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The Netanyahu Challenge to Obama

By Mazin Qumsiyeh, May 20, 2009  


In the surreal but still beautiful world we live in, the Prime Minister of Apartheid Israel refuses to even abide by the minimal requirements of a road map that Israel technically agreed to (freeze settlements, evacuate posts to pave the stage for a two state solution). Instead he is mobilizing the Israel-first lobby to push for a US confrontation with Iran hoping to repeat the "success" of neutralizing Iraq as potential regional power.  And while in some European countries the only free speech not allowed is any questioning of any kind to the dominant narrative about the atrocities done to Jews during WWII, the second largest party in the Israeli government wants to ban any commemoration or even mention of the Palestinian Nakba (for Palestinians that is our holocaust that began with the destruction and ethnic cleansing of 530 villages and towns and continues apace today as homes are demolished regularly and Jewish only colonial settlements are built on our land).
What Netanyahu and company want is for Palestinians to continue to pick up the garbage and do the mundane healthcare and other activities while Israel maintains soverignity over the West Bank and Gaza and continue to pillage Palestinian resources.  The International community is expected to continue to subsidize the occupation (40% of aid money to Palestinians ends up in Israeli hands).  This is what Netanyahu refers to by an “economic peace” and not wanting “to govern the Palestinians”.  It is an extension of the same program f political Zionism that for 61 years has pushed for maximum geography (for colonial Zionists and the Jewish state) with minimum demography (of native Palestinians).  President Obama said some useful things in the press conference but the key is will he push to get actual results on the ground. Here is part of what Obama said:

“Now, Israel is going to have to take some difficult steps as well, and I shared with the Prime Minister the fact that under the roadmap and under Annapolis that there's a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements. Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward. That's a difficult issue. I recognize that, but it's an important one and it has to be addressed. I think the humanitarian situation in Gaza has to be addressed. Now, I was along the border in Sderot and saw the evidence of weapons that had been raining down on the heads of innocents in those Israeli cities, and that's unacceptable. So we've got to work with the Egyptians to deal with the smuggling of weapons and it has to be meaningful because no Prime Minister of any country is going to tolerate missiles raining down on their citizens' heads. On the other hand, the fact is, is that if the people of Gaza have no hope, if they can't even get clean water at this point, if the border closures are so tight that it is impossible for reconstruction and humanitarian efforts to take place, then that is not going to be a recipe for Israel's long-term security or a constructive peace track to move forward.  So all these things are going to have to come together and it's going to be difficult, but the one thing that I've committed to the Prime Minister is we are going to be engaged, the United States is going to roll up our sleeves. We want to be a strong partner in this process.”
 Obama's other statement about an Iran threat were disappointing (since Iran threatened no one and never invaded a neighboring country like Israel repeatedly did).  Netenyahu's statements were predictably racist (about maintenance of a "Jewish state" and killing of any resistance on the ground as a precondition for Palestinians getting back 1/1000 of their rights).  The reality is that Israel is the regional threat with its nuclear arsenal and this rogue state has to be brought to comply with International law (already violating dozens of UN Security Council resolutions).  So while some of what Obama said is nice, it does not go far enough and words will have no meaning if the US continues to fund the occupation practices.   The key will be if we see Israel continue home demolitions and continue building settlements, then we know Obama will bring no change and we then know that the change will continue to come from other quarters as the US standing in the world continues to slide. 
But I am also reminded about personal responsibility. It is true that we Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are prisoners and have no real "authority" (Palestinian National Authority is thus a huge misnomer). Prisoners were allowed to hold elections and once the moderate prisoners won and the second time the hard line prisoners won and now the two prison sections are managed by the prisoner leaders of two different factions. But in either case prisoners have to deal with the jailor who determines everything. And a prison official is very happy about this division they fostered.  Prisoners must push their “leaders” to let go of these imaginary leadership positions, go back to collective action.  My opinion is that there ought to be no "president" or "ministers" when we are talking about occupied areas. Both Hamas and Fatah have already agreed twice on reconstituting the PLO but they can’t agree on modalities of managing the prison cells. I would say drop that latter part and work on the former part.   Demand freedom and struggle for it under a rejuvenated and reconstituted representative PLO and worry about elections among prisoners and prison cell administration only AFTER freedom is achieved.  I think this would have to happen.. I think it must happen.
In the meantime, we cannot wait, we must intensify our work for peace with justice. This means intensifying our education campaigns, our boycotts, divestments, and sanctions campaigns, and ofcourse resistance on the ground. I personally believe in civil resistance as in the forms practiced in Bil’in, Ni’ilin, AlMa’sara etc though International law does give the right to all other forms of resistance for people under colonial occupation. For
"Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law" (From Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Israel is a signatory) and "If we make peaceful revolution impossible, we make violent revolution inevitable." (John Fitzgerald Kennedy).
I remain optimistic.  The world is changing.  20 years ago I used to beg people to hear me tell the narrative of our history of dispossession and the balance of power was such that those who did find out the truth were afraid to speak out.  Now the situation is completely different.  Many  teams and individuals come to us in Palestine and ask us to show them what is going on, many invite Palestinians to give talks in other countries (now hundreds each week), and many ask us for guidance on what to do to help (my most common answer is explained in this link: )
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
A Bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home





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