Another 'friend of Israel' in the White House

By Kim Bullimore

The election of Barack Obama to the US presidency has generated hope among many that not only will the US soon be out of Iraq, but there will also be a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, a closer look at Obama’s stated views on Israel and Palestine reveals that he is unlikely to depart significantly from the pro-Israel policies of George W. Bush.

An examination of two speeches Obama made to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the key Zionist lobby group in the US, as well as the Israel “factsheet” issued by Obama and his pro-Israel running mate, Joe Biden, reveals that an Obama-Biden administration will continue to act as “Israel’s lawyer” (a term coined by former top US State Department official Aaron David Miller in 2005 to describe the US-Israel relationship), as well as its bankroller and arms supplier at the expense of the Palestinian people.

The Israel factsheet issued by the Obama-Biden team, for example, notes that Obama “proudly” supported the undermining of the democratic will of the Palestinian people by opposing the right of all Palestinian parties to participate in the January 2006 Legislative Council elections and that he actively worked to undermine the outcome of those elections. The factsheet notes that Obama was an enthusiastic supporter of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Bill which was introduced into the US Senate (but never passed) in the wake of Hamas’ victory in the parliamentary elections. The legislation, while supposedly supporting a “two-state solution”, called on the world’s governments to refrain from recognising the will of the Palestinian people expressed at the ballot box and to withhold aid to the Palestinian Authority unless its leadership was sufficiently pro-Israel.

In addition, the bill also sought to direct the US president to work towards the “elimination” of a variety of UN committees that sought to promote the human rights of Palestinians unless these committees took a “balanced approach” to the conflict, i.e., recognised Israel’s “right” to carry out acts of military aggression in the name of “security”. Among the UN bodies targeted was the UN Division for Palestinian Rights. Also targeted was the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs in the Occupied Territories — a subcommittee of the UN Fourth Committee which is responsible for the annual UN General Assembly resolutions calling on Israel to adhere to international law, as well as its UN membership obligations in relation its occupation of Palestinian territories (which Israel and the US regularly vote against).

In his March 2007 speech to AIPAC, Obama declared that he opposed the February 2007 Mecca Agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia that was aimed at bringing an end to months of bloody fighting between Fatah and Hamas and at establishing a Palestinian national unity government. In his June 2008 AIPAC speech, Obama reaffirmed his support for the undemocratic installation of the cabinet of Salam Fayyad by Israel and US-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Obama-Biden Israel factsheet notes that both senators had actively supported Israel’s war in Lebanon in July 2006, which resulted in the death of more than 1000 Lebanese civilians. It also noted that Obama co-sponsored a senate resolution opposing Iran’s and Syria’s support for the Hezbollah-led Lebanese resistance to the Israeli war, while insisting that Israel should not be pressured into a ceasefire. On August 30 2006, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper observed that Obama had supported Israel’s war stating that: “I don’t think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel’s response to take some action in protecting themselves.” Obama’s speeches, however, made no mention of the repeated Israeli incursions into Lebanese territory, which provoked the capture of the Israeli soldiers.

In a June 2008 speech, Obama once again positioned himself as a supporter of Israel’s occupation policies. He repeatedly described himself as “a true friend of Israel” saying that as US president he would support Israel’s right to defend itself, as “Israel’s security is sacrosanct” and “non-negotiable”, and that Israel must never be “force[d] to the negotiating table”. He said that as president he would implement the “memorandum of understanding” providing US$30 billion in aid to Israel over the next decade. At no point did he mention the right of Palestinians to defend themselves against Israeli military or settler aggression.

In the same speech, while praising the accomplishments of Israel on its 60th anniversary, Obama completely ignored the dispossession of more than 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 by Zionist terror forces, instead saying “we know that the establishment of Israel was just and necessary, rooted in centuries of struggle and decades of patient work”. While claiming to support a two-state solution, Obama contradicted himself by stating that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided”, completely negating the claim of the Palestinian people to East Jerusalem as the capital of any future Palestinian state.

In an interview printed in the January 29 Jerusalem Post, Obama also confirmed that he didn’t support the right of return for Palestinian refugees or the return of the land which they owned prior to 1948, saying that Israel must remain “a Jewish state”.

Obama’s first act as president-elect was to selected hardline Zionist Rahm Israel Emmanuel as his chief of staff. Emmanuel is, as Alexander Cockburn noted in a November 7 article on the Counterpunch website, “a former Israeli citizen, who volunteered to serve in Israel in 1991 and who made brisk millions in Wall Street. He is a super-Likudnik hawk, whose father was in the fascist Irgun in the late Forties, responsible for cold-blooded massacres of Palestinians. Dad’s unreconstructed ethnic outlook has been memorably embodied in his recent remark to the Ma’ariv newspaper that `Obviously he [Rahm] will influence the president to be pro-Israel… Why wouldn’t he be [influential]? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House’.”

Obama has also offered Hilary Clinton the post of Secretary of State. Clinton, like Obama, is “a friend of Israel”, supporting the 2006 resolution backing Israel’s bombing of Lebanon, as well as Israel’s building of the illegal apartheid wall. The wall, which is an Israeli land grab, has annexed hundreds of hectares of some of the best Palestinian agricultural and water resources to Israel, while allowing for the illegal expansion of Israel’s settler colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in contravention of international laws and the 1993 Oslo accords.

Obama’s views reveal that there will be little change in Washington’s policy toward the Israel-Palestine conflict. Instead, as Palestinian author and co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, Ali Abunimah, notes in his November 18 article on the site: “Obama has expressed no support for Palestinian ‘rights’ and has never publicly used the type of effusive emotional language identifying with Palestinian aspirations as he does regarding the Israelis. While repeatedly castigating Palestinians, he has been uncritical of Israel.” Far from heralding a new era for peace in the Middle East, “Obama’s positions are remarkable only for their conformity with long-standing US policies”.