Monday, June 20, 2011

Perspective is Everything

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, June 9, 2011

When judging President Barack Obama’s policy toward the continuing unrest between Israel and Palestine, it is important to approach the situation with an honest perspective. It’s true that a historical context is helpful, but it is dangerous to focus on biblical prophecy, especially when two Abrahamic religions claim the same territorial birthright. It is also dangerous to view Israel as an innocent victim of Palestinian aggression.

Furthermore, it is counterproductive to mischaracterize Obama’s speech as a betrayal of an ally while ignoring important points.

The president chastised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for attempting to persuade the United Nations to recognize Palestine while delegitimizing Israel. He said “symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.” Still, the right-wing of conservative punditry called the speech a slap in Israel’s face and a giveaway to Palestine.

The right also treated Obama’s two-state solution as an unprecedented stance. The fact of the matter is that it was not a ground-breaking departure from U.S. policy with regards to the region. In fact, the Washington Institute think tank has already published maps outlining swaps in an effort to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Oddly enough, Obama’s predecessor had proposed similar concessions years before. In a speech in June of 2002 Bush said, “Ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians must address the core issues that divide them if there is to be a real peace, resolving all claims and ending the conflict between them. This means that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a settlement negotiated between the parties, based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognize borders.”

To me that sounds an awful lot like Obama’s statement: “The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

It may be true that religious hostility is at the core of the conflict. However, resigning to a prophetic impasse is not only an impediment to viable solutions, it reinforces a mindset that continues to mire the Middle East in the perils of jihad and holy war. And, since certain Christian fundamentalist sects believe that a sovereign nation of Israel is a prerequisite for end-times events, a large number of Americans (including many in military and governmental leadership positions) have an unrealistic perspective of the conflict.

History doesn’t show Israel as an innocent victim of Arab aggression, seeking only its self-defense. The timeline is peppered with pre-emptive strikes on Arab states, denial of rights and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, and violence. Indeed, last month over a dozen Palestinian protestors (commemorating the war of 1967) were gunned down, and another handful were killed in demonstrations last weekend. Scores more were wounded in the incidents. Ignoring Israel’s aggressions and painting Palestinians as wholly responsible for the unrest is dangerous.

These recent protests illustrate the urgency of the situation, and provide important context for Obama’s treatment of the conflict in his Middle East speech. The Arab spring which is waxing into the Arab summer has changed the dynamic in the region. Israelis and Palestinians find themselves in the center of a swelling thirst for liberty and freedom. My brother Gordon has implied that Obama is fanning the flames of resentment, but other risks are certain. As the fire of self-determination sends sparks scattering across the desert plains, a sense of futility about the prospect of peace and resolution can be incendiary.

Obama brought this perspective into his speech. “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever,” he said, adding “…The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just one or two leaders – must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.”

Resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict is vital to any hope of peace in the Middle East. I have always been critical of the dysfunctional alliance the U.S. and Israel enjoy, but I fully recognize that the United States can be an agent to facilitate resolution. However, our perspective of the situation must be grounded in honest reality, along with the historical context.

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