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Islam and the West ( 12 Jun 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

The Trouble With Obama’s Cairo Speech: NOAM CHOMSKY



Obama has called on the Arab states to proceed with normalization, studiously ignoring, however, the crucial political settlement that is its precondition.


A CNN headline, reporting Obama’s plans for his June 4 Cairo address, read ‘Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world.’ Perhaps that captures his intent, but more significant is the content hidden in the rhetorical stance, or more accurately, omitted.

Keeping just to Israel-Palestine—there was nothing substantive about anything else—Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to ‘point fingers’ at each other or to ‘see this conflict only from one side or the other.’ There is, however, a third side, that of the United States, which has played a decisive role in sustaining the current conflict. Obama gave no indication that its role should change or even be considered.

Those familiar with the history will rationally conclude, then, that Obama will continue in the path of unilateral U.S. rejectionism.

Obama once again praised the Arab Peace Initiative, saying only that Arabs should see it as “an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.” How should the Obama administration see it?

Obama and his advisers are surely aware that the Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus calling for a two-state settlement on the international (pre-June ‘67) border, perhaps with “minor and mutual modifications,” to borrow U.S. government usage before it departed sharply from world opinion in the 1970s, vetoing a Security Council resolution backed by the Arab “confrontation states” (Egypt, Iran, Syria), and tacitly by the PLO, with the same essential content as the Arab Peace Initiative except that the latter goes beyond by calling on Arab states to normalize relations with Israel in the context of this political settlement.

Obama has called on the Arab states to proceed with normalization, studiously ignoring, however, the crucial political settlement that is its precondition. The Initiative cannot be a “beginning” if the United States continues to refuse to accept its core principles, even to acknowledge them.

In the background is the Obama administration’s goal, enunciated most clearly by Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to forge an alliance of Israel and the “moderate” Arab states against Iran. The term “moderate” has nothing to do with the character of the state, but rather signals its willingness to conform to U.S. demands.

What is Israel to do in return for Arab steps to normalize relations? The strongest position so far enunciated by the Obama administration is that Israel should conform to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, which states: “Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).” All sides claim to accept the Road Map, overlooking the fact that Israel instantly added 14 reservations that render it inoperable.

Overlooked in the debate over settlements is that even if Israel were to accept Phase I of the Road Map, that would leave in place the entire settlement project that has already been developed, with decisive U.S. support, to ensure that Israel will take over the valuable land within the illegal ‘separation wall’ (including the primary water supplies of the region) as well as the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is being broken up into cantons by settlement/infrastructure salients extending far to the East. Unmentioned as well is that Israel is taking over Greater Jerusalem, the site of its major current development programs, displacing many Arabs, so that what remains to Palestinians will be separated from the center of their cultural, economic, and sociopolitical life.

Also unmentioned is that all of this is in violation of international law, as conceded by the government of Israel after the 1967 conquest, and reaffirmed by Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice. Also unmentioned are Israel’s successful operations since 1991 to separate the West Bank from Gaza, since turned into a prison where survival is barely possible, further undermining the hopes for a viable Palestinian state.

It is worth remembering that there has been one break in U.S.-Israeli rejectionism. President Clinton recognized that the terms he had offered at the failed 2000 Camp David meetings were not acceptable to any Palestinians, and in December, proposed his ‘parameters,’ vague but more forthcoming. He then announced that both sides had accepted the parameters, though both had reservations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt to iron out the differences, and made considerable progress.

A full resolution could have been reached in a few more days, they announced in their final joint press conference. But Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, and they have not been formally resumed. The single exception indicates that if an American president is willing to tolerate a meaningful diplomatic settlement, it can very likely be reached.

It is also worth remembering that the Bush I administration went a bit beyond words in objecting to illegal Israeli settlement projects, namely, by withholding U.S. economic support for them. In contrast, Obama administration officials stated that such measures are “not under discussion” and that any pressures on Israel to conform to the Road Map will be “largely symbolic,” as the New York Times reported on June 1.

There is more to say, but it does not relieve the grim picture that Obama has been painting, with a few extra touches in his widely-heralded address to the Muslim World in Cairo on June 4.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy.


 Obama must reverse pro-Israel Middle-East policy

 Faizur Rahman

 The Muslim world is entitled to question the glaring contradictions in Barack Obama’s speech.

Unquestionably Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech was a breathtaking exhibition of oratorical eloquence. Watching it live on a big screen at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai this author was in a good position to evaluate the emotions and the body language of the charismatic speaker and it must be said that not a trace of pretence or dishonesty could be detected. The President was speaking straight from his heart. But not many Muslims across the globe share these perceptions. They feel that Mr. Obama was not exactly forthright when it came to the aspirations of the Palestinians. He wanted the Palestinians to abandon violence citing the example of the black Americans who according to him “suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation” and yet did not resort to violence to win “full and equal rights.” He also counselled them that it was not a sign of courage or power “to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or blow up old women on a bus” because, through such acts, moral authority is not claimed but surrendered.

 Such an advice would have found acceptance among the Muslims had Mr. Obama also talked about the state terrorism of Israel, particularly the recent massacre of nearly 1,500 people in Gaza using weapons procured from the United States. In comparison (according to The Israel Project (TIP), an international non-profit organisation, which provides information about the Middle East) since Nov 24, 2001 Hamas mortar attacks killed 25 people within Israel. Yet Mr. Obama chose not to say word about the disproportionate use of violence by Israel. May be he did not want to antagonise the dreaded Zionist lobby in his country. But it is also possible he was not aware of these statistics. Nevertheless, he should have at least recognised the “surrender of moral authority” by his own country when it decimated Afghanistan and Iraq by shooting missiles at sleeping children, old women and innocent men who had done nothing to harm anybody and, later on dismissed their deaths as “collateral damage.” The Muslim world is certainly entitled to question these glaring contradictions in Mr. Obama’s speech.

 Having said this, Mr. Obama must be congratulated for his boldness to equate the sufferings of the Palestinians under occupation with the Holocaust. But it must be remembered that the Palestinians were not responsible for the persecution of the Jews. On the contrary, in March 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella issued the ‘Edict of Expulsion’ against the Jews of Spain, the Muslims nations welcomed them. According to the French-Jewish scholar Isidore Loeb there were about 235,000 Jews in Spain in 1492 out of which 50,000 were forcibly converted to Christianity and the rest were expelled. They migrated to various parts of the world including Europe and America with 20,000 dying en route. Loeb writes that a total of 122,000 Jews were given refuge by the Muslims of Algiers, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Turkey. And even now the Palestinians have accepted the U.N. Partition Resolution of 1947 which gave away more than half their country to the Jews although the U.N. had no right to do so. And in all fairness it must be acknowledged that the “Jewish homeland” the U.S. so eagerly recognises has been carved out of the land belonging to a people who were totally innocent of the Holocaust.

 But the Muslims have no reason to doubt the intentions of Mr. Obama, particularly after his Cairo speech which, along with expressing his honest desire of putting the Muslim community on the road to “education and innovation,” emphasised the need “to work for the day” when the Jews, Christians and Muslims prayed together in Jerusalem. It is hoped that Mr. Obama would realise that this would be possible only when Israel stops building settlements, hands over to the Palestinians the existing settlements, recognises the right to return of Palestinian refugees and restores the pre-June 1967 borders by withdrawing from all occupied territories. And how can Israel be expected to comply if the U.S. vetoes all U.N. resolutions against it, and continues to give billions of dollars in the form of military and economic aid which is being used to violently subjugate the Palestinians? Therefore, as Mr. Obama is serious about finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute his primary concern must be to roll back the unabashedly pro-Israel Middle-East policy of his country. This is the key to the peaceful establishment of a Palestinian state.

 (The author is an executive committee member of Harmony India, an organisation dedicated to communal amity and secularism. He may be reached at < )

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