By Tanvir Ahmad Khan
May 25, 2011
On May 19, President Obama made the first ever reference of his presidency to the 1967 borders as the basis for a future Middle East peace process in an address directed towards Arabs and Muslims. The speech itself is largely an attempt to restore the salience of the United States to the outcome of the tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa by positioning Washington on the right side of the democratic upsurge. It needs a separate column while this short piece focuses only on his ideas about Israel and Palestine.
The month of May is marked by the two people for remembrance of their past suffering. Israel’s calendar has Yom Hashoa for the memory of the Holocaust, and Yom Hazikaron to remember those lost in its wars since 1948. For the Arabs, it is Naqba, the great catastrophe of dispossession and exile from their ancient homes as Israel tried to become a pure Jewish state. While the Jewish suffering is mostly in the past, the Naqba is a living reality. A two-state solution that has been the Holy Grail of the US-led peace process seems to be virtually dead. Belatedly, however, Obama has now signalled a revived interest in it. He did so on the eve of a belligerent visit to Washington by Prime Minister Nethanyahu and just before he goes to Europe. Amongst his reasons is a desire to weaken the Palestinian resolve to go to the United Nations in September for recognition and thus preserve the exclusive American control of the quest for settlement.
The Obama proposal of May 19 has already run into two difficulties: one, Nethanyahu has reacted violently to the reference to the 1967 border which he calls ‘indefensible’, and, two, Arabs find nothing new in his speech that would lure them back to negotiations.
The heightened public commemoration of Naqba this year comes straight from the Arab Awakening sweeping the Arab world. And yet, Israel demonstrated its insensitivity by gunning down the demonstrators. The same insensitivity defines Israel’s reaction to the unification of Hamas and Fateh brokered by Egypt engaged in the delicate task of reaching equilibrium between the revolutionary aspirations of its people and concerns for security and stability in its military establishment.
The Arabs have noted that Obama’s reference to 1967 borders, while a welcome change, was couched in a language fraught with dangerous possibilities. “We believe”, Obama said, “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 Fateh leadership has not been averse to land swaps but Israel’s relentless building of new settlements raises the spectre of the Arabs losing the entire Jordan River valley.
Obama has strongly dissuaded the Palestinians from following the UN route saying that “for Palestinians, efforts to delegitimise Israel will end in failure”. In the context of a two-state solution, he spoke of Israel as a “Jewish State”, thus implicitly supporting increasing discrimination against 1.4 million Arab citizens of Israel. It also pits the US against the Palestinian right of return. The president also said, rather regrettably, that the agreement between Hamas and Fateh ‘raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel’. Nethanyahu tells Mahmoud Abbas bluntly that he should choose between peace with Israel and Hamas. In Obama’s vision, Palestinians should have a “viable”, if defenceless state, and Israelis a “secure” state. In accommodating Israel’s uncompromising demands, he has delivered a speech which may not simply get enough traction to launch an effective new peace process.
Source: The News, Pakistan