The spectacle of an American sucking up to an Israeli Prime Minister is familiar but no less sickening every time it happens. Not since Eisenhower has an American president had the guts to stand up to Israel. With this single exception, all of them have fallen over in their haste to give Israel whatever it wants and to hold it responsible for nothing, not even the murder of its own citizens. The recent meeting between Barack Obama, effectively apologising because his middle name is Hussein, and Benyamin Netanyahu surely marks the lowest point in this sick relationship. Obama has now thrown in the towel. That is what the White House meeting represented. He talked of a peace process which does not exist and Israeli ‘concessions’ which have never been made. Obama wants the non-existent peace process to be resumed with a Palestinian government that is not the Palestinian government and a Palestinian president who is not the president.
Everyone can see that the emperor is wearing not new clothes but no clothes. Can Obama see it himself? Almost certainly. He is a highly intelligent man, but with midterm elections coming up in November this is what he feels he has to say to appease the Israeli lobby. He has thereby gone the way of all American presidents with that single exception of Eisenhower. He has turned himself into a straw man before our eyes.
The Obama who last year demanded a halt to all Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank and occupied Jerusalem is now a figure of history. He had his moment and he did not have the backbone to stand up for his declared convictions. Netanyahu went back to Israel and thumbed his nose at him. Obama challenged Netanyahu, then backed off and has now surrendered obsequiously. It is a sad moment for the United States, and another disastrous moment for the Palestinians and the Middle East and perhaps even for the world.
The Obama who spoke when in Cairo last year of a ‘new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world’ has been revealed as an eloquent windbag. The war on Afghanistan has been accelerated and with it the deaths of more civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The President who declared that ‘we will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own’ has done just that.
Obama’s refusal to heed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s repeated calls for an international inquiry into the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla is part and parcel of his collapse before the perceived might of the Israeli lobby. The flotilla was surrounded by a ring of 30 Zodiac fast boats, each carrying ten to 15 heavily armed representatives of the state of Israel. Beyond this inner ring stood four warships and two submarines, with three helicopters circling overhead, yet it was Israel which claimed it was attacked. The Israelis were shooting as they boarded the Mavi Marmara and they were shooting to kill and not to disable. The attack was launched in international waters. Of the nine passengers killed, one was a Turkish-American. The captain of the Mavi Marmara was forced to steer the ship towards the coast of occupied Palestine. Hundreds of passengers were abducted and ‘detained’. All their possessions, including passports, credit cards, mobile phones and camera equipment were taken from them. Illegal use has since been made of their stolen credit cards.
None of this was enough to make Obama heed calls for an international inquiry but then the US government did nothing when 34 of its sailors were killed in the attack on the USS Liberty in 1967, did nothing when Rachel Corrie was murdered by bulldozer and did nothing more recently when a Israeli border policeman fired a tear gas canister at a young American woman on the occupied West Bank and blinded her in one eye. As John Mearsheimer told an audience of Americans recently, any of them could go to Israel and be killed there and the US would do nothing.
But the attack on the Mavi Marmara does matter to its passengers, to the families of the nine men who were murdered, to the Turkish government and the Turkish people and to the ‘Muslims around the world’ Obama addressed in Cairo. What kind of message does Obama think he is sending out to the world by failing to condemn the murder and kidnapping of Muslims by Israel on the high seas (the Israelis targeted only Turks and not passengers of European or American appearance)? The message received yet again is that Israel literally has been given a license to kill by the US government, whenever and whomever it wants.
Turkey has told Israel that it either apologizes and pays compensation or it agrees to a proper international inquiry. The response from Netanyahu and Lieberman has been abusive. Turkey has done its best to play a bridging role in the Middle East in line with its policy of ‘zero problems’ on its borders. With a state like Israel this is impossible unless Turkey is to follow the example of Arab governments and do nothing. Turkey is already downgrading relations with Israel. The end point of this process may be the suspension of relations or their calibrated reduction to a bare minimum. It is a sign of the madness gripping Israel that it should now have picked a fight with the only country in the Middle East with which it had amicable relations and indeed a strategic working relationship. Obama has backed down but the message coming out of Ankara is that Turkey will not.
- Jeremy Salt is associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Previously, he taught at Bosporus University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne in the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. Professor Salt has written many articles on Middle East issues, particularly Palestine, and was a journalist for The Age newspaper when he lived in Melbourne.
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