Remember the idyllic days of June in Cairo? President Barack Obama laid out his vision for reconciliation with the Muslim world and a sustained Middle Eastern peace at a university in Cairo. Part of that vision called for a freeze to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. Later this month, Obama is tentatively scheduled to make another major address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the United Nations. At this early stage of Obama’s presidency, such an address can only be a milestone of failure.
To those Obama true believers who assumed flowers would bloom along the Jordan with Obama’s election, as the redoubtable Mr. Soprano once said….fahgeddaboutit! In recent days, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, confirmed his administration’s plans to build hundreds of additional homes in the occupied territories. At the same time, Israeli courts overlook venerable Ottoman, British mandate and Jordanian property law in invalidating the title of Palestinians owning homes in East Jerusalem. The ‘facts on the ground’ a term widely used by the Israeli right and its North American supporters, are clear: the current Israeli government has no intention to share sovereignty in Jerusalem or to pull back from the West Bank. Most analysts would agree such policies are essential to a peace based on the existence of two viable states.
In the days ahead, following the next regional visit by Obama’s Middle Eastern special envoy former Senator George Mitchell, the mainstream press may well vaunt Obama’s apparent success in temporarily slowing Israeli settlement plans. It is, after all, high time for the sophisticated Israeli government to throw a crumb Obama’s way. Such success is a chimera. Despite the new president’s soaring rhetoric, despite shuttle diplomacy, the Israeli government continues to do as it pleases. Only now, in an even more brazen fashion than when its kissing cousin Bush Republicans were in power.
In May, “Bibi” visited Washington. It would appear that Netanyahu took the measure of Barack Obama and thought, ‘A charming young man, but a dweeb.’ Israel feels unchecked in strengthening its garrison state and putting the necessary conditions in place – a stranglehold on Jerusalem plus half a million settlers in the West Bank – to make a contiguous Palestinian entity there a pipe dream. Such efforts, despite the delusions of Obama acolytes, are still bankrolled by American investment and steeled with American military hardware. Netanyahu and his ilk are succeeding in their quest to ensure that the Palestinian Territories are never more than impotent, economically dependent cantons of the Jewish state.