What’s behind the supposed Obama-Netanyahu dispute?

At the State Department on May 19, Obama gave a long-awaited speech addressing the moribund “peace process,” i.e., the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Despite weeks of speculation that Obama and aides were coming up with a “bold, new peace plan” to present to the parties concerned, no such plan was in evidence, and no concrete steps for resuming negotiations proposed.

This made all the more puzzling, at first glance, the huge uproar over Obama’s assertion that talks would eventually take shape around an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 territorial line, with “swaps” of lands to accommodate “demographic realities”—i.e., de facto settlement or even annexation carried out by Israel—since then. The 1967 lines have always been the starting point for talks, always the approach taken by U.S. administrations in instructions given to its mediators. Obama was only the first to refer to them explicitly in a speech.
Why then the brouhaha this time around? Electronic Intifada editor Ali Abunimah noted Obama’s “hard-headed realism” about “the deep trouble Israel is in,” combined with “an equally hard-headed determination to keep doing the same things.” This is not surprising given that Obama is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he must represent efficiently U.S. and global imperialism’s interests, especially now that they are threatened by a blossoming Arab Revolution. Yet he must do so in permanent reliance on Israel as a junior partner enforcing imperialist policies in the region—a junior partner with interests of its own, and an ever growing willingness and ability to assert them.
Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote that “Obama’s call for a peace deal ultimately ‘based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps’ is not even arguably a change from past American policy. Though he’s the first President to publicly call for such an outcome, that’s been the working premise of American policy for decades.”
The “swaps” phrase meant, as a former AIPAC spokesman told the Washington Post, that “Obama put himself in line with presidents since Lyndon Johnson who have said again and again, Israel cannot go back to the 1949/1967 lines.” Despite that, said Greenwald, “The Right Wing Noise Machine all but accused Obama of trying to destroy Israel. The media was rife with predictions of Jewish voters abandoning the Democratic Party.”
In a speech three days later to American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama reiterated that he was not demanding that Israel pull back to its pre-1967 borders. And he made reference to the formula used by George Bush in a 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon recognizing that the hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank meant the swaps would be substantial.
Smelling blood, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went for the jugular, and the day after Obama’s State Department speech, lectured him in front of reporters, saying the 1967 borders were “indefensible.” And Obama sat there and took it. On May 24, still denouncing Obama’s frame of reference, Netanyahu got 29 standing ovations in a speech to Congress. The New York Times said it seemed at times as if the audience were listening while standing up, and “Angry Arab” blogger As’ad Abu Khalil compared it to the sycophantic behavior of the Syrian parliament during a speech by Bashar al-Assad.
While surprising even by the norms of normal bourgeois political behavior, this craven display is understandable given the never-ending pandering of U.S. elected officials in search of campaign financing. (See the excellent column putting the lobby in a broader context in the Electronic Intifada column, “Challenging AIPAC and confronting ‘U.S. interests.’” And such cravenness, of course, is every bit as much on display in support of drug or mining companies, real estate concerns, or bank lobbyists.)
But the rest of Obama’s speech shows that the U.S.-Israeli partnership goes far deeper than mere hustling for bucks, and stems from a shared vision of the virtues of Israel as an imperialist outpost, and in its need to continue as an inherently discriminatory state in the face of mass regional resentment at its imposition into the region.
In his May 19 speech Obama continued his explicit support for Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish supremacist state. And in rhetoric echoing the racist filth of those in the U.S. who warned of “white flight” if “those people” move into “our” neighborhoods, Obama said he understood the concerns of Israel given the “demographic realities” that will make maintenance of Israel “as both a Jewish state and a democratic state” increasingly impossible (ignoring the inherent racism of the very concept “Jewish state.”)
He also denounced the “delegitimization” of Israel, a reference to the quickly growing global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. And he demanded that the Palestinian Authority end its effort to seek UN recognition for a Palestinian state this September, calling it an abandonment of negotiations—although there is almost universal consensus among mainstream media and politicians that there are no negotiations anywhere on the horizon.
While claiming to approve of the “peaceful” Arab Spring uprisings, Obama as always ignored the weekly nonviolent demonstrations in the West Bank, and said not a word about the 15 Palestinians gunned down in cold blood the Sunday before during the protests for the Right of Return. Obama had days before noted the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders who risked life and limb in the U.S. South, but refused to give one ounce of support or even sympathy to the real Freedom Riders in the Middle East: the tens of thousands who rode to the borders of Israel on May 15.
Al Jazeera analyst Lamis Andoni noted that Obama “made good on his declaration of “full commitment” to Israeli interests and security needs: Obama had said, “That’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.”      
> The article above was written by Andrew Pollack and first appeared in the June 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.

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