Saturday, February 21, 2009

Obama and Israel, a Strained Friendship?

I don't buy "biblical inerrancy," the strange notion that every word in the bible is the literal Word of God. The Bible, whatever else it may be, is a book written by a bunch of very mortal human beings a long, long time ago reflecting a very early understanding of the world and deities.

In his book American Fascists, Chris Hedges utterly dismantles the notion of biblical inerrancy as patently false given the numerous contradictions in its text and something we only chose to rely on when it suits us:

A literal reading of the Bible means re institution of slavery coupled with the understanding that the slavemaster has the right to beat his slave without mercy since "the slave is his money" (Exodus 21:21). Children who strike or curse a parent are to be executed (Exodus 21:15, 17). Those who pay homage to another god "shall be utterly destroyed" (Exodus 22:20). Menstruating women are to be considered unclean, and all they touch while menstruating becomes unclean (Leviticus 15:19-32). The blind, the lame, those with mutilated faces, those who are hunchbacks or dwarfs and those with itching diseases or scabs or crushed testicles cannot become priests (Leviticus 24:16). And "if the spirit of jealousy" comes upon a man, the high priest can order the jealous man's wife to drink "the water of bitterness." If she dies, it is proof of her guilt; if she survives, of her innocence (Numbers 5:11-31). Women, throughout the Bible, are subservient to men, often without legal rights, and men are free to sell their daughters into sexual bondage (Exodus 21:7-11).

But one little bit of lunacy we cling to in modern geopolitics is the fantastic notion that God bequeathed the "land of Israel" to the Israelites in perpetuity. If you believe that (and so many do) you should rush home, put your wife in her place, sell your daughters, beat your slaves and execute that pesky kid who won't get off the X-Box.

This little fantasy got a free ride during the Bush-era, the Era of Darkness, but it's turning into jello now that Obama has taken the reins. Asia Times Online reports that storm clouds are gathering between the US and Israel:

Iran, with which President Barack Obama has pledged to engage in a "constructive dialogue", and the future of its nuclear program will no doubt be the greatest source of tension between the two allies. The new president's commitment to achieving real progress on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict may also provoke serious friction. This will particularly be the case should a reunified Arab League launch a major new push for the adoption of its 2002 peace plan, which provides for Arab recognition of Israel in return for the latter's withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands.

Last week's election produced a clear majority for right-wing parties led by the Likud Party of former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly declared his opposition to a settlement freeze, territorial concessions and the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Obama and his Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell may indeed be willing to exert pressure on Israel - among other things, by tabling their own views about a final peace agreement and how precisely it might be achieved - especially if ongoing Arab efforts to reconcile Hamas and Fatah in a new coalition government succeed.

If all goes well on that front, the Arab League, fortified by a developing rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia, could announce the latest version of its 2002 peace plan at next month's summit in Doha, according to Marc Lynch, a George Washington University specialist on Arab politics.

"If you have a unified Palestinian government and a unified Arab move for peace," added Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, "then it's much more likely that Obama will step up his own efforts - ideally, working with an Israeli government that's ready to go along with a serious peace process, but, if not, being willing to make his disagreement [with that government] known."

The result could be a serious test between the next Israeli government and its influential US advocates. The Obama administration clearly believes that real progress toward resolving the 60-year-old conflict is critical both to restoring Washington's credibility among the Arab states and curbing the further radicalization of the region's population - particularly in the wake of Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza.


Anonymous said...

In my opinion the Nez Perce stood a better chance of beating the horse soldiers than do the Palestinians of claiming any part of what they now believe is theirs. It's no small irony that the fate of Arabs within the lands Israeli's lust for, look more and more like American indian history. One small difference is Israeli power brokers will not rest until all Arabs are driven out and if Israeli's have to kill every Arab in the process, they will.
Any notion that Obama has power to reverse the momentum Israeli's have built up is a pipe dream.

The Mound of Sound said...

Jeebus Foot, I'd hate to think you're right but that idea is definitely in the back of my mind.

It seems that preserving a Jewish state or homeland is either going to require apartheid or ethnic cleansing. I don't see that the Israeli's numbers problem can be resolved, to their satisfaction, in any other way.

I'm not sure the Israelis want a state as much as they yearn for a tribal homeland, one with full state powers and privileges and nuclear weapons.

Unless we tolerate the intolerable - the physical removal of all non-Jews from Israel proper and the Occupied Territories or a form of apartheid as vile as any known in South Africa - we'll have to impose a settlement on Israel.

It's troubling that all we get from the Israel-lobby is the threat of being labelled anti-Semitic.

There's simply no way the Israeli government has any intention of surrendering the West Bank when it's letting Israelis (almost half a million of them now) continue to carve out illegal settlements. That's not some negotiating tactic but de facto annexation.

I can't see that many settlers leaving unless they're driven out. Maybe that's Israel's plan - make the prospect of forced (i.e. violent) removal simply too daunting for the West.

Beijing York said...

It's a horrific situation. Israel has made it near impossible for a just resolution by ramping up their immigration policy and building settlements on occupied territories while pretending to negotiate a two-state solution.

I also don't see the US as an honest broker when they are so strongly allied with Israel. I don't imagine that relationship changing anytime soon.

Depending on how the recession plays out, perhaps US economic clout will be diminished and with that their role as world policing agent. Perhaps then, the power dynamics in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians will change. I think this latest assault on Gaza has been the worst PR move made by Israel yet. Even sympathetic allies like UK and France were aghast with this needless bloodshed.

The Dershowitz, Cotler, Ignatieff et al line of defense is losing credibility. There is only so much maiming, torture and killing in the name of protecting human rights of one group while trampling those of another that the global community is willing to tolerate.

The Mound of Sound said...

As ever, I have your point BY. What to do? I agree that Israel has benefitted from having the Big Dog as its patron and that it stands to lose some of that swagger from America's decline. Yet I also think that Washington has realized that Israel can be a pretty powerful drag on America's interests in the Middle East, that it can't abide the continued radicalization of the Arab Street over the Palestinian question. There are no solutions to the impasse to be found in backing Israeli expansionist intransigence.