate his powers of persuasion? Or has he had too many other crises, both foreign and domestic, that have blunted his focus on the Middle East? Our motion tonight examines the state of his authority: ‘This house believes that Barack Obama is too weak to make peace in the Middle East'. Your decision, as ever, but before you make it we have an influential panel who will speak on the issue from very different standpoints.

Speaking for the motion


Dr. Moussalli is a professor at the Department of Political Studies and Public Administration at the American University of Beirut . He specialises in international relations, contemporary Islamic movements, Political Islam and East/West relations. Dr. Moussalli has written numerous books on Islam and Islamic movements and thoughts.

AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Yes, thank you very much. I wish I was on the other side because we want, all of us, want this thing to happen. Anyway, I think I just want to remind you of one thing, after the Madrid conference and the beginning of the negotiation between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the negotiator then, Haider Abdel-Shafi, told Secretary of State, James Baker,that after negotiations, there was nothing left for us except the collection of garbage. And Baker said to him: ‘This is very good, at least you got something, I think you should build on that'. And I think what you are going to see now is another phase of garbage collection and allowing the Palestinians to process this, but the Israelis will sell it for them. President Obama, I think, is well intentioned, but the structural problems in the US I think will prevent him, and I will leave this to my colleague Philip to talk about, will prevent him from moving forwards. I think the victory that he would have achieved internally, he has already achieved by his healthcare insurance and security of the American people. Regionally I think he cannot impose a plan, and by the way he is not imposing a fully fledged plan, we are talking about proximity talks, meaning Palestinians and Israelis were married, now they are going back to their engagement. And these proximity talks does not mean they are closed, it means that they are indirect talks through George Mitchell. The regional situation, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, occupied territories, it's not only Palestine, there are occupied territories, other where the regional context, the rise of Iran, the problems I mentioned, all will preclude him from imposing only a Palestinian, Israeli issue.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Could you come to an end please?
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
The Palestinians themselves are fractured, and the Israelis are fractured, and there is no unity of purpose among all of them. I think that Obama will not be able to pressure anyone.


Philip Weiss is an investigative journalist and has worked for many years in mainstream journalism including as a contributing writer for Harper's magazine, Esquire magazine, and The New York Times Magazine. He is the founder of the website, Mondoweiss that focuses on Israel/Palestine and on Jewish identity issues. Mr. Weiss has published a political novel and an expose of a murder in the American Peace Corps that the U.S. government covered up.

PHILIP WEISS
Thank you. I believe in Barack Obama as much as Roger does, I have the same idealism about my president that Roger does, and in June I was in Cairo and sat in that hall as an audience, very much like this, including many young Arabs, heard him speak about the intolerable Palestinian conditions, the humiliation of Palestinians for six decades in which they have been promised statehood and have nothing to show for it. And I saw the excitement in Cairo and I believed in it too. I thought that my president might show even-handedness in the Middle East after decades of being Israel's lawyer, as Roger says. And I wish I were on that side of the panel, I really do, and a year ago I would have been on that side of the panel. What has happened in a year? Nothing has happened, and what we see is when Obama tries to stop even the continued colonisation of that small scrap of historical Palestine that exists for a future Palestinian state, when he tries to stop it, in Jerusalem too, which is an international city, he is marked by Netanyahu and here is the point that is most important, it's not Netanyahu's resistance, it's the lack of political space in my country, The United States, for Obama to take these stands. Roger has just talked about what a great job Obama did with healthcare, I will tell you something, in healthcare there is a great American political space that exists, everything we say about our democracy happened in healthcare, you had both sides, you had newspapers investigating, you had people have full page ads, you had congressmen speaking out for all different points of view. That political space does not exist in my country when it comes to the Israel-Palestine situation, the political space is unbalanced, Ahmad and I are not allowed to speak in that space and the Israel lobby rears up and Obama's own base, his own democratic base, which should be giving him support on this issue, abandons him and signs letters taking Netanyahu's side, that is the difference.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Could you wrap up please.
PHILIP WEISS
Who has been his advocate? The one advocate he has had is General Petraeus, the man who helped invade Iraq; that is how narrow the political space is on this issue in The United States, so even a man whom I adore, who's very strong and tough, will make no headway, sadly.

Speaking against the motion


Roger Cohen is a columnist for The New York Times and author. He joined The New York Times in 1990 and was foreign correspondent for more than a decade before becoming acting Foreign Editor on September 11, 2001, and Foreign Editor six months later. He has written a column for the Times-owned International Herald Tribune since 2004 and in 2009 was named a columnist of The New York Times. Mr. Cohen has written several books on topics included Yugoslavia's destruction and American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble".

ROGER COHEN
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. The idea that Barack Obama is too weak to achieve Middle East peace does not stand up. Too weak? This man has spent his life overcoming impossible obstacles, breaking barriers. Remember he was too black to become President, had too many Muslim family members to win a post 9/11 White House, was too much of an outsider to beat the Clinton machine, and then the McCain machine, was too cerebral, too hesitant, to pass healthcare, and then what happened? He did all those things. Obama's toughness has trumped the naysayers again and again. Why should it not be the same in the Middle East? This President, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a tough realist. A lot of idealism has been projected onto Obama, but it's the US interest, the US objectives, that drive him. And he's now identified as a vital US national security interest to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine. This is a huge strategic shift; it's a shift from being Israel's lawyer, which is more or less where the United States was in the Bush administration, to becoming an honest broker. And, as you know, negotiations can only succeed when you have an honest broker. Now this has happened not, because in my view President Obama woke up one morning and thought to himself, ‘Hey, wouldn't it be nice to have peace?' But because US soldiers have told him, have said: ‘Mr. President, if you're serious about your outreach to the Muslim world, and if you're serious about these two wars in Muslim countries and if you're serious about taking on the Jihadist threat, all these things are undermined by festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broad perception of Palestinian victimhood'. Now, Israel has felt, as Tim suggested, the steel of Obama's cool, it's uncomfortable with that from its indispensable ally. ‘So what?' Our opponents like Ahmad will say: ‘Obama cannot make Israel abandon its forty three year occupation, not with Netanyahu's right wing government, not with the settlements, not with Hamas, not with the realities of US domestic politics'.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Could you come to a close please?
ROGER COHEN
This is wrong ladies and gentlemen, the facts are changing on the ground, US change you can believe in has encountered Salam Fayyad's change you can believe in, Palestinian statehood is being built from the ground up with security, with non-violence, with economic growth. This empowers Obama, it limits Israel's room for manoeuvre, and it proclaims a new Palestinian seriousness. And that's why, ladies and gentlemen, you should vote against the motion tonight. President Obama is strong, and he is a change agent.


Sami Abu Roza is an independent political analyst who has worked as an economic and policy adviser for the Palestinian President's Office and the Palestine Investment Fund. Mr. Abu Roza was a member of the official Palestinian delegation which in 2004 presented a case against the West Bank barrier to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. He's also the co-founder of Y-Motions International, a think tank and advisory organization based in Jerusalem.

SAMI ABU ROZA
Ladies and gentlemen there's no doubt that there is a lot of scepticism and cynicism in the Middle East as much as there is right now in this audience about the good faith of the US administration to actually tackle this long standing difficult conflict. However I think that in President Obama we are seeing a different type of presidential leadership. It's a presidential leadership that is not surrounded by advisors that are very ideologically driven, but advisors that are, like the president himself, very much attached to reality. I think what President Obama and high level officials in the US have started is to provoke a debate, a very important debate, which is an essential element of good presidential leadership and creates a lot of stress and a lot of heat among, not only the pro-Israel lobby, but within the wider public domain, knowing very well that it is elite opinion in the United States that draws out the contours of a different policy towards Israel. What he has done really well was pointing his finger onto the settlements, knowing that the settlements are the true face, the true motivation, the true driver of Israeli policy in the occupied Palestine territory. It's the true face of a colonial occupation and by pointing a finger at the settlements, even though he has backed down a bit, the long term goal of a full settlement freeze is still on the table. But he has actually reframed the conflict to a true conflict about land and freedom for the Palestinian people. And it's a very common sense position; it's a very common logic position that also is shared by the Palestinian leadership and that is the change on the ground that Roger was talking about. The change on the ground is that the Palestinian leadership is finally reconnecting again with its people.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Could you come to a close please?
SAMI ABU ROZA
For a long time the people have been seen as a liability rather than as a resource and I think the refusal to resume talks without a settlement freeze, I think the fact that the official Palestinian leadership is endorsing non-violent protests and also the fact that institution building, security institutions and economic infrastructure building etcetera is really taking away the pretext for the Israeli argument that there's no reliable partner or the somewhat patronising view that there's no ready partner for peace.


Audience Input


Obama is too inconsistent to be the peace broker, appointing a Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton who is pro-Israel, and taking a different approach with Iran vs with Israel
AUDIENCE (M)
I'm from Qatar, my question is for Mr. Cohen, inconsistency is a sign of weakness and to me there are very clear weaknesses in Barack Obama's current history. First is he chooses, or he supports, a foreign secretary, Hillary Clinton who is very much Israel's lawyer; her policy, her approach is unwavering support of Israel. The second is that if you compare his approach to Iran versus his approach to Israel, that's another sign of his inconsistency, so don't you think that these inconsistencies point to a clear weakness in him?
ROGER COHEN
Thank you. I think Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State has been pretty disciplined, there was a momentary wobble when she said that the semi settlement freeze was unprecedented, but since then, after the Ramat Shlomo 360 housing units in Eastern Jerusalem she gave a 50 minute dressing down to Netanyahu. So I don't think that she is at this point the weak link in the chain, and I think Obama has a coherent strategy toward the area. As for Iran, you know I spent a lot of time in Iran last year and I feel very passionately about it, I think the president has been sincere in his outreach to Iran and clearly an Iranian American breakthrough would open up possibilities in the region that don't exist now. Under pressure from Congress and given the non-response from Iran he is now turning towards sanctions. But I think, in essence, he has absolutely no wish to move toward conflict with Iran, he is still trying to pursue engagement if possible and he has refused to accept Netanyahu's insistence that the issue is Iran, Iran, Iran. He said: ‘No, Iran ok, that's an issue but birthing Palestine is an issue too and a priority issue for me, and I'm not going to be distracted from it'.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ahmad Moussalli you've been trying to come in for a long time.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
I think we are not judging the intention of the president, I think there is an agreement that he has good intention and I don't think we should tell the audience that Obama loves us, we love him, therefore we love each other. That's not the problem. The problem is the following: when Netanyahu was with Obama in The White House, Israel declared that they are going to build 20 housing settlements in Jerusalem. Of course the president was angry with him, but nothing happened.
ROGER COHEN
But did you see what happened when Netanyahu was in Washington? It was a whitewash, he was invisible. And why? Because the President was furious.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Let me finish. Biden was with him talking about security and so on and that their security is like US security, he announces in the same standing that 1,600 units will be built. When George Mitchell was coming, Israel announced the deportation, or the intention to deport, 70,000 Palestinians, not to Gaza from the West Bank, from West Bank to Jordan and what we are seeing is a rhetorical dialogue between the US and Israel. But the main players in the US, the congress, you know...
TIM SEBASTIAN
So what is your point? That there are just too many impediments in the way?
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
No, my point is that intentions do not replace actual facts on the ground.
TIM SEBASTIAN
There are too many impediments in the way, you said he's a man of good will, he's a man of good intentions, but it's not enough.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
We are not voting on his intention, the issue is not settlement, is he going to bring Israel to [inaudible]
ROGER COHEN
I don't agree with you, you've been talking for a while. I am arguing that President Obama is a man who delivers, he can deliver, this is what his whole political career demonstrates, and I am not here to defend the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu, I am here to say that Obama has a vision, he is moving toward it, he's not going to be distracted or diverted from it, not by Iran, not by anything. And there were lots of people in congress absolutely opposed to the healthcare bill and he got it through.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Two days ago he changed his mind.
ROGER COHEN
Who did?
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
President Obama, he said: ‘The problem is not only Israel, the problem is with the Israelis and Palestinians and I cannot force a solution on these people if they don't want it', which means he is retracting his pressure on Israel and is putting it on all of the groups.
ROGER COHEN
Doesn't mean that at all.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, Sami Abu Roza you want a brief comment and then we'll move to more questions.
SAMI ABU ROZA
I agree with Ahmad, there's a lot of facts on the ground as you said, there was a military order a week ago, settlements are continuing to some degree as well, that's true, but couldn't that be a strategy by the President of the United States actually to expose the true face of the Israeli occupation.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Everyone knows it. The whole world knows it.


Obama's statements to the Israeli lobby in the US, including that Jerusalem will be united and the capitol of Israel undermines his ability to broker a peace agreement
AUDIENCE (M)
Hello, good evening, I am from Qatar, and my question is, how would President Obama reach an agreement between the Palestinian people and the Israelis whilst he has said in The United States to the Israeli lobby that Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and he will not separate it.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So your question is, is he an honest broker?
AUDIENCE (M)
Yes, how would he reach an agreement between them?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Roger Cohen.
ROGER COHEN
That was said during the campaign, it was not said during his presidency.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So it doesn't count?
ROGER COHEN
Well no, subsequently he retracted that statement. So it's clear that under any negotiation we are talking about the 1967 lines with agreed territorial swaps, some kind of agreement on refugees and East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, that is what is on the table currently and of course there are strong objections to that from the Israeli side. But that is on the table.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Philip Weiss, you wanted to come in here.
PHILIP WEISS
I want to address the fiction that this side is raising about peace, I think there's a possibility that my president can get a handshake on The White House lawn, that possibility exists, but the issue is, as this gentleman raises, the issue of Jerusalem.
TIM SEBASTIAN
A handshake on what?
PHILIP WEISS
On some type of deal, but let me get to my point which is about Jerusalem, which this gentleman raised and which Roger suggested that things are going swimmingly with the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank. Well if you've been to Jerusalem you know that Israel has colonised Palestinian villages all around Jerusalem: on the East, on the South, on the North, and the access of Palestinians to the holy basin, to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is highly restricted. If you live on the West Bank you have to go through a checkpoint that's like being a cow going through a cattle guard. I've been through it and these conditions right now are tolerated by Barack Obama. The settlements that these gentlemen are talking about he's either going to freeze or not, that's only more, these neighbourhoods exist, their colonisation of East Jerusalem exists, and so the idea that there is some type of fairness around this city which has been at the crux of this dispute for over 100 years.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let me bring in Sami Abu Roza
SAMI ABU ROZA
There's no doubt that, living there myself, going through the checkpoints, seeing the settlements, seeing the wall expanding etc., all of that is happening right now. But I think by actually pinpointing the settlements is really trying to expose the very motivation of the occupation. Yes, he has called for a settlement freeze, yes, he backed down a bit.
TIM SEBASTIAN
What's the point of exposing the motivation instead of doing something about it?
SAMI ABU ROZA
I think it's just to prepare for later, because the settlement freeze will inevitably lead to the settlement dismantlement and by calling for settlement freeze he's really saying that de-colonisation has to happen, checkpoints, the wall, the settlements have to leave in order for a Palestinian state to exist in the first place.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
That's not what he's saying.
SAMI ABU ROZA
He hasn't said it yet, but I think he is pointing in that right direction.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Roger Cohen, do you want to come in?
ROGER COHEN
Well Phil I think you have to get real, to say that Obama accepts this situation, accepts this colonization because he hasn't snapped his fingers and changed the situation overnight, that's preposterous. This is a process, this is a 43-year-old occupation and I myself was going through those checkpoints and they're absolutely humiliating and this situation has to change. But it's not going to be changed through war, it's not going to be changed through fighting or intifadas, we've learned that, both sides I hope have learned that and the president is determined to move forward. He's going to move forward step by step, that is the only option open to him.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Philip Weiss, are you going to answer that?
PHILIP WEISS
One point I would make, just one point of rebuttal I would make, is that this is a frank and open discussion of what the Palestinian experience is around East Jerusalem. I don't think it's news, I don't think it's news for many people here, but that discussion does not happen in the United States and Roger, it does not happen in The New York Times. You do not see this exposed to Americans, when you talk about the occupation it's an Israeli occupation and we don't talk about it in The United States.
ROGER COHEN
But Phil, you yourself have praised me for writing about these issues and I think one or two people in The New York Times read me and maybe one or two people in The International Herald Tribune. I think that to say there is no debate, I think there is a dawning debate, there is a nascent debate, we've seen J Street emerge among Jews in the United States who believe that an uncritical embrace of Israel is bad for The United States and bad for Israel. We're beginning to see movement, again, the change is not going to come overnight, but I think there is more debate now than a year ago.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, briefly and then I'm going to go to another question.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Look, now the settlements are taking place on 12 percent of what is left of Palestine, Israel occupies 78 percent, nobody's talking about them, that Israel should move them because this has to go back to 1967, which Israel is not likely to go back to. And so we are talking about 12 percent left for the Palestinians and Israel have now put a condition that if the Palestinians, if Mahmoud Abbas, gives up the right of return and the issue of Jerusalem, we will give him Jerusalem, but not the real Jerusalem. The real Jerusalem is 12 square kilometres and the holy part is one kilometre, now Jerusalem is 300 kilometres, they want to give them a part that is not really Jerusalem.


Barack Hussein Obama  is in a muddle throughout the region; any American president or administration is too weak to solve the Israel-Palestine problem
AUDIENCE (M)
Good evening everybody, I am a Palestinian living here in Doha. Now reading what the situation is like, Barack Obama, to defend his name to start with: Barack Hussein Obama, he is in a muddle everywhere, both locally, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and the Middle East. Now, is it a shift to see that the motion should be considered reading what the situation is like on the ground in Palestine and in the Middle East in general? Is it perhaps pessimistic to look that any American administration; any American president is perhaps too weak to inflict change in the area and to achieve peace?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Philip Weiss, could any American president do it?
PHILIP WEISS
I think it's a very good question and I suspect the answer is no. In the Camp David process the lack of Arab expertise, the lack of Arab-Americans in the negotiating team was so profound that they had translators serving as negotiators at some point and that shows, I believe, the dominance of the Israel lobby in American life. I don't think that's going to change overnight, I think that Barack Obama is faced by the same structural issue and that once again, I look at this table, this is a table with two Arabs at it, two Jews, both liberal, but that table does not exist in The United States. You don't find equal representation of the various sides, and so long as that imbalance exists I doubt that Americans will be able to achieve anything in terms of self-determination of the Palestinian people, which really is at the root of the problem. Unless you deal with the desire for freedom and self-representation among Palestinians.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, did you want to come back on that?
AUDIENCE (M)
I would like to suggest, going back to the point that was raised earlier, should we wait for his second term to do something? What if he doesn't get elected, which is quite likely?
ROGER COHEN
I don't think President Obama is waiting for a second term, I think he's determined to move ahead as fast as possible and of course with 62 years of history going against the notion of a peace settlement it's hard to argue that this man, now, somehow will pluck from the air what has eluded everybody else. Nevertheless I would submit to you that there has been a very fundamental change. After 9/11 what happened? President Bush in essence said: ‘I'm standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel against the Jihadists', and that was it. Now President Obama has completely reformulated the equation, he has said: ‘I want to reach out to the Muslim world, I want reconciliation, we're in intractable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and what is a powerful terror recruitment tool? What makes it so difficult to reach out to the Muslim world? It's precisely the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So he is turning things around, he's looking at it from a different angle, and yes, as Phil says, to get that different notion, that different idea into the ideas of Americans is going to take time. But when you have a general, a general, and not just one general, not only Petraeus, but Jones, when you have generals saying that this switch, this is not coming from some loony left in the United States, this is coming from the core of the military establishment. I think when you put that together, ladies and gentlemen, with President Obama's strength of character, that is a powerful combination that suggests to me that despite all the negative history, we just might see something different.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You say he's reformulated the equation, but there's still no talking taking place, and I know you're holding out on the possibility there will be talking next month, but the fact is that the talking has stopped, the talking has stopped hasn't it? And it's a dangerous vacuum.
PHILIP WEISS
It's going to resume.
TIM SEBASTIAN
We're going to take a question from the gentlemen in the third row there.
AUDIENCE (M)
Thank you very much I'm from Eritrea, studying at Qatar University, my question is to the opposition. I wonder what you think of America's imperial interest in the region. In my opinion this is one of the reasons why there is no peace in the Middle East, because America has an interest in keeping that problem. So is Barack Obama strong enough to change that imperialistic, hegemonic interest of America to shift it to bring in peace?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Sami Abu Roza would you like to take that?
SAMI ABU ROZA
I fully agree with you that The United States has a strong imperial interest, a strong strategic interest in the region. We're not debating here that that is the case, we're actually saying that yes, there is a strategic interest in the region, and exactly because of that he wants to re-evaluate and re-align the type of relationship he has with Israel because there is a strategic interest in the region. At the end of the day that's what Roger was saying, is that there is almost a militarisation of the argument, it's about the American boys in the region need to be safe, but they're not safe as long as Israeli intransigence to actually enter a genuine process will continue. So I fully agree with you but we're not debating here to change the American ambition to remain the hegemon in the region, it will remain the hegemon in the region but the best way to do that is to change the type of the relationship with Israel and actually cold shoulder Israel for a while.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, you wanted to come back.
AUDIENCE (M)
The question is: is he strong enough to change that interest, what if that interest conflicts with his agenda? What if what he wanted to bring peace in the Middle East and that conflicted with the interests of America, is he strong enough to challenge that?
SAMI ABU ROZA
I think he's strong enough, he keeps foreign policy very close to his chest, I think he's very determined and very focused, it's very difficult and it's very tough to be the American president, but I think he's strong enough.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But he's already showing he's going to put his interests above those of the Middle East. Isn't that the message from David Petraeus, he'll put his interests first? He wants the conflict settled because it's not in America's interest.
SAMI ABU ROZA
But he's saying it is in America's interest to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
May I? Look, the US is perceived in the area, in the Muslim world in general, as a colonialist, imperialist power, ok. But it's not only the Palestinian issue, they occupied and destroyed Iraq, they are in Afghanistan, they are in Pakistan, they occupy most of the areas around us. They have naval bases, air bases and so on, so the US is hated, not only for the Palestinians, this is only a fraction of it, an important fraction of it. And Obama is not able... there is an establishment in America that is behind all of this. He cannot change the multi-trillion dollar industry that is behind the war machine just because Obama loves the Palestinians or not.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Roger Cohen, do you want to come back for a moment?
ROGER COHEN
Arab powers are very good at blaming others and pointing fingers; especially pointing the finger. But the most important single phenomenon in the Middle East today, in my view, is prime minister Salam Fayyad - he is saying victimhood, the narrative - not interested, doesn't put food on my table, I want to grow our economy, I want to move forward, I'm not interested in blaming United States.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Nobody is blaming them
ROGER COHEN
That's what you're doing, it's the usual finger pointing.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
What finger pointing?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let him finish.
ROGER COHEN
If I may finish, that is a basis, that new seriousness of purpose from the Palestinian prime minister is something on which The United States and President Obama can build.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Yasser Arafat gave the Israelis everything they wanted, one thing he could not give them, the right of return, what happened to him? It is not the issue of Salam Fayyad being nice or not nice, I think your view is not shared with most people in the area. Salam Fayyad, with all due respect to his individuality, is a puppet and is not considered. I mean these people prevented the Goldstone Report from getting to the UN.
TIM SEBASTIAN
I think you have a few arguments about Arafat giving the Israelis everything they wanted.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
When you say they came and occupied Iraq, we are not fingering America, American came and destroyed the country. When we talk about Afghanistan about Pakistan, when we speak about everywhere, occupation of so many countries, I don't want name these, I don't want to upset people in the audience.
ROGER COHEN
You're arguing about the past, you're illustrating my point. Mr Fayyad, whose popularity is growing, is trying to say all that doesn't matter, sorry guys, let's build.


America doesn't want peace in the region because of its imperial interests there
AUDIENCE (M)
Thank you very much I'm from Eritrea, studying at Qatar University, my question is to the opposition. I wonder what you think of America's imperial interest in the region. In my opinion this is one of the reasons why there is no peace in the Middle East, because America has an interest in keeping that problem. So is Barack Obama strong enough to change that imperialistic, hegemonic interest of America to shift it to bring in peace?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Sami Abu Roza would you like to take that?
SAMI ABU ROZA
I fully agree with you that The United States has a strong imperial interest, a strong strategic interest in the region. We're not debating here that that is the case, we're actually saying that yes, there is a strategic interest in the region, and exactly because of that he wants to re-evaluate and re-align the type of relationship he has with Israel because there is a strategic interest in the region. At the end of the day that's what Roger was saying, is that there is almost a militarisation of the argument, it's about the American boys in the region need to be safe, but they're not safe as long as Israeli intransigence to actually enter a genuine process will continue. So I fully agree with you but we're not debating here to change the American ambition to remain the hegemon in the region, it will remain the hegemon in the region but the best way to do that is to change the type of the relationship with Israel and actually cold shoulder Israel for a while.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, you wanted to come back.
AUDIENCE (M)
The question is: is he strong enough to change that interest, what if that interest conflicts with his agenda? What if what he wanted to bring peace in the Middle East and that conflicted with the interests of America, is he strong enough to challenge that?
SAMI ABU ROZA
I think he's strong enough, he keeps foreign policy very close to his chest, I think he's very determined and very focused, it's very difficult and it's very tough to be the American president, but I think he's strong enough.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But he's already showing he's going to put his interests above those of the Middle East. Isn't that the message from David Petraeus, he'll put his interests first? He wants the conflict settled because it's not in America's interest.
SAMI ABU ROZA
But he's saying it is in America's interest to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
May I? Look, the US is perceived in the area, in the Muslim world in general, as a colonialist, imperialist power, ok. But it's not only the Palestinian issue, they occupied and destroyed Iraq, they are in Afghanistan, they are in Pakistan, they occupy most of the areas around us. They have naval bases, air bases and so on, so the US is hated, not only for the Palestinians, this is only a fraction of it, an important fraction of it. And Obama is not able... there is an establishment in America that is behind all of this. He cannot change the multi-trillion dollar industry that is behind the war machine just because Obama loves the Palestinians or not.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Roger Cohen, do you want to come back for a moment?
ROGER COHEN
Arab powers are very good at blaming others and pointing fingers; especially pointing the finger. But the most important single phenomenon in the Middle East today, in my view, is prime minister Salam Fayyad - he is saying victimhood, the narrative - not interested, doesn't put food on my table, I want to grow our economy, I want to move forward, I'm not interested in blaming United States.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Nobody is blaming them
ROGER COHEN
That's what you're doing, it's the usual finger pointing.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
What finger pointing?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let him finish.
ROGER COHEN
If I may finish, that is a basis, that new seriousness of purpose from the Palestinian prime minister is something on which The United States and President Obama can build.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Yasser Arafat gave the Israelis everything they wanted, one thing he could not give them, the right of return, what happened to him? It is not the issue of Salam Fayyad being nice or not nice, I think your view is not shared with most people in the area. Salam Fayyad, with all due respect to his individuality, is a puppet and is not considered. I mean these people prevented the Goldstone Report from getting to the UN.
TIM SEBASTIAN
I think you have a few arguments about Arafat giving the Israelis everything they wanted.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
When you say they came and occupied Iraq, we are not fingering America, American came and destroyed the country. When we talk about Afghanistan about Pakistan, when we speak about everywhere, occupation of so many countries, I don't want name these, I don't want to upset people in the audience.
ROGER COHEN
You're arguing about the past, you're illustrating my point. Mr Fayyad, whose popularity is growing, is trying to say all that doesn't matter, sorry guys, let's build.


Palestine's position is weaken due to internal conflicts which should be solved first
AUDIENCE (F)
Good evening, I'm from the University of Calgary. My question to the proposition side, Mr. Philip, you have said that the Palestinian position is weak, especially when it came to the negotiation with the Israelis. Don't you think that the weakness came from their side, they have to solve their internal conflicts so others can solve their problem, we shouldn't blame Obama for not solving the issue while they are not solving their problem. So what do you think?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Philip Weiss
PHILIP WEISS
Well I think obviously the division of Palestinians is a significant factor in all this, but I would take that point and go right to Roger, when he says that Salam Fayyad is the leader of a new Palestine. I don't think that it is fair to talk about building a country without rights. These people don't have any political rights. And when you talk about trying to..
ROGER COHEN
Which people?
PHILIP WEISS
The Palestinians, they have very few political rights, they're under occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza, they've been bombed to smithereens in Gaza, they can't come and go as they please. You and I can come and go and these are basic political rights; civil liberties that we take for granted around the world, Palestinians don't have, and Roger says, ‘Let them build on that'
TIM SEBASTIAN
But the question is whether the Palestinians should sort themselves out. Before Obama can get involved. That was the question.
PHILIP WEISS
Of course I think they should, but I think that the division, this is another factor that he's dealing with, that's very real, and when Roger and Sami talk about the PA and the West Bank, they're overlooking the fact that a very significant part of the Palestinian population has not signed on to the PA. Yes they should, but this is again something that I don't think Obama has the personal power to overcome, and by dealing only with one faction, he's not going to overcome anything.
ROGER COHEN
I think this is a fair point, for the Palestinian movement to have two leaderships is clearly a bad thing. But the answer to that, in my view, is not to just sit back and say, ‘Oh well, I can't do anything, they're divided', the answer is to build up the peace process, with the Palestinian Authority, with whom one can negotiate now, and then if you're getting to the '67 borders with land swaps, with some kind of agreement on refugees, that is going to empower the Fayyads of this world and will gradually weaken Hamas. The answer is not just to wait; let the process unfold and then maybe there will be some changes that help resolve that division.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, Ahmad Moussalli
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Well I mean Salem Fayyad is not building anything, and he will not be allowed to build anything. Everything is under the control of Israeli occupation. Even if Abbas or Fayyad wants to leave...
TIM SEBASTIAN
When were you last in the West Bank?
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Let me finish. Even if they want to move around, or move out, they have to get the permission of the military ruler of the West Bank. Their money is held by Israel. And they cater to them as much as they want.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So how does that answer the question?
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Development is not allowed. And the division of the Palestinians is not preventing Obama; you have the same division in the Israeli government. There are radicals and...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Sami Abu Roza, briefly, you wanted to say something?
SAMI ABU ROZA
Ahmad, you talk all the time about the facts. We agree about the facts, it is a very difficult situation on the ground. But everything that has been made, everything that has been built, can be unmade and un-built, there's no doubt about that. But let's go back to the question regarding the division, very briefly. I think exactly, if there is trust in the US administration, that is an ingredient for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, so you actually take away...
TIM SEBASTIAN
It's a big if isn't it?
SAMI ABU ROZA
It's a big if, but you take away one of the stubborn conditions not to have reconciliation. And so there's this understanding there has to be a sequence, reconciliation first, then talking to Israelis, then possibly having a process. It doesn't have to be like that, politics is very messy.


Obama has lost the relationship with Israel, which doesn't even follow him on East Jerusalem settlements
AUDIENCE (M)
I'm from the UK. Just to take the point that Roger Cohen mentioned a moment ago - he quite blandly mentions that there's frost between Jerusalem and Washington, isn't that part of the problem? That Obama has, in some ways, in the first year has come in and very clearly changed the emphasis, but he's lost the relationship with Israel so that he's being ignored on East Jerusalem settlements and could you tell me, do you think there's anything that shows that Obama has any leverage with the Israelis at all, that he has any power over their actions at all when they seem to so blandly ignore him over the East Jerusalem settlements?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, Roger Cohen.
ROGER COHEN
I don't think that the Israelis feel comfortable being estranged from The United States. I was there last week and there's clear unease within Israel because United States is the indispensable ally of Israel and I don't think President Obama has lost the relationship with Israel. I think he's in the process of redefining it and I think that from that base he can push the Israelis, who are feeling more isolated internationally anyway, the Palestinians are becoming much more adept about using international law. This new policy of non-violence also poses various problems for the Israelis. Fayyad has a two-year plan towards statehood. They're feeling, the Israelis, some isolation anyway and I think through the UN and through direct means President Obama has leverage over an Israel that, on the face of it, is strong, we all know its military might, the economy is going well, but most Israelis feel the country is moving in the wrong direction. And why is that? Israel doesn't have an eastern border, and countries without fixed borders feel uneasy. I think he can use all that as leverage.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Do you feel that he's lost his influence over Israel?
AUDIENCE (M)
I have to say I think he has, and I think you..
TIM SEBASTIAN
So far from making him stronger it's actually made him weaker?
AUDIENCE (M)
I think what the Israeli Prime Minister is more likely to do is he's more likely to wait for the political fortunes in America to change. And he's likely to ride out the storm of Barack Obama, and possibly hope that the Republicans are successful in the mid-terms in November, and that maybe that there's a change in The White House in three years' time, and not so optimistic.
ROGER COHEN
I would suggest to you that his own political fortunes, those of Mr Netanyahu, might change before those of President Obama
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, we're going to take a question from the gentleman up there. You sir.
AUDIENCE (M)
Thank you, I'm from Dubai. My question is to Philip Weiss; I would ask him if he would agree with me that Obama had the hardest, or one of the toughest tasks as a President of The United States, with all the problems that he had to fix? And my second question would be, wouldn't it be a bit more important to fix the other problems that he was aiming to fix, rather than fix something that, between two people that couldn't agree for over fifty years, and for eight Presidents before him that couldn't fix that problem?
TIM SEBASTIAN
What would you have him fix first? Since you suggested?
AUDIENCE (M)
Well the more important problems, the ones that he can fix!
PHILIP WEISS
Barack Obama is a very ambitious man, that's one of his most admirable qualities, and this problem is at the heart of my country's crisis. When Roger says that Israel doesn't see a way forward, Israel is in crisis, it's not just... there's a crisis in that country. You have fifty percent of the people governing the other half, with no representation, virtually, from the other half. That's a political crisis. And that country has been, to a large degree, steering our foreign policy in the Middle East. This is a crisis. The fact that we invaded Iraq, which was borne in part out of our concern for Israel, that's a crisis. So none of this was avoidable. And when Roger says, and points out, how much we've changed, yes we've changed, we were being steered by crazy people in The United States, we had feverish ideologues, the neo-conservatives, who were guiding our foreign policy and coming up with ideas. Of course we've changed. But in a crisis, you have to go pretty far, and we have not moved far enough.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ahmad Moussalli, you wanted to add something?
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Yes, I think, if we are going only to look at Obama as an individual, Netanyahu as an individual, I mean, the whole discussion would be different. You are talking about a confrontation that has been taking place between the Islamic world and many countries in the West, headed by the US, and it is time that things have to change, so it is a very important thing. The issue is not, he's attempting to change the image of the US in the Arab world; he's not going to do it, or in the Islamic world, which is 1.6 billion today. So what he has to do about resolving this problem, he's not going to resolve it, try to give the image that he's interested, because already, as I said, he has started retracting his original position, would give him some leverage with some Islamic countries, or change the image. The problem is very deep, very deep-rooted, and it is not going to be resolved by giving the Palestinian small territories.
TIM SEBASTIAN
I'm going to give the questioner just a brief word to come back.
AUDIENCE (M)
So are you saying he's not too weak?
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
No, he is weak.
AUDIENCE (M)
You're saying he can't fix the problem, and no one can fix the problem.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Look, I can stand up and show you I am very strong, but I cannot do anything on the ground. This is what he is doing.


If Obama could't even close Guantanamo as promised, how is he going to broker Middle East peace
AUDIENCE (F)
Good evening. I am from Palestine. And I just want to say that, more than a year ago, Obama promised the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and until today this has not been done, so.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Roger Cohen, a sign of weakness that he couldn't close Guantanamo?
ROGER COHEN
I would say that the failure to close Guantanamo is a presidential failure, and it's a tough issue, and he's failed to resolve it. That doesn't mean there aren't other tough issues, like this one, that he can resolve.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
No, because the establishment behind him, the army, doesn't want to.
ROGER COHEN
Anyway, what is your question?
AUDIENCE (F)
That was not my question. My question is that, how long are the Palestinians going to have to wait until Obama takes action against the illegal settlements in Jerusalem? Because Israel has proved that, once it's built a settlement, it stays there like concrete, so how long are the Palestinians going to have to wait? If the Israelis build their settlements then there is no turning back, and there goes 12% of Jerusalem.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, do you believe there is a next stage in the US pressure?
ROGER COHEN
I do believe there is a next stage and I think it's far from satisfactory, but I think that the Palestinians have to wait just a couple of weeks in the sense that when these proximity talks begin there is going to be no more building, that is going to be firmly laid down by the White House. If Israel engages in another provocation of the kind we saw when Joe Biden was in Jerusalem there are going to be consequences.
TIM SEBASTIAN
What do you see those consequences being?
ROGER COHEN
Well we might see a United Nations resolution condemning the Israeli action that the United States does not oppose; for example, traditionally United States has vetoed that kind of thing. There will be more and more pressure.
TIM SEBASTIAN
What about the aid, because that's the big pressure point isn't it?
ROGER COHEN
Yeah, that you're not going to see, I don't believe, certainly not in a first term anyway.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Why not?
ROGER COHEN
I think it's too sensitive.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But if he's serious?
ROGER COHEN
Well he's serious, but he's also a politician who has to make careful calculations.
TIM SEBASTIAN
And he's worried about annoying the Israel lobby even further.
ROGER COHEN
He's firm, he's moving forward.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
In three months time half of the congress and so on shall be elected, and there's a lot of pressure on him by the Democrats not to pressure Israel, and in two years time, after the three months, he will be running for election. I think you will see no more than strong rhetorical argument, and this will quiet down the more we get closer to elections
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, let me go back to the questioner. Are you disappointed in Obama so far?
AUDIENCE (F)
Well, to some extent, but I think he's trying hard, it's not his fault; I think it's the congress and the Israeli lobby that are holding him down.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Is he strong enough to make a difference?
AUDIENCE (F)
No, unfortunately.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Yes, Sami Abu Roza.
SAMI ABU ROZA
I think it's very important to understand what happened in the last few weeks and in the last few months. Israel has been behaving as a spoilt child all the time with the relationship with the United States. Now there's a president coming and saying that: ‘If you go to the candy store again, stealing more Palestinian land there will be a price to the goods you take'. This is significant, no other president has done that before. Having a child myself I think what Barack Obama is doing is actually telling the child that no, you cannot do that, and that is actually a more honest special relationship rather than just a different relationship.
ROGER COHEN
Can I just say one thing. We're talking about this as if President Obama is carrying the whole weight of the world on his shoulders, and he has to be so strong on his own to bring this conflict to an end. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not the case, the world is tired of this conflict, the European Union is tired of this conflict, Asians are tired of this conflict. There has been war after war...
TIM SEBASTIAN
The Palestinians are pretty tired of it.
ROGER COHEN
Indeed.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
We are tired of it.
ROGER COHEN
This has created an environment, the recent statements from the, so called, Quartet, have been much stronger and I think Obama is operating within that context, which is one reason why, far from being too weak to bring peace, he is strong enough.


Israel should be treated like an adolescent, or better an adult;  the US should stop treating it like a child
AUDIENCE (F)
I'm so glad you brought up this analogy of the child and I really think...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Where are you from?
AUDIENCE (F)
...I'm Arab-American, but I want to ask the question, whether Israel is conceptualised as a little child, or it's actually a teenager who's growing up and becoming more independent and it doesn't say anything about the weakness or the strength of the parent to tell a teenager, an adult what to do or what not to do. So I think this an interesting analogy for our understanding. I am actually against the motion because I don't think it's character of weakness of President Obama, or any president for that matter, to bring peace to the Middle East. Or, in other words, impose something on Israel because I think if you're comparing Israelis and Palestinians, Israel wants to see itself as a teenager or an adult, and wants to see the other part as that child.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, Philip Weiss do you want to come in here?
AUDIENCE (F)
So, unless we change that relationship I don't think it's a matter of a US president or not.
PHILIP WEISS
I guess I would just refer to the talk about the Palestinian experience, which is that right now Palestinians are demonstrating, every week, in a non-violent manner, very much as there were demonstrations in my country against Jim Crow in the 1960's, they were demonstrating every week. And how are the Israelis responding? They're not responding like a little child, they're shooting bullets at these people and they're shooting tear gas canisters, they're wounding these people, they're trying to suppress a non-violent demonstration with violence because that's the only language that Israel understands. And the fact is that they have been indulged, by The United States...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let her come back. What were you going to say?
AUDIENCE (F)
Actually I agree with you but Israel is acting like a state that has a monopoly over that kind of violence. So it's a complete adult and trying to say I'm independent here and youPresident Obama, or whoever, is not telling me what to do.
PHILIP WEISS
Well I think The United States has to take that adult across its lap and give it a spanking. And he's not doing it.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Roger Cohen, would you agree with that?
ROGER COHEN
I think that's what we're seeing, I think we're seeing that right now before our eyes. It might not be as severe a spanking as most people in the audience would like to see.
TIM SEBASTIAN
A spanking but it's not having its pocket money taken away is it?
ROGER COHEN
As you know Tim, when Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Washington recently he was not a happy camper, he was getting the cold shoulder, and that was evident all around the world and that is something new.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
If I may, the metaphor of a child is misleading because Israel is not a child, Israel, first of all, is going after the Palestinians and killing them and deporting them and taking their land and so forth. So it's not a matter of innocence. This is the power of arrogance and the power of occupation and I cannot compare it to a child and his innocence.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok you don't accept the analogy, ok.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
If nothing material happens in terms of pressure on Israel, then imposing sanctions on Israel, not aiding Israel.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, let me ask you this - If you think Obama is weak, what would strong look like?
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
You will tell Israel: ‘If you don't stop, I will stop the financial aid that I give you above the table and under the table'
TIM SEBASTIAN
That's the only thing you would accept as strong.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
To begin with...


Isn't the problem really one of corruption and weakness within the Palestinian government
AUDIENCE (M)
I am from Syria, my question goes to the proposition, I've just been hearing you talking about how Obama is weak in the sense that he can't do anything, but I sat in this room a month ago when 80 percent or 70 percent of the people voted to the Palestinians, both Fatah and Hamas, and telling them they failed us and telling them basically that if they can't do anything they should step down. So is it really Obama's weakness or is it maybe the Palestinian side's weakness, the corrupt government and basically their inability to really do anything with that.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, Ahmad Moussalli.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Yes, I mean there is a blame on the Palestinian government and those who are ruling on different sides, but the core issue is not controlled by the Palestinians themselves, I mean they are occupied, they are repressed, they are oppressed, there is internal fighting, that's true, but after all the Arab states are not fighting for them, Israel is given all of the power to manipulate them and the US supports them in repressing them. And in that context what could the Palestinians do even if they are united, they cannot do much. They were once united under Arafat and what happened?
ROGER COHEN
Ahmad you're going back to the finger pointing, you're going back to exactly what I was saying earlier, you're saying we can't do anything, the forces in the world are too great for us to have responsible leadership, transparent governance, institutions, an economy...
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
What institutions?
ROGER COHEN
You have not visited the West Bank recently, if you had you will see that there's ... [inaudible]
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Yes, but the American general who... [inaudible]
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, please, don't speak at once, please.
ROGER COHEN
You have not been in the West Bank recently because if you had you could not possibly be arguing what you are doing tonight. Look, we are not discussing tonight, can I just, there's a slight confusion here I think, everybody around this table, on both sides, completely agrees, I think, about the intolerable injustices being suffered by the Palestinian people. We're not debating that tonight; we're debating whether President Obama is strong enough to do something about it. That is the issue, and that is what you have to decide in your minds tonight.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, Ahmad Moussalli a brief point.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Well, the Palestinian Authority, ultimately is run by a general, former general, Zinni if you haven't heard of him.
ROGER COHEN
I have heard of him.
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
Yes, you have heard of him. And therefore the Americans are involved in the process with the Palestinians.
TIM SEBASTIAN
And your point is?
AHMAD MOUSSALLI
It's not finger pointing, I should say it's foot pointing, because what they are doing, they are repressing the Palestinians by supporting the Israelis to have the strongest, repressive military power.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, Sami Abu Roza a quick word.
SAMI ABU ROZA
Again we are deviating from the actual question of the motion, I think, yes, many mistakes have been made, many big mistakes have been made by the Palestinian leadership in the past. But that's not really on the table here, that's not the question on the table here. I would agree, I think with most of you, that third party pressure is needed and I think we can see this third party pressure unfortunately or fortunately, whatever side you want to take, in the US President; in a belief that he can deliver on this pressure to actually be a more honest person.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, Philip Weiss, a closing word.
PHILIP WEISS
I want to raise one point, Roger was asked by Tim: ‘What about aid? What about the aid that we give, the three billion dollars that my country gives to Israel every year. Here is the president, you've seen the picture of the eagle with the arrows in one hand and, what's in the other hand? The strong American president, what does he wield? He wields the power of money and aid. Roger was asked: ‘What about the aid?' "that's too sensitive, he's a politician". That is the problem. There is a structural problem with the American president cannot even use one of his weapons in manipulating a foreign country.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Ok, very brief word and then we're going to go to the vote.
ROGER COHEN
I didn't say exactly that Phil, I said I didn't think we'd see it used, at least not in a first term, it's a clearly a weapon that is there, and usable


The Result

The vote is 58 percent for the motion, 42 percent against.
The motion has been narrowly carried.


What is your impression of this debate?
What questions would you have asked?
How would you have voted?
In your opinion, does Obama have credibility on this issue? With whom? Why?
How about Hillary Clinton, does she have credibility on this issue? With whom? Why?
Is this any of the USA's business? Why or why not?
Who in MENA should be involved in the peace efforts? Why? How?
What about the efforts of King Abdullah of Saudi? Do they have credibility? With whom?
Should he take a more prominent role on this issue? Why? How?
Does any US president ever have the strength to broker a peace treaty?
Is this a priority right now for the US? Should it be?
Does Israel follow US policy and recommendations? Should they?
The Hamas vs Fatah issue will come up in another debate, but to what extent does is impact on the US' ability to broker peace, and Israel's willingness to discuss peace with the US as a broker?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

6 comments:

Susanne said...

Interesting post, Chiara. I am eager to read comments. I think I read that Netanyahu was invited back to the White House so maybe there will be some pressure put on Israel OR the US will try to regain its friendly manner with Israel since Obama doesn't want to lose any more American Jewish support. Or maybe they will discuss Iran. *shrug*

Time will tell, I suppose. :)

Usman said...

Peace in ME?
Have a look at this report by Amnesty International. This is a link from an Israeli Newspaper, Haaretz. Can a US Newspaper dare to publish it? I think not.

Amnesty: U.S., Europe shielding Israel over Gaza war crimes

Wendy said...

Very interesting debate. I want with all my heart to believe that Obama can broker some kind of change and force Israel to back off but I'm afraid he's not going to be able to do it, at least not in one term. I hope he can have a second term but at this moment it's not looking too likely. I also look forward to reading other comments on this debate.

Chiara said...

Susanne--Thanks! and Happy Memorial Day weekend to you!

I think that others may be travelling this weekend and so not responding as quickly as usual. Or they are suddenly shy and should use the Anonymous option, or nake up a new pseudonym for this post! :)

I agree that the situation with Israel can only go as far as the lobbying, backroom, and voting power of American Jewish organizations. They tend to back a tough line on protecting Israel, by all means necessary, and even when socially very liberal will vote for the candidate and the party most likely to take that stand.

Even talking about Iran isn't as safe ground with the Obama administration as it was with the Bush one--so who knows, they may have a "beer summit", with a cold one and many photo ops! :)

Thanks for your comment, and I hope you are enjoying your long weekend!

Chiara said...

Usman--thanks for the excellent link which summarizes Amnesty International's report. Haaretz is the best Israel-based paper I have read. Needless to say better than the Jerusalem Post imho. :)

I found the report particularly significant as it follows up on the previous reports condemning the Gaza Offensive in the final weeks of the Bush administration, when the White House could be counted on to turn a blind eye in public, and not do anything to stop it in private.

This one shows the ongoing human rights abuses of the embargo, blockade, deliberate shortages, siege, etc. You are right. A quick search shows that the Western media aren't giving much attention to this report.

It will be interesting to read the other human rights groups' reports as they come out.

Thanks for a great link!

Chiara said...

Wendy--Indeed, I think we all hope that Obama will be able to pull off any progress in the ME peace negotiations in whatever term. However, he seems to be having his "Katrina moment" and has some powerful media pundits from Louisianna against him: James Carville, Anderson Cooper, and Southerner David Guergen.

Since they helped put him in office, they could do him a fair bit of harm now. Also Carville is a Clintonite and so is more unrestrained I would imagine, with the potential for a 2012 run for Hillary Clinton.

I wonder about the timing of the Sestak revelation and the naming of Bill Clinton as the intermediary between "the White House" and Sestak. Leaves Obama clean, and distracts from the "oil geyser" (as I prefer to call it), and the dissatisfaction with Obama's response to it.

Other aspects of his agenda aren't going so well either, but it is hard to predict since the honeymoon phase is well over for most administrations by this time in the 1st mandate, and of course it is, again, an election year, when ideology and demagoguery are more in the forefront.

I look forward to more comments or re-comments too!

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