Obama’s New Path to Mideast Peace?

Gil Scott-Heron

Sometimes, desperate and difficult circumstances require that we change the game a little bit, shake things up, if you will. If recent reports are true, then President Obama plans to mint his own Mideast peace plan in an attempt to loosen up the gridlock the parties are experiencing in that troubled region of the world.

And this is precisely the type of leadership for which people voted in the 2008 election. Tired of being hated when they traveled abroad – due to the misguided cowboy diplomacy practiced by George W. Bush for eight long years – Americans wanted a president that would once again make their country a place that was respected among the community of nations. And with his historic Mideast speech, Obama clearly laid out a new vision for Israel, the Palestinians and the greater Arab world.

“The truth is, in some of these conflicts, the United States can’t impose solutions unless the participants in these conflicts are willing to break out of the old patterns of antagonism,” the President said last week. A U.S.-led plan would address Iran, a big concern of Israel, and involve Arab neighbors as well. “We want to get the debate away from settlements and East Jerusalem and take it to a 30,000-feet level that can involve Jordan, Syria and other countries in the region,” in addition to the Palestinians and Israelis. The President knows that incrementalism hasn’t worked.

All parties involved in a solution to the problem can afford to look at things in a different way. Israel is led by a right-wing government that has been a thorn in the side of the Obama administration. And real politik dictates that empires cannot allow their satellite nations to chump them out. Allowing the construction of additional housing units in East Jerusalem, the presumptive capital of a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not come to the negotiating table as an honest partner.

Self-determination and nationhood are a must for the Palestinians, and actions which show contempt for this reality certainly will not bring anyone peace and security, most of all Israel. True leadership comes when so-called leaders do the unpopular, though it is best for their people. Cowardice is doing the expedient, that which may yield short-term votes, yet fails to address the long-term crisis and only exacerbates it. So, for the purposes of this analysis, Netanyahu is a coward.

For Palestinians, suicide bombers will not bring peace, and a culture of violence will not build a nation. Although Israel has erred in characterizing what is primarily a liberation struggle as a war on terror, the Palestinians have been mistaken in believing that killing innocent people will accomplish anything other than continuing the cycle of violence. The people in the Occupied Territories are suffering plenty, to be sure. The blockade of Gaza is a human rights violation and a humanitarian crisis, part of the greater outrage that is the Occupation itself, with its apartheid system of checkpoints, passes and Bantustans. People of all faiths and backgrounds – including progressive Jews – choose to protest an unjust Gaza policy by fasting and other peaceful means.

As if to learn a lesson from the civil rights movement in the Jim Crow South, many Palestinians are realizing that nonviolent resistance is the path to freedom. They are staging peaceful protests and boycotting goods made in the settlements. And the Palestinian prime minister traveled to the West Bank to plant trees, and declared that land, not presently under his authority, as part of a future Palestinian state. Gandhi and King surely would be proud.

And as far as the U.S. is concerned, a laissez-faire policy of shoulder shrugging has not worked in the Mideast, and neither has the appearance of siding with one party over another. Obama realizes that if there is any hope for stability in the region, he must deal with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Hotheads and peddlers of extremism have a vested interest in the status quo, and would like nothing more than to derail any attempts to transform today’s sad state of affairs.

As an aside, somehow, the legendary African-American poet Gil Scott-Heron is caught in the crosshairs of the Mideast conflict. He was involved in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s. And now he is being criticized for his plans to perform in Tel Aviv, which, critics say, would violate the unified call among Palestinian civil society for Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, a call which is “directed particularly towards international activists, artists, and academics of conscience.”

Whether Gil Scott-Heron is compromising his ideals by performing in Israel is a question that goes far beyond the scope of this commentary. However, I am reminded of the title of one of his songs – “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.” (see video below)

david.jpgAnd for people living in Israel and the Occupied Territories, home definitely is where the hatred is. It is what South African Justice Richard Goldstone called “a situation where young people grow up in a culture of hatred and violence, with little hope for change in the future. Finally, the teaching of hate and dehumanization by each side against the other contributes to the destabilization of the whole region.”

David A. Love

This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.


  1. says

    This well-meant article comes close to self-contradiction. On the one hand a US plan is to be terribly essential? On the other hand, no solution will work unless the parties themselves come to it?

    Grass-roots non-violent action by ordinary Palestinians would be a welcome and signal departure from the Palestinian history of fruitless passive self-pity on the one hand and on the other hand domination by a thugocratic leadership not really interested in a viable peaceful state. And Gil Scott-Heron’s mission to combat the teaching of hate – which unfortunately has been going on at least in schools controlled by Hamas and the Palestine Authority – is of utmost importance for full peaceful coexistence.

    Contra the Obama mantra, for neither Palestinians nor Israelis has the situation been intolerable, even though of course many individual people on both sides suffer – and likely will continue for a time to suffer even after a wonderful ‘solution’. The region’s stability has almost nothing to do with formally arriving at a better mode for Israel-Palestine coexistence. For decades, the Israel-Arab conflict owed not to Israel-Palestine differences but to determination by the outside Arab states to extinguish Israel. Now that conflict owes most to Islamo-fanaticism supported by Iran and her clients Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah.

    Israeli and Palestinian leaders have long been able to talk, but what will they talk about? The biggest problem hitherto is that the bulk of Palestinian ‘leadership’ has never wanted a political solution that allows for a viable Jewish state. The hurts of individual Palestinians do not translate into any pressure on or imperative on their thugocratic ‘leaders’ to agree to such a solution. These leaders are anyhow less interested in being responsible for a mundane peace-time Palestine state, and more interested in staying on as top dogs over organizations focused on endless self-justifying combat. Over several generations, ever since rejecting partition plans of the 1930s as well as 1947, and continuing into their rejections of full statehood as recently as 2001 and 2008, they have preferred to forego a separate new Arab state for the sake of making sure that on the other side there will be no viable Jewish state.

    Even the leaders who might break out of the mold know now that Islamo-fanatic extremists – stirred by and beholden to Iran and its clients – will assassinate them. Only a wholesale regime change in Iran will give any new political solution a chance.

    That’s right. Obama and team continue to get it backward. Regime change in Iran is necessary for change in Israel-Palestine, not vice versa.

    And this regime change is desired too by the Arab regimes (except Iran’s clients) to ensure that Iran does not get nukes and resulting hegemony over the Near East. Even as all these regimes continue their long-term cover habit of scapegoating Israel their real worry now is that Obama will not move in time to stop Iran.

    So, when it comes to the spectrum of Near Eastern affairs, Obama’s focus has been utterly and idiotically misguided. Focus has been on some Jerusalem houses – to be built years in future by Israel in her own capital and not even in Arab neighborhoods but in fact in land which was NO-MAN’s LAND between 1949 and 1966.

    Meanwhile, Obama and team do nothing in convincing real time about the real threat to the region’s stability – Iran’s regime – and its clients Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah.

    Obama and team have totally avoided real-time actions (but instead use diversionary promises of maybe someday semi-toothless too-little-too-late sanctions) to make the Iran regime pay for repression of the green reform. Even less do they do anything real and convincing to warn and stop that regime from its priority to rapidly build nukes which are explicitly aimed at genocide in Israel – and thereby unavoidably in Palestine and neighboring Arab lands too! The Obama team also totally – and even treasonously – ignores Iran’s and Syria’s recent and current terror squads and weapons which by intent have been killing Americans as well as allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Looking at the full situation, if we must call anyone a ‘coward’, it would have to be Obama more than Netanyahu.

    The article uses some misleadingly inexact terminology. Israel’s multiparty nearly wall-wall coalition government is not especially ‘right-wing’ – and anyhow it is broadly representative and has majority popular support. Neither in fact nor by intent is the USA an ’empire’ nor is Israel a ‘satellite’.

    By the way, looking constructively to the future on the subject of construction, one question might well be asked by us progressives who traditionally decry apartheid and ethnic cleansing: why shouldn’t a Palestinian state include some Jewish settlements, just as Israel contains many Arab towns and settlements?

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