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6 Mar, 2011

When Obama told Jewish Leaders to do some “Soul-Searching” about Middle East Peace

Originally Published:  6 March 2011

When the leader of the world’s most powerful country tells American Jewish leaders to get Israel to do some soul-searching about the future of peace in the Middle East, as President Barack Obama did last week, this columnist stands both victorious and vindicated.

In a meeting that was widely reported in the Israeli and Jewish media, but hardly at all in the U.S. or global mainstream media, Mr Obama met with a 50-member delegation of high-level Jews on March 1 and reportedly told them that Israel, being the stronger party “militarily, culturally and politically” in the Middle East, needs to “create a context for peace” with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

According to one report in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, “But some of the delegates, who asked not to be named, also said that the president hinted that Israel must do some soul-searching regarding its commitment to peace.”

Thank you, Mr President. Glad to see that an issue that has dominated this column over the years is being echoed in exactly the same words as the title-theme of this column.

Why did this meeting take place? And why now?

It’s all about timing. The tumult in the Middle East is set to result in scenarios that will be beyond U.S. control. The strategic plan to dominate the Arab world and control its oil resources via a divide-and-rule policy lies in tatters, and a new one needs to be written – fast.

Simultaneously, Mr Obama’s place in history is at risk. As the Jewish columnist Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times. “Of course it’s Obama who’s facing an election next year where censure of Israel would cost him.”

Hence, Mr Obama risks becoming history without the financial and political support of U.S. Jewish leaders. At the same time, the Nobel Peace prize-winning president’s credibility in the Arab/Islamic worlds is at risk. He has promised a lot to the Arabs and the Muslims and delivered little.

The anger of the Arab street at this continued flow of empty American promises will be a major factor in future relations between the U.S. and the powers that emerge in the Arab world. Such anger was reflected avidly in a column in the Saudi newspaper Arab News on February 27 after the U.S., in complete defiance of the entire world community, vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution that would have condemned Israel’s continued settlement-building policy in occupied territory.

Said the commentary by Marwan Al-Fadl, “The double-speak of a supposedly “honest broker” saying that Israel should stop illegal building in Jerusalem because it does not help the “peace process” out of one side of its mouth, then vetoing an obvious statement of truth out of the other – over, and over, and over again – for more than four decades is plain sickening.”

The commentary added, “If it is time for regional peoples to wrest power away from leaders in a quest for truth, justice, representation, and ridding themselves of oppression where it exists, when will it be time for regional and global peoples to wrest power away from a global power which abides by oppression, repression, illegal appropriations, (“administrative”) killings, bombing of cornered largely unarmed civilians (with weapons it provides), masking of the truth, and itself vetoes plain-as-day statements of truth?”

So here is the dilemma facing the President and indeed the U.S. at large.

The U.S. as a country and an economy is dependent for its survival on continued flow of oil from under the sands of Islamic countries. The U.S. president as a politician and a leader is dependent for his survival on the financial and political muscle of U.S. Jewish leaders.

The Palestinian issue is to the Arab and Islamic worlds what the Holocaust is to the Jews and Israelis. Today, Mr Obama knows that attempting to settle the Palestinian issue is more doable than trying to control the outcome of tumult in the Middle East.

For that, Mr Obama and the U.S. government has to do what this columnist has long been saying: Lean on the Israelis to end the illegal occupation of Palestine and give it the same freedom and independence that the U.S. government zealously pursues in other places such as Timor-Leste, Southern Sudan and now, Libya.

If there is a Palestinian state by the annual U.N. General Assembly in September 2011, it could change the political structure in the Middle East significantly for the better. If there is no Palestinian state, many future Arab commentaries will reflect the view of the Arab News commentary above, setting the stage for another deep confrontation between the Arab/Islamic worlds and the West.

That will lead to many losers.

Mr Obama will almost certainly lose the next election. He will also lose a lot of face. I wouldn’t allow any journalists to keep their footwear on when he gives his final press conference in the Middle East upon the expiry of his term.

Israel and world Jewry will lose because they will have squandered yet another opportunity to make peace.

The already overburdened U.S. taxpayer will lose as the subsequent military expenditure will put further pressure on the U.S. economy and force additional budgetary cutbacks that will affect them directly.

American expatriates around the world will lose by becoming more at risk from terrorism.

The global standing, image and reputation of the U.S. will fall further as its spin-doctors struggle to come up with new catch-words to defend the indefensible.

There will, however, be a few winners: Me and millions of others around the world, Muslims and non-Muslims, who have tried peacefully and democratically to convince the U.S. government, Israel and the world’s Jews to indulge in some soul-searching about the best, most effective and least expensive way to settle the Palestinian conflict.

Mr Obama’s meeting with Jewish leaders was a clear admission of the strength, influence and domination of Jews in the U.S. political process.

But there is one group that is collectively bigger, potentially stronger and more powerful — the American street, comprising of both Jews and non-Jews, which can make a difference by indulging in some serious soul-searching of its own.

As taxpayers and voters, they are the ones paying the price of Israel’s faulty policies and are well within their rights to demand change they can believe in. The longer the status drags on, the more deaths and despair everywhere.

On March 1, the same day as Mr Obama met the U.S. Jewish leaders, NATO forces in Afghanistan killed nine children who were out collecting firewood in the Pech valley area.

According to one media report: “Military officials attributed the incident to faulty communication when troops responded to an attack on a NATO base. General David Petraeus, the international forces commander, has personally apologised to Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, for the deaths.”

So my soul-searching questions to all sane Americans: How would you react if one of those nine children were yours? When is all this killing going to end? And what can you do to help achieve that aim?

Or do you just not care?