A President who is helpless in the face of Middle East Reality

Obama’s UN speech insists Israelis and Palestinians are equal parties to conflict

By Robert Fisk

Today should be Mahmoud Abbas’s finest hour. Even The New York Times has
discovered that “a grey man of grey suits and sensible shoes, may be slowly
emerging from his shadow”.

But this is nonsense. The colourless leader of the Palestinian Authority, who
wrote a 600-page book on his people’s conflict with Israel without once
mentioning the word “occupation”, should have no trouble this evening in besting
Barack Hussein Obama’s pathetic, humiliating UN speech on Wednesday in which he
handed US policy in the Middle East over to Israel’s gimmick government.

For the American President who called for an end to the Israeli occupation of
Arab lands, an end to the theft of Arab land in the West Bank – Israeli
“settlements” is what he used to call it – and a Palestinian state by 2011,
Obama’s performance was pathetic.

As usual, Hanan Ashrawi, the only eloquent Palestinian voice in New York this
week, got it right. “I couldn’t believe what I heard,” she told Haaretz, that
finest of Israeli newspapers. “It sounded as though the Palestinians were the
ones occupying Israel. There wasn’t one word of empathy for the Palestinians. He
spoke only of the Israelis’ troubles…” Too true. And as usual, the sanest
Israeli journalists, in their outspoken condemnation of Obama, proved that the
princes of American journalists were cowards. “The limp, unimaginative speech
that US President Barack Obama delivered at the United Nations… reflects how
helpless the American President is in the face of Middle East realities,” Yael
Sternhell wrote.

And as the days go by, and we discover whether the Palestinians respond to
Obama’s grovelling performance with a third intifada or with a shrug of weary
recognition that this is how things always were, the facts will continue to
prove that the US administration remains a tool of Israel when it comes to
Israel’s refusal to give the Palestinians a state.

How come, let’s ask, that the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, flew from
Tel Aviv to New York for the statehood debate on Israeli Prime Minister
Netanyahu’s own aircraft? How come Netanyahu was too busy chatting to the
Colombian President to listen to Obama’s speech? He only glanced through the
Palestinian bit of the text when he was live-time, face to face with the
American President. This wasn’t “chutzpah”. This was insult, pure and simple.

And Obama deserved it. After praising the Arab Spring/Summer/ Autumn,
whatever – yet again running through the individual acts of courage of Arab
Tunisians and Egyptians as if he had been behind the Arab Awakening all along,
the man dared to give the Palestinians 10 minutes of his time, slapping them in
the face for daring to demand statehood from the UN. Obama even – and this was
the funniest part of his preposterous address to the UN – suggested that the
Palestinians and Israelis were two equal “parties” to the conflict.

A Martian listening to this speech would think, as Ms Ashrawi suggested, that
the Palestinians were occupying Israel rather than the other way round. No
mention of Israeli occupation, no mention of refugees, or the right of return or
of the theft of Arab Palestinian land by the Israeli government against all
international law. But plenty of laments for the besieged people of Israel,
rockets fired at their houses, suicide bombs – Palestinian sins, of course, but
no reference to the carnage of Gaza, the massive death toll of Palestinians –
and even the historical persecution of the Jewish people and the Holocaust.

That persecution is a fact of history. So is the evil of the Holocaust. But
THE PALESTINIANS DID NOT COMMIT THESE ACTS. It was the Europeans – whose help in
denying Palestinian statehood Obama is now seeking – who committed this crime of
crimes. So we were then back to the “equal parties”, as if the Israeli occupiers
and the occupied Palestinians were on a level playing ground.

Madeleine Albright used to adopt this awful lie. “It’s up to the parties
themselves,” she would say, washing her hands, Pilate-like, of the whole
business the moment Israel threatened to call out its supporters in America.
Heaven knows if Mahmoud Abbas can produce a 1940 speech at the UN today. But at
least we all know who the appeaser is.


This article appeared in the Independent

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