Mondoweiss, The Gift That Keeps On Giving
It is important from time to time to check in Mondoweiss just to confirm my suspicions. It is necessary to make sure that it is still, as someone put it to me the other day, the Washington Free Beacon of the left: an ideological organ masquerading as a news organisation. After all, just because Mondoweiss has suggested in the recent past that Tel Aviv is a ghetto and the embodiment of the failed Zionist dream, that Hanukkah celebrates murder and blood lust, and that the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel is a Court Jew, doesn’t mean they will go on saying these outrageous things forever, right?
I needn’t have worried. Thankfully, Mondoweiss remains a kind of gift that keeps on giving — or, a foul-tasting dinner that keeps on repeating. First, on January 10, Tom Suarez wrote what was supposed, I imagine, to be a cartographic history of the conflict over Jerusalem. Not that it worked out that way:
The capital of Israel is and always has been Tel Aviv.
Hardly a good note to begin on. The seat of government has been in the west of Jerusalem since December 1949 and thus is the de facto capital of Israel. Tel Aviv was the seat of power for a brief period between May 1948 and December 1949 until the shift towards Jerusalem. That said, it remains host to the world’s embassies and consulates, until such a time as the final status of Jerusalem is resolved through negotiations with the Palestinians (who will receive the Arab neighbourhoods as their capital). But, do carry on:
The 1947 UN Partition Resolution that created the Israeli state stipulated that Jerusalem would be an open, international city administered by the UN. But like the Partition itself, this was not to be: Zionist forces quickly seized most of the city, with both David Ben-Gurion and his political nemesis Menachem Begin vowing never to relinquish it, and Jordan’s Abdullah I taking East Jerusalem and the West Bank in exchange for delaying any Arab defense.
I’m always concerned by people who use the formulation “Zionist forces” as opposed to, say, Israeli troops or in this context the Haganah, but that isn’t the most egregious error here. As Suarez wilfully ignores, the implementation of the United Nations’ Partition Plan was made impossible by Arab nations’ refusal to recognise it as valid. Israeli forces did indeed push eastward towards Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli War, a conflict initiated by an attempt by five Arab states, Palestinian forces, and other mercenaries and volunteers from across the Middle East to destroy the Yishuv and the nascent State of Israel.
Obama on Israel and the Palestinians
Unlike the speeches of the previous commander-in-chief, those made by President Obama are orated for the purpose of dissection. They are written by a meticulous language of fairness, accuracy and a little caution that open the door to numerous interpretations. By contrast, where can one go with such nuanced statements as “you’re either with us or against us”?
Obama’s speech on Thursday was intended as a second address to the Arab world, after his famous Cairo speech of 2009. After all, its broadcast was timed specifically for when citizens of the Near East and North Africa would be home from work. It set out state by state how the United States viewed events related to the Jasmine Revolution, though it is his remarks on Israel and the Palestinians that I shall focus on now.
What is clear right off the bat is that Obama views the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as integral to the stabilisation and eventual flourishing of the Arab Spring. “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past,” he proclaimed, “the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever”.
At the same time, the speech seemed to heave cold water on the idea of talks resuming in the immediate, particularly in the wake of the emergence of a unity government in the Palestinian Territories. On this, Obama said:
“Recognising that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognise your right to exist?”
Here, Obama has fallen into line with the standard Israeli position since the Fatah-Hamas split, adding that Palestinian leaders need to come up with a “credible answer” to this question. Moreover, the President fired a warning shot in the direction of Fatah: “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimise Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.” This would appear to signal that the United States will indeed vote against and perhaps veto any resolution on Palestinian statehood as a threat to Israeli security.
As to justification such a stance toward the Palestinians, one which puts that out of kilter with the rest of the international community, Obama pivoted to make some important statements with regard Israel’s role on the West Bank. He referenced with regard to the Palestinians the “humiliation of occupation” and settlements as a barrier to peace. Most importantly, Obama stated: “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation”. Such a bold notion has never been articulated by a sitting United States President, and Obama deserves credit as such.
The most contentious paragraph of the speech, the one which Media has most aggressively analysed, focused on the issue of borders:
“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”
The use of the word ‘contiguous’ is one Obama has used before during the 2008 presidential campaign, in the speech he made to AIPAC (the one that called for a united Jerusalem, for reference). Perhaps the President is merely referring to the proposal for a disengaged corridor on Israeli soil that links Gaza to the West Bank, which was part of the Olmert Plan. If not, then Obama seems to be signalling a desire to enlarge Palestinian territory to the stage where the two entities meet, thus in turn slicing Israel in two, which would do a great deal to threaten Israeli security and indeed its very existence.
His comments on borders are not in fact radical, to put it mildly. The notion of having boundaries centred about those which existed pre-1967 is a consensus opinion amongst European and world leaders, and is in fact something most Israelis believe ought to be the outcome of talks. Again however, no sitting American President has ever said this out loud before, even though the idea of using the Green Line as the basis for peace negotiations was the foundation of the Clinton Parameters, the Bush Road Map and the Olmert Plan.
Overall, the speech reflects an approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that is a mirror of the attitude he has brought to the presidency: one of care, even-handedness, an awareness of the necessary stances he must adopt, and a desire to always seek resolution. I believe Obama is genuine in his desire to resolve the dispute, to maintain a secure Israel and to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state, based on the belief that “people should govern themselves”. What is not clear, however, is what the administration will do to make this happen, or whether they believe it’s even possible at all.