Arab News (Editorial)
May 23, 2011 - 12:00am

Barely 48 hours after he called for a “viable Palestine” on the basis of the 1967 borders and exchanged cold vibes and hot words with Benjamin Netanyahu, poor Barack Obama found himself doing what successive US presidents and leading politicians have always done: Offer obeisance at the altar of almighty AIPAC and sing endless hosannas to the “Great State of Israel.”

The so-called historic speech of the US president on Thursday was seen as “too little, too late” by the Arabs. However, even that timid “audacity of hope” was apparently too much for Israel’s friends in the US establishment.

So here was another US president, apparently the most powerful man on the planet, standing before AIPAC like a schoolboy and repeatedly reaffirm America’s “ironclad” commitment to the “security of Israel.” And to make up for the crime of suggesting the 1967 baseline for Palestine, Obama had to issue a stern warning to the Palestinians against approaching the United Nations for seeking recognition of their state saying, “No vote at the UN will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.”

In doing so, Obama sounded more pro-Israel than the Israelis themselves, reminding many of a similar performance in 2008 during the presidential poll campaign in which he gifted away Jerusalem as the “indivisible” capital of Israel. Something that wasn’t attempted even by his born-again, Bible-thumping predecessor.

All this only goes to underscore the obvious — the awesome power and enduring clout of the Israeli lobby, especially AIPAC. No American politician, a struggling president facing re-election in particular, can afford to displease Israel. Indeed, as Obama himself pointed out Sunday, there was “nothing particularly original” in his State Department speech. All that he had done was restate the official US position over the past four decades. Even George W. Bush would talk of a two-state solution with Palestine and Israel “existing side by side in peace,” even if he didn’t believe in it.

So what happens now after Obama has been forced to eat his own words? Clearly not much. Even if he sincerely believes in the vision of a Palestinian state along the so-called borders that preceded the 1967 war, we do not see him go all out to push Israel toward that goal. At least, not until he gets a second term.

What do the Palestinians do now? They have no option but go ahead with their plan to seek a formal recognition and backing of their state by the world community when the UN General Assembly reconvenes in September. No matter what Obama has to say on a UN vote, fresh mandate by the world body will only strengthen the Palestinian case. There is hope on this front because Washington cannot throw its weight around in General Assembly and use its veto power to bail out its intransigent ally as it has done all these years in Security Council. World public opinion, even in Europe, has increasingly turned in favor of declaring and recognizing a Palestinian state. Indeed, with the winds of change blowing in the region and Israel increasingly isolated, there cannot be a better time to do so. This may be the only way to persuade Israel and its friends in Washington to play the ball. It’s time to stand up and be counted.


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