George S. Hishmeh
Gulf News (Opinion)
November 20, 2009 - 1:00am

There is growing frustration, inside and outside the United States, with the Obama administration primarily because of its failure to bring about any measurable change in US policy, especially in the Middle East. Hopes are continuously raised, but have yet to be fulfilled.

The spirited American leader has moved crowds with his ideas, both at home and abroad, most recently during his current East Asia tour, but none of his ideas have materialised. This has led some to look for alternative courses, skirting American involvement, as hard as this may seem to be.

"While much attention has been paid to the feud between the [right-wing] Fox News Channel and the White House, the Obama administration is now facing criticism of a different sort from ... progressive hosts on MSNBC [a popular TV channel] who are using their nightly news-and-views-cast to measure what [Rachel Maddow, a liberal host] calls ‘the distance between Obama's rhetoric and his actions,'" the New York Times observed on Monday.

"While they may agree with much of what Mr Obama says, they have pressed him to keep his campaign promises about health care, civil liberties and other issues," the newspaper continued.

The same is true in the Arab world, where the Palestinian leadership agreed, reportedly at the urging of the US, to shelve the Goldstone Report that charged Israel, and to a lesser extent Hamas, with committing war crimes during the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip in December. The naive Palestinian expectation was probably that the Obama administration would in turn convince Israel to make some sort of concession. But the situation became intolerable when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described a partial Israeli freeze on continued colonisation in the West Bank and ‘ethnic cleansing' of Palestinians from Occupied East Jerusalem as "unprecedented".

Consequently, the frustrated Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas unexpectedly announced that he would not run for election in January a step that could cripple future Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. This bombshell was followed by another when the Palestinian National Authority's chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, revealed that they were about to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state before the UN Security Council, and invite international recognition for it.

Bad to worse

The Israelis reacted by threatening to occupy more land, and this coincided with racist comments by various pro-Israel US groups in the wake of the inexplicable and deplorable massacre at Fort Hood, a Texas army base. There, Major Nidal Hassan, an American-born Muslim psychiatrist, killed 12 soldiers and a civilian earlier this month. Those who prefer to stir the pot ought to recall the savageness of one of their own, Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli physician, a follower of the infamous racist rabbi, Meir Kahane. Clad in his military uniform, Goldstein gunned-down 29 Palestinians and wounded 150 others who were praying in a mosque in Hebron in 1994.

In line with the Israeli government's defiant stance against freezing expansion of colonies in the Occupied Territories, the municipal planning committee has approved the construction of 900 new housing units for Jews in Occupied Jerusalem's Gilo neighbourhood. The American response was disappointingly lukewarm. Expressing "dismay" at the decision, a White House statement said "these actions make it more difficult for our [peace] efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations" between Palestinians and Israelis. It added, "The US also objects to other Israeli practices in [Occupied] Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes."

This US reaction is not particularly comforting. Obama can make resounding speeches, but the Palestinians and other Arab leaders are already looking for alternate avenues. Primarily they are looking to Turkey, which has of late expanded its relations with its neighbours in the region.

European leaders, especially French President Nicolas Sarkozy, must be aware that Obama's oratory has yet to achieve any results. "The deadlock in which we find ourselves today is extremely worrying," the French president told a Saudi newspaper ahead of his arrival on Tuesday in Riyadh for a meeting with King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz. Earlier this month, he had meetings in Paris with the leaders of Iraq, Israel and Syria, and Sarkozy is believed to be pursuing his idea for France to host an international peace conference.

If Obama still hopes to steer the course towards a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and not allow Sarkozy to pull the rug from under his feet, it is high time that he became more pro-active. He ought to be aware that he should not allow Israel to call the shots as it has been doing so far, or else Israel's growing number of opponents are bound to attempt more persuasive, if not bloody, measures.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017