Creating people's geographies
Barack Obama did not get on well with Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu when he met him in Jerusalem before the American elections, claims Robert Fisk. According to Fisk in his recent piece below, Obama was unconvinced by the likely next israeli PM’s desire for peace (what a surprise there!). Fisk assesses Obama’s grasp optimistically, writing that the new President has “figured out the Middle East pretty quickly”. In this vein, the visits to Gaza of US Congressmen Brian Baird, Keith Ellison and John Kerry do mark an overdue and welcome change, albeit a small-scale one; UNRWA head Karen AbuZayd reported that the representatives even “seemed surprised” that some goods were not being allowed into Gaza, including paper and school supplies.
Fisk does however temper his assessment significantly by stating that “Obama is not going to change the US relationship with Israel” and that in the midst of “the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Mr Obama is not going to take on the Israelis.”
Mr Obama, who figured out the Middle East pretty quickly, apparently found Bibi arrogant and unconvincing in his professed desire for peace with the Palestinians. What Mr Netanyahu thought of Mr Obama is not known, but he could scarcely have tried to hide his election line: security for Israel, but no Palestinian state.
Much depends, of course, on whether Tzipi Livni will consent to join a Netanyahu government. For if Avigdor Lieberman slips into a ministerial position, Obama is in trouble. Does he congratulate a new Israeli prime minister who has introduced into his government a man who is prepared to demand loyalty signatures from his own country’s Arab minority? How would that go down in the United States, where a similar proposal – for a loyalty pledge by American minorities, for example – would be a scandal?
But those Palestinians who believe that Lieberman should be in a Netanyahu administration – on the grounds that the “true” face of Israel would then be clear to all Americans – are being a little premature. Obama is not going to change the US relationship with Israel. American foreign policy – like that of most states – is based not on justice but on power.
And with America enduring the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Mr Obama is not going to take on the Israelis. Those Arabs who still fondly hope that the new US administration will at last “stand up” to Israel are mistaken. And the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who would like to be the next Democrat president, is certainly not going to anger Israel or its supporters in Washington.
Here’s where Fisk slips up with his parenthetical reference to “Hamas’s own provocations”. Fisk well knows that it was israel that broke the 6 month ceasefire on Nov 4 with the intent of starting a one-sided ‘war’ in which it deliberately committed war crimes and killed well over a thousand civilians. Fisk is well aware that Gazans have been suffering under the yoke of a vicious economic siege on top of a brutal ongoing military occupation, and that as an occupied people, they have every moral and legal right to fight back. Against these elementary facts, his comment here is entirely spurious.
If Mr Netanyahu does form a government, however, it will prove that the slaughter in Gaza did not help Ms Livni’s efforts to form her own cabinet. Ehud Barak and Livni, the authors of the whole bloody offensive (with the active help of Hamas’ own provocations), will simply put Gaza behind them – until Mr Netanyahu decides on a second round of the battle against “world terror”.
Yet it’s interesting to note how easily the connections between Gaza and the Israeli election have faded away. Indeed, when The Economist was surveying the Middle East earlier this month, it suggested that the outrage over the Gaza killings expressed by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to Israel’s President Shimon Peres at Davos was a “temper tantrum” which may have been “a ploy to please voters” before Turkish municipal elections next month. Yet the magazine merely noted that “the unconcluded Gaza war and the [Israeli] elections are intertwined in voters’ minds…”
Mr Netanyahu, it should be remembered, said the Gaza war ended too soon. So are we waiting for Part Two? Or the next round in Israel’s war with the Hizbollah? Israelis must sometimes curse the proportional electoral system that brings them the most ungovernable government coalitions. But the Americans will find it hard to dress up a new Netanyahu government as further “progress” in the Middle East “peace process”.