OBAMA DUN GUD, HUH?

It is in the Interest of Arabs and Muslims to Forge a Partnership with the United States and Obama

Fri, 05 June 2009

Raghida Dergham

http://www.raghidadergham.com/4rdcolumn.html

Washington DC — In order for Arab and Muslim leaderships and populations to benefit from the momentum of the new tone in US-Israeli relations, the depth and the meaning of the distance crossed by President Barack Obama, in defining a new framework for this relationship and in promoting this framework before US public opinion, must be carefully examined. And in order for Obama’s efforts, which enjoy unprecedented support from major figures in the US Congress and important Jewish leaderships, to succeed, it is necessary for Arabs and Muslims to stop “demanding” and think strategically of how to provide “assistance,” even if Israel were to thwart his efforts. Let the US President be thwarted by Israel and not by the Arabs. And let his success be an Arab achievement, for which the United States would hold the utmost appreciation. However, equally important is the need for Arab populations and their leaderships to remember that bringing peace efforts to fruition is in the interest of the younger generation in the Middle East. They must make of victory in the battle of making peace an Arab victory, considering that it is Israel that resists peace and that has slipped into a siege mentality for a period of 42 years since it invaded the Arab territories of 1967, which several generations of Arabs have been raised to call the June 5th “Defeat” – indicating the defeat of the Arabs.

It is in the interest of the Arabs and the Muslims of the world to think on the basis of forging partnerships with the United States and President Barack Obama, instead of stagnating in the culture of mutual accusations of treason and shifting blame to others. Indeed, Arabs and Muslims are not always “the victim” even though they too are victims of extremism and terrorist acts carried out by Arabs and Muslims not just against the United States and the West, but also against Muslims, as is taking place in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example. Thus, let Barack Obama’s initiative, composed of one chapter after another, towards the Muslims of the world and Arab countries be an incentive for a thought, a vision and a mind open to innovative and strategic thinking, which would take self-assessment from the “Nakba” and “Defeat” to thinking of oneself on the basis of self confidence and the ability to affect and change things.

What Barack Obama did before leaving the United States and heading to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia then to Egypt to give his speech, is of the utmost importance. Indeed, he has put forth the Palestinian-Israeli issue on the basis of US national interest before American public opinion. He has put forth very simply a basic matter such as demanding that Israel freeze settlement-building (which is illegitimate to begin with, as it contradicts the road map commitments towards establishing two states, unanimously ratified by the international community in Security Council resolutions) and allowed American public opinion to witness for itself Israeli reactions that reject stopping settlements. He spoke with complete resolve on the US radio station NPR (National Public Radio), addressing the American people, and said that he would not back down from demanding that settlement-building be frozen and from driving the two-state solution – Palestine alongside Israel – forward, because making peace on the basis of such a solution is necessary and enters into the framework of the United States’ national interest and national security.

Obama did not play the “blame game,” as did before him each of his predecessors, Democratic President Bill Clinton when he laid the blame on late President Yasser Arafat, or Republican President George Bush who “bought” the Israeli claim that the Palestinian issue falls within the category of “terrorism” and that Israel has no Palestinian partner in negotiations. He did the exact opposite. He put forth what he had and did not point fingers in accusation or in blame. Israeli reactions spoke for themselves and made clear that the missing partner in making peace is in fact Israel, and that the side that refuses to work on the basis of the requirements of making peace and implementing commitments is Israel. Obama allowed things to speak for themselves, for the image to become clear in the mind of international and American public opinion. He coordinated with Jewish leaderships inside and outside Congress of it, so that it does not seem as if he is lending a warm hand to Muslims and Arabs and a cold one to Israel. He addressed officials in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in the language of seriousness and inflexibility, while the leaders of his administration made clear to the leaders of the Israeli government that this administration will speak the language of sanctions if Israel continues to commit violations and to waste the opportunity for peace.

This new discourse has addressed the possibility of isolating Israel without the United States rushing to protect it, as has become the custom. It included notifying Israeli officials that this administration would not protect Israel from condemnation at the United Nations if it continues to commit violations. Indeed, the customary veto against any pressure on Israel no matter what it does has become a thing of the past. And if this is not enough and Israel perseveres in thrusting aside US efforts, the Obama Administration hinted to yet another new reality that Israel must take seriously, which is the willingness to look into stopping the influx of American taxpayers’ money to it, as Israeli policies pose a threat to UN national security.

All of this is new in the US-Israeli relationship, and it must remain a US-Israeli matter, as there is no need for Arabs and Muslims to interfere in this relationship one way or another. It would be more useful for them to forge numerous positive partnerships with the United States of America, in parallel and without overlapping with the developments of the US-Israeli relationship. On such a basis, perhaps it would be useful to respond positively to demands the US President might put forth or to advance alternatives if they are fundamentally rejected – so that blame does not shift to Arab parties. Let eyes remain fixed on Israel and on its attempts to hinder peaceful solutions and perhaps thwart the US President’s efforts. There is no need for the Arabs to feel that thwarting them is their duty. Let Israel do the thwarting, and let the Israeli side be held accountable, instead of saving it with Arab instruments, quarrels and outbidding.

When writing these lines, before Obama gave his anticipated speech in Cairo, it was clear that he had resolved to make his relationship with the Muslim world one based on mutual trust and mutual interests, with sincere talk that addresses the centers and reasons of tension between the American and Muslim worlds, and with the aim of putting to use opportunities for future partnerships in many fields and many places. Honesty requires him to speak of “violent extremism” and of necessary partnership with the Arab and Muslim popular base in order to defeat violent extremism, which is the alternative expression for terrorism. Within such a framework, Afghanistan and Pakistan are at the top of the Obama Administration’s list of priorities. Thus, when the US President went to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, he spoke with Saudi monarch King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of the peace process for the Middle East, Iran, oil and his speech. However, he also spoke of necessary partnership between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Indeed, the visit of Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke to Saudi Arabia is but a way to emphasize Obama’s interest in partnership with Saudi Arabia in this highly important part of the world. Iran, of course, is prominent on Barack Obama’s scale of priorities, yet on the basis of engagement and of seeking to convince it to respond positively to the hand warmly stretched towards it. If it responds with a cold hand or with crooked arms, the US President will not be lenient, withdraw and remain in the shadow of the worldly skill of Iran’s mullahs. He will take the next step in strengthening sanctions more aggressively than is possible at the UN Security Council, where Russia’s veto in effect hinders any pressures on Iran, and then he will see. Indeed, the elections in Iran are of interest for the Obama Administration, because it would like them to result in a president who speaks the language of understanding and engagement, rather than one who speaks the language of obstinacy, arrogance and exaggeration. This does not mean that the Obama Administration is naïve in its assessment of the true seats of power within Iran. It seeks to use every non-military option to convince, and believes that its method will be fruitful.

This is the method the Obama Administration is using with Syria, as it places on the table the incentives of peace with Israel, withdrawal from the Golan, and a special relationship with the United States, yet upon the condition that it ceases to use the border with Iraq to allow the infiltration of fighters there, ceases to play the card of organizations and Palestinian factions to influence the issue of Palestine and the future of Lebanon, and ceases to interfere in Lebanon’s affairs. Who separates or links any of these elements remains the object of give and take, yet it is clear that the Obama Administration has come to realize the importance of Lebanon in its policy in the region, as it directly reflects on what it is trying to do with Syria and Iran. Thus the Obama Administration views the Lebanese elections seriously and realizes the importance of keeping the current parliamentary majority in power, because Hezbollah’s coalition winning would represent a victory for Iran and a defeat for the United States. However, the Obama Administration came to be interested in the Lebanese issue rather late, and it has begun to realize the dangers of Israel using a Hezbollah government in Lebanon as a pretext for military escalation, to strike against Hezbollah’s rockets and prevent Lebanon from officially turning into an Iranian military base. Such a pretext would help Benjamin Netanyahu and his government to evade the requirements of peace, US pressures and the possibilities of isolation and punishment.

Ideally, the US President should impose peace on Israel on the basis of ending the occupation, and impose on Iran taking its hands off Lebanon and withdrawing its weapons from it, if he truly wants to spare that country wars upon it and through it, and to spare the United States additional blows to its national security, its influence in the Middle East and its international standing.

On the practical level, the Barack Obama Administration is working on the method of accumulation, where a “package” of trust building measures is put forth, with the aim of accumulating momentum to activate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria. Indeed, the goal is not to stop at freezing settlement-building, but rather to resume negotiations on the basis of agreed-upon references, yet through a different mechanism, one bearing the mark of Barack Obama.

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