There is so much happening at the moment in MENA countries, and in their interactions with the US (whether overt or covert) that it is hard to know where to turn first. However, I thought that this article was a good starting place for a number of potential discussions as readers gravitate to one or more aspects that strike them as comment-worthy.
The focus is Obama's speech at the UN on the eve of the Palestinian demand, not for recognition as a state, which has been already granted, but for a seat at the table--any of the UN tables, even in the most modest of categories, pending a regular full member seat. From there, the author reviews Obama's track record on the Arab Spring as well as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. While I agree that Obama has squandered the goodwill towards him and the US on his election and with his speeches, particularly the one in Cairo, in the honeymoon of his presidency, I don't think the author is clear enough that Obama either sat back and waited until a winner was obvious, or desperately tried to keep friendly despots in place until they had been removed by the sacrifice of their peoples. "Leading from behind" can be tantamount to not leading, or peeking out from behind the covers until the situation is settled and co-opting a "victory for American values", and America's always "standing with the people of ____" (fill in the MENA country of the occasion).
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. (Carolyn Cole/MCT)
MIDDLE EAST: The incredible shrinking Obama
By Mitch Potter Washington Bureau
Published On Sat Sep 24 2011 in The Toronto Star
WASHINGTON—“Misplayed,” said the New York Times. “Painful to watch,” said the Washington Post. “Et Tu, Obama,” said the Arab News, channeling the mood from the turbulent Mideast streets.
And here in Washington, a rising sense that far from throwing Israel under the bus, as circling Republican hawks continue to charge, President Barack Obama has instead thrown Pax Americana into the abyss. Tumbling, ideals-first, toward the wrong side of history as the Arab Spring surges forth, more angry than before.
How does one reconcile the Obama who lofted a new day of dignity for all twentysomething months ago in Cairo with the one that showed up at the United Nations Wednesday?
Knotted like a balloon-animal alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama didn't simply lay down his marker against the Palestinian drive for statehood.
More than that, the president sang verbatim from Netanyahu's hardline Likud playbook in a speech that chronicled Israel's anguish without a mention of Palestinian pain. In the view of many, the president also effectively served up whatever remained of America's “honest broker” status in Middle East peacemaking on the alter of domestic politics and the calculus of re-election.
The dust of this week's drama at the UN is far from settled.
But even as the Security Council readies for a Monday session to weigh Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' formal request for statehood — a process that could take weeks — a diplomatic failure of huge consequence seems assured.
The Palestinians came to New York believing they had sewn up the required nine votes in the 15-seat Security Council.
And in the desperate act of forcing the American to wield its veto against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, a massive moral victory would be theirs.
The Palestinian hope was to “internationalize” the peace process; to give the world a greater say in leveraging the two-state solution that has eluded 11 consecutive White Houses.
Now even that seems to be falling away, as U.S. and Israeli diplomats work behind the scenes to hive off the votes of the SC's rotating seat-warmers. Gabon, Portugal and Nigeria suddenly find themselves inadvertent players amid the pressure to shift against the Palestinian drive.
The knee-jerk meme in peace circles is to point fingers singularly at the Washington-based Jewish lobby.
But the vanishing daylight between the Republican Party and Israel's right-wing Likud is driven also by the votes of a large portion of America's Rapture-ready evangelical Christians.
Washington is home to more than one variety of Jewish lobby. There is J-Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” pressure group that points to a succession of polls showing the majority of North America's Jewish diaspora favour the two-state solution, the sooner the better.
But J-Street officials were holding their heads in their hands this week, watching the UN events unfold. They opposed the Palestinian statehood drive on the grounds that unilateralism never brings peace.
On this point, history agrees. Neither the 2005 Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip, nor its earlier retreat from southern Lebanon — both arranged unilaterally, without partners — moved the peace needle one iota.
By contrast, the two deals that have paid decades of dividends are Israel's peace pacts with Egypt and Jordan. However cold that peace may be today, it has held.
Anyone old enough to remember Israel's Yitzhak Rabin and Egypt's Anwar Sadat will recall the enormity of political courage it took to cut those deals.
The tragedy today is that Abbas, in the sunset of his political life, may well be the one Palestinian who can do it. But he is up against a White House with no courage left to spend.
“This is a new moment of desperation that screams out for historic leadership,” said J-Street's Israel director, Steven Krubiner.
Krubiner argues that what is good for the Palestinians is great for Israel because the alternative spells doom. Israel's continuing settlement expansion will soon render two-states impossible — and leave Israel in an existential demographic dilemma, with the Israel Defense Forces ultimately representing a Jewish minority ruling over a stateless Palestinian majority.
“What does Israel do when these stateless people outnumber them? You either give up democracy, you give up territory or you give up your identity as the national homeland of the Jews — you can't have all three,” he says.
“Our worry is that Israel as we know it is not going to exist unless we get to a two-state solution now. We might be looking at a very ugly 30 years. But if the Palestinians give up on statehood as hopeless . . .”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the same plea this week in a New York Times opinion piece. Ditto opposition leader Tzipi Livni, time and again. Ditto a group of former IDF generals and security chiefs, who launched their own Israeli peace initiative as a roadmap against chaos.
“The ultimate point is that friends don't let friends drive drunk. And right now Israel is driving off a cliff,” Krubiner told the Star.
“We believe Obama understands this. Yet he is trapped by the right-wing pandering in Washington, which in our view does not represent the majority of American Jews.”
Among the mistakes of the past 30 months is the fact that Obama himself has yet to visit Israel once during his presidency. This seems a glaring omission, given his high-profile outreach to Muslims from the lecterns of Cairo and Istanbul.
However much he showers Israel with military support, Obama has yet to look Israelis in the eyes. Many Israelis broadly interpret the love as a cold love, just like Israel's cold peace with Egypt and Jordan.
Some Israeli moderates on Saturday looked in despair to the European Union as a natural peacebroker to salvage the embers of a two-state outcome.
An EU-led process, argued Ha'aretz columnist Carlo Strenger, might “retain the glimmer of hope that reason and humanity will overcome fear, hatred and fanaticism on both sides.
“This is the moment for Europe to show leadership,” wrote Strenger. “The moment to assert the moral vision of politics beyond the pure power play that has guided Europe's unification.
“The two-state solution must be saved, because it is the only way to freedom and dignity for the Palestinians; and the only way to safeguard the dream of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.”
President Obama addresses the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 23, 2011. (Credit: AP)
Your comments, thoughts, impressions?
The Pro-Israel Lobby: Defending Israel or Stifling Debate including of the Saudi Peace Initiative--The Doha Debates Chez Chiara
Nuclear Warheads: If Israel, why not Iran, Saudi, the GCC, or MENA? The Doha Debates Chez Chiara
Peace in the Middle East: Will Obama Do Any Better?--Doha Debates Chez Chiara
The Arab Awakening and Shifting Oil Sands: Obama's Georgetown Speech; "Ethical Oil"; Canada's Bible Belt
A Post-Modernist Reading of the Obama-Osama Entwinement in History
How Osama Transformed Obama
Find other more specific posts by regional category in the side bar (GCC, North Africa, MENA) or by country using the search function in the side bar.