Jerusalem takes Obama

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 daysBenjamin “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.

Reynolds + Gilder on Israel G&M 31.07.09

In The Toronto Globe And Mail of Friday, July 31 2009, the iconoclastic, neo-liberal Neil Reynolds wrote about a new book on Israel by George Gilder. Gilder is a contrarious analyst of trends in capitalism. His new book The Israel Test, according to Reynold, holds up Israel as a model of what can be achieved by a state dedicated to democracy, education and economic growth.

The notion that Messrs Reynolds and Gilder proffer Israel as a paragon of democracy and development troubles me. As I write, Israel continues to expropriate homes of Arab citizens of East Jerusalem. Such actions violate international laws. Similarly, despite the protestations of the Obama administration, Israel is strengthening the illegal foothold of its half million settlers in the West Bank. Israel is only a democracy in a severely mitigated way. One could argue that its bundle of democratic rights and responsibilities only belongs fully to its Jewish citizens.

I recognize that all ‘democratic’ countries have constraints. Canada, after all, has the embarrassment of an appointed Senate and suffers still the shame of the Victorian era apartheid regime constructed under the extant The Indian Act.

Israel’s exceptions to the fundamental tenets of liberal democracy are more salient. In an ample Israeli democracy. the state might have to acknowledge to the world that it has nuclear weapons. That state might then sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Finally in the ultimate test that Mr. Gilder and Mr. Reynolds would presumably vaunt, a true Israeli democracy would extend voting rights in Israeli elections to the more than 3 million Palestinian Arab citizens of the West Bank and Gaza whose lives have been controlled by Israel since 1967.