Saturday, 4 September 2010

Washington talk-talk-talk

Journalists, editors and other analysts of the Israel-Palestine 'peace summit' in Washington are playing a vital part in promoting the message of America's 'benign intentions'.

Here, for example, is the latest Guardian editorial, pitching Obama as 'honest-broker':
"Once again, an American president is putting his prestige on the line in the hope that American pressure on both sides can tip the balance. And once again, expectations are low."
Likewise, the BBC's Jeremy Bowen has been among the many media amplifiers speaking in weary tones of the 'low expectations' and 'intractability' of 'the conflict', a dutiful narrative which serves to anoint Obama, play down hopes of an accord and disguise Washington's own dark part in the Palestinians' suffering.

In a true-to-form piece, the BBC have lumped Hamas, Iran's President Ahmadinejad and, for good measure, right-wing Israeli settlers together as extremist recalcitrants, while implicitly lauding the "moderate" forces being guided by Obama's 'fair hand:
"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has described the direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as futile and doomed to fail.

His comments - the first regional reaction to the talks - came a day after the first direct talks between the two sides since 2008.

Right-wing Israeli activists and Gaza militants also reacted angrily. Hamas has vowed to step up attacks on Israel.

But moderate Israelis and Palestinians have welcomed the peace process.

The US Middle East envoy earlier said the talks, between Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, had been "constructive".

The talks at the US state department had been initiated by US President Barack Obama, who gave both sides a one-year deadline to reach a solution."
Alongside these selective demonisations and the diversionary 'two sides poles apart, as ever' message, come standard media presentations of the dramatis personae - or, at least, the 'lead players' designated as such by the elite players themselves.

First, there's
Netanyahu, cast as the cold, firm negotiator, Israel's latest 'man of history' carrying the nation's hopes on his shoulders. Much is made of Netanyahu's refusal to 'toe the Washington line' - notably on the settlement extension 'issue' and likelihood of Israel's building 'moratorium' ending in late September 2010. Posed as a key, stumbling block, the fundamental illegality of the settlements, and core fact that there can be no serious peace until they are vacated, is virtually ignored.

we have 'President' Abbas as lead Palestinian figure. Bowen et al do dutifully mention Abbas's problematic mandate to speak for all Palestinians. Yet, they conveniently fail to mention that he has no actual, current status as President - it ran out almost a year ago. Open discussion of this, we must suppose, would seem 'churlish' and 'incidental' to the big production taking place, undermining Washington's stage-set efforts to proclaim the 'credibility' of the talks. It's all part of the understood media representation of Israel's preferred 'partner-for peace'.

And then we have Obama/Clinton/Mitchell as the 'fair facilitators' of the talks, the most disingenuous part of the presentation. No possible suggestion can be permitted that they are anything other than honest brokers. Yet, any serious review of the US-Israel relationship proves otherwise. Washington is unequivocally sided with Israel, its consistent ally. America funds Israel. It votes at the UN on behalf of Israel. It provides every level of political and diplomatic cover for Israel. And Israel, in turn, acts as America's principal proxy in the region.

As such, America is a significant part of the conflict, a critical obstacle in the problem to be solved.

Indeed, the very holding of these talks is predicated on Obama having
acted as dishonest broker by specifically adhering to Israeli wishes, notes Aseer Aruri (author of Dishonest Broker: America's Role in Israel and Palestine).

While urging the Palestinians not to come to the table with preconditions,
Obama's meeting with Netanyahu in July 2010 "in fact created preconditions" that serve Israel's 'negotiating' requirements. In particular, Aruri notes:
"They want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which means that the million and a half Palestinians who live in Israel will move from second-class citizens to third-class citizens. It's like saying that the United States should be recognized as a Christian state, and so the non-Christians are not part of it and not included in the distribution of rights.

Netanyahu also managed to get Obama to drop the request to end the moratorium on building new settlements. So Netanyahu managed to get preconditions while stymieing Palestinian efforts to set preconditions, such as compliance with UN resolutions--in particular Resolution 242, on the need to end the occupation."
As Obama's gathering threats against Iran show, this all fits rather prosaically with Washington's ongoing Israel-centred policy for the Middle East. Indeed, it's sobering to think of all the 'policy experts' and lovestruck media who hailed his inauguration-time Cairo speech, supposedly offering a 'hand of peace' to the Islamic/Arab world. In truth, at no stage has Obama discouraged Tel Aviv's belligerence towards Tehran or paid any credible attention to the Palestinian cause. As Aruri notes, even his cursory 'concerns' over the settlements have been abandoned to naked appeasement and domestic interests:
"the Obama position started to wane under pressure coming from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which supported Netanyahu at least 100 percent. Basically, Obama knuckled under. He moved from talking about ending the settlements to now praising Netanyahu, the defender of the settlements, for making a contribution to the peace process."

"Most likely, Obama feared that his pressure on Israel would become a domestic issue and cost Democrats support in the upcoming congressional elections. AIPAC demonstrated to him that he couldn't really keep pushing Netanyahu to comply with international law and the global consensus. Obama then capitulated and accepted Netanyahu's preconditions for the current talks."

None of this is being flagged-up by the BBC and other service media. Other basic questions go unstated. Why, most basically, has Washington been accepted as the 'natural' venue for talks rather than the UN, a more obvious place/body through which to conduct such negotiations?

Where is the merest suggestion that the US should not actually be at the table as facilitator/arbiter, but as one of the key factions in the negotiations? Under this more appropriate arrangement, Washington would have to answer for its part in the conflict and offer concessions/assurances on what it can do to effect a just and lasting solution.

And, of course, where is the serious, elementary discussion of why Hamas and all other interested Palestinian parties are not present or seriously represented?

The other vital element left unexplored in this simple 'two entrenched sides' picture is Israel's particular peace-avoidance. Even if a fair venue and the legitimate participants were in place, there remains Israel's resolute rejection of any serious two-state solution.

Aruri again:
"They are not going to agree to let the refugees go back to their homes. And they are not going to agree with full sovereignty and full contiguity for the Palestinian state. So I would not be surprised if they postpone these parts of the discussion. There may be signatures and celebrations, but nothing substantive will take place and nothing that could be described as a diplomatic breakthrough. And the entire process is not set up in the interests of Palestinians."
However, one helpful consequence of this cold reality, notes Aruri, is the welcome reconfiguration of views on how to resolve this 'intractable' situation, giving added momentum to a single or bi-national state:
"In many Palestinian circles, the idea of a single state has gained ground in the past year and a half. At the same time, we find that the idea is gaining ground among the Israeli right wing. This is pretty amazing. Most people have been astonished that the right wing is calling for a single state. But we have to keep in mind that the right wing in Israel has embraced a single state not based on equality.

Their single state would in fact continue the occupation. It would extend the status quo under the name of a single state. On the other side, more and more Palestinians now advocate a single bi-national state with civil equality and the right of Palestinian refugees to return as the only solution. So we have a situation of dueling concepts of a single state."

Which all serves to highlight the important amalgamation taking place between the BDS agenda and those internal forces opposed to Abbas:

"So the BDS movement should grow and prosper because it is going to have more and more support from what seems an opposition that is reforming and trying to reestablish itself inside Palestine. The international BDS movement hopefully will be able to link up with the new opposition expressed in the demonstrations in Ramallah against the talks."

Why are the Guardian and the BBC not exploring these key shifts and potential consequences in their editorials and reports? The possibility of such content on a BBC news programme is seemingly more remote than any just agreement coming out of Washington.


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