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Originally published at Tikkun Daily |

At President Obama's United Nations General Assembly address today, much attention was paid to his overtures toward Iran. However, his pointed comments directed toward Israel – which placed resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on equal footing with Iran – were just as significant.

Obama made clear this equal footing when from a foreign policy perspective when he said:

In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab- Israeli conflict.
When Obama came to the topic of Israel and Palestine, he first affirmed both people's right to exist in secure, self-determining states. Then, he turned the speech personal:
Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just and possible. And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.

[...]

On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah, whose ambition and incredible potential are matched by the pain they feel and having no firm place in the community of nations.

They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they, too, recognize that two states is the only real path to peace. Because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

Some conservatives were apoplectic at Obama's mention of the word 'occupation,' as if in uttering it, he had betrayed Israel in ways a true ally would not do.

However, it's the word Obama did not say that was actually significant. For as the President implored the world community to join the push for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Obama failed to mention the one word that is an obstacle to such peace more than anything: settlements.

It was heartening to hear Obama's words today at the UNGA. However, they will remain just words if America continues to enable Israel's self-destructive drive to gobble up all of the West Bank. See, the United States is the only country capable of compelling Israel to stop expanding its settlements and the appropriation of Palestinian land – a land that has become so bifurcated and segmented already as to make the formation of a state nearly impossible.

It is the United States which, as Israel has continued its illegal settlement enterprise anchoring the occupation, has continued to give Israel $3 billion annually.

I applaud Obama's words today. But if Obama truly wants to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine, his administration will have to start by wielding the incredible influence it has over Israel in direct and clear ways.

Otherwise, Obama's speech will end up being just another speech.

                                                             --§--

What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, now out from Oneworld Publications.


Originally posted to David Harris-Gershon (The Troubadour) on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 04:17 PM PDT.

Also republished by Writing by David Harris Gershon and Adalah — A Just Middle East.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (44+ / 0-)

    "If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered anti-Semitic, & if Palestinians seeking self-determination are so accused...then no oppositional move can take place w/o risking the accusation." - Judith Butler

    by David Harris Gershon on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 04:17:07 PM PDT

  •  It would be even nicer (24+ / 0-)

    ... if Obama had recognized the parallel truth that the maintenance of worldwide empire is tearing at the democratic fabric of the American state.  

    But it's a start.  Militarism and corporatism are the mortal enemies of democracy.

    We have always been at war with al Qaeda.

    by Dallasdoc on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 04:20:15 PM PDT

  •  Well this was from March of this year: (5+ / 0-)

    http://warnewsupdates.blogspot.com/...

    It's amusing that the main reason Israel would have to fear a cut in aid would be the sequester...

    "it makes no difference which one of us you vote for. Either way your planet is doomed. Doomed!" -- Kang

    by Cassiodorus on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 04:27:07 PM PDT

  •  Empty words (8+ / 0-)

    He has the power to stop the expansion of the illegal settlements by visiting consequences on Israel such as by partially withholding aid.  Actions speak louder than words.

    "When dealing with terrorism, civil and human rights are not applicable." Egyptian military spokesman.

    by Paleo on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 04:33:32 PM PDT

    •  Hell, he could just limit which weapons (8+ / 0-)

      we'll sell them.

      "But the traitors will pretend / that it's gettin' near the end / when it's beginning" P. Ochs

      by JesseCW on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 04:35:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I noted the exact same thing in the article -- (9+ / 0-)

      -- that such words will be empty if nothing changes:

      It was heartening to hear Obama's words today at the UNGA. However, they will remain just words if America continues to enable Israel's self-destructive drive to gobble up all of the West Bank. See, the United States is the only country capable of compelling Israel to stop expanding its settlements and the appropriation of Palestinian land – a land that has become so bifurcated and segmented already as to make the formation of a state nearly impossible.

      It is the United States which, as Israel has continued its illegal settlement enterprise anchoring the occupation, has continued to give Israel $3 billion annually.

      I applaud Obama's words today. But if Obama truly wants to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine, his administration will have to start by wielding the incredible influence it has over Israel in direct and clear ways.

      Otherwise, Obama's speech will end up being just another speech.

      "If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered anti-Semitic, & if Palestinians seeking self-determination are so accused...then no oppositional move can take place w/o risking the accusation." - Judith Butler

      by David Harris Gershon on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 04:37:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Words are important and are often the basis for (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        poco, whizdom, snowwoman

        action.

        A few thoughts:

        1) Obama's reference to the occupation was not lost on the Israeli leadership nor its citizens.  After recently roughing up the EU diplomats and the on-going EU boycott, a US President introducing the occupation into his talk on Iran must cause the Israelis serious concerns.

        2) There is not a real difference between the word "settlements" and the word "occupation".   However, had Obama spoke forcefully about maintaining the internationally recognized Green Line it would have represented a significant shift for the US.  Unfortunately, this did not occur - maybe next time.

        3)  A deescalation of tension with Iran will help set the stage for addressing the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis.  

        As always I very much appreciate your diaries.

    •  But first you must speak the words. (0+ / 0-)

      Which American Presidents simply have not done.

      If you hate government, don't run for office in that government.

      by Bensdad on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 05:26:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Peter Beinart wrote an interesting piece (16+ / 0-)

    in this months NYRB which describes how insular media, social and cultural norms keep American Jews from being exposed to he reality of the conditions Palestinians have to put up with.

    Speak to American Jews long enough about Israel and you begin to notice something. The conversation may begin with Israel, but it rarely ends there. It usually ends with “them.”

    Express concern about Israeli subsidies for West Bank settlements and you’ll be told that the settlements don’t matter because “they” won’t accept Israel within any borders. Cite the recent warning by former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin that “over the past 10–15 years Israel has become more and more racist” and you’ll be told that whatever Israel’s imperfections, it is “they” who teach their children to hate and kill. Mention that former prime minister Ehud Olmert has called Mahmoud Abbas a partner for peace and you’ll be told that what “they” say in Arabic is different from what they say in English.

    *  *  *
    This lack of familiarity with Palestinian life also inclines many in the organized American Jewish world to assume that Palestinian anger toward Israel must be a product solely of Palestinian pathology. Rare is the American Jewish discussion of Israel that does not include some reference to the textbooks and television programs that “teach Palestinians to hate.” These charges have some merit. Palestinian schools and media do traffic in anti-Semitism and promote violence. Still, what’s often glaringly absent from the American Jewish discussion of Palestinian hatred is any recognition that some of it might stem not from what Palestinians read or hear about the Jewish state, but from the way they interact with it in their daily lives.
    Beinart's piece has some drawbacks but overall it's pretty good.
    •  While Beinart didn't say anything new for those (11+ / 0-)

      within the progressive Jewish community, his piece was a watershed of sorts.

      It was also brilliantly placed. Just days before Rosh Hashana, when most Jews would be in synagogue, and most Rabbis would have been looking for a sermon to give.

      This piece got a lot of Jews talking, for sure.

      "If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered anti-Semitic, & if Palestinians seeking self-determination are so accused...then no oppositional move can take place w/o risking the accusation." - Judith Butler

      by David Harris Gershon on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 04:50:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's a fair point. (4+ / 0-)

      I do fall into a similar patern very frequently, I admit.

      Often these discussion points are brought up in response to equally one-sided comments attacking Israel.  I try to maintain a balanced position after weighing the different interests and complaints of both Israelis and Palestinians and which side I get accused of championing, interestingly enough, is often a function of what sort of crowd I'm in when I'm speaking.  If I find myself amongst the right-wingers (it happens at times), I find myself spending most of an I/P discussion pushing back against absolute support for Israel and complete displacement of Palestinians and other such unconcionable acts.  I spend a lot more of my time however amongst leftists and find myself having to push back against similarly thought out anti-Israel positions.  Both have a tendency to forget about the various immoral acts of the side they support.  I often try to balance that out to help give a more complete picture, but when the crowd already knows every attrocity "they" commited, you get called some mean names when you remind folks about "our" attrocities as well.

      "There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes. - James Morrow

      by kirrix on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 05:29:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've heard about that isolation phenomenon (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AoT, JesseCW, Dartagnan, snowwoman

      from my parents (my father in his days as a Quaker bigshot visited Ramallah Friends School several times). People in Israel think it's incredibly difficult and dangerous to visit Palestine, and are shocked to hear that you can just take a cab.

      It also occurs to me that you could find an awful lot of textbooks and television programs that “teach Americans to hate” Muslims. Yet somehow we don't think that makes it okay for Muslims to consider us all barbarians. Goose/Gander Sauce Equivalence Theorem, Q.E.D.

      Code Monkey like freedom / Code Monkey like peace and justice too
      Code Monkey very nerdy man / With big warm fuzzy bleeding heart
      Code Monkey like you!

      Formerly known as Jyrinx.

      by Code Monkey on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 05:54:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  not to mention the ghetto called Gaza (6+ / 0-)
    the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 04:51:08 PM PDT

  •  How anyone can call themselves a liberal (8+ / 0-)

    yet tolerate what Israelis are doing to Palestinians in the West Bank is beyond me. The open bigotry and complete de-huminazation of Palestinians that's displayed by the IDF is eerily reminiscent of the worst of Jim Crow.  

    If any other country was doing this we would rightfully call them a pariah state. What makes this even more unacceptable is that in Abbas and Fayad the PA brought us the most moderate, the most peaceful, and the most patient leadership we could possibly accept. Palestinians in the West Bank have been on their best behavior while building local institutions...and all they got for it was the world proceeding to ignore their suffering.

  •  Rather than "democratic fabric", I would say (8+ / 0-)

    "democratic façade".

    And yes, we need more than words, we need action.

    Just nine nations voted against the Palestinian Authority's upgrade to nonvoting observer state status, which passed the General Assembly 138-9, with 41 abstentions.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...
    The US was one of the 9 voting against. :-(

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature. If I had Bill Gates money, I'd buy Detroit.

    by ZenTrainer on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 05:12:15 PM PDT

    •  The US position is still that Palestinians have (5+ / 0-)

      no fundamental rights, but that maybe it would be nice to grant them something similar to statehood if they behave and do what they're told.

      If Israel agrees, of course, since everyone knows that it's rightfully up to Israel to decide which privileges Palestinians ought to be granted.

      "But the traitors will pretend / that it's gettin' near the end / when it's beginning" P. Ochs

      by JesseCW on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 06:01:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It couldn't hurt to bring them into the (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Smoh, Code Monkey, JesseCW, Celtic Merlin, poco

    international nuclear framework as well. Everyone knows they have nuclear weapons. It could go a long way toward improving relations in the region. I'm not holding my breath on that. Or any real action. I hope I'm wrong.

  •  I can't wait to watch the entire speach. (0+ / 0-)

    No time tonight... NCIS is on. lol

    Please pretend that I don't give a shit.

    by Jim Riggs on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 05:16:05 PM PDT

  •  All carrots and no sticks (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Celtic Merlin, JesseCW, Brecht, oslyn7, AoT

    I don't expect to see much out of O and Kerry's efforts on this issue because the administration's policy toward Israel is all carrots and no sticks. The U.S. has a policy of guaranteeing that Israel has a QME (qualitative military edge) in the region, and it is one of the largest recipients of military aid from the U.S. Israel is not a poor country and can fund its own security, but the American taxpayer has to give it money anyway.

    The U.S. has had a stated policy against the expansion of settlements, but Bibi can violate that with impunity--even going so far as to do so when American officials are visiting. Bibi knows he can get away with whatever he wants because Obama is not willing to take away anything. The administration, consequently, just serves as an enabler.

    Even further, the easy way to tell that Bibi is not a serious "partner for peace," besides his manichean worldview, relentless warmongering, and not-subtle racism and xenophobia, is the fact that the coalition government would collapse if any good-faith effort were made to negotiate a two-state solution. Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu would have none of that, and I'm sure Likud wouldn't either. Lapid's so-called "centrist" party might not like it much either. Labour backed away from the issue but would probably support it. Meretz would. Livni's self-created party would, depending on terms. If elections were called, though, and the Jewish-Israeli parties maintain their longstanding refusal to form a coalition government with the Arab-Israeli parties. I think Rabin is the only one who actually governed with a coalition that included Arab-Israeli parties.

    •  I liked their take on this sort of thing... (0+ / 0-)

      "The war on drugs followed by the war on terror has eliminated protections we have had since the Magna Carta." -Horace Boothroyd III

      by mookins on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 06:36:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You don't know the HALF of it, my friend. (4+ / 0-)
      Even further, the easy way to tell that Bibi is not a serious "partner for peace," besides his manichean worldview, relentless warmongering . . .
      Here - read THIS LOVELY PIECE published just 5 days ago in the Jerusalem Post about the Israelis being any kind of "partner for peace".  The title is Armed And Ready To Fight and the subtitle is sickening:

      "Deputy Defense Minister and president of the Likud convention and chairman of the Likud central committee Danny Danon is focused on stopping the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, whether in permanent or temporary borders."

      This dork holds real power in Netanyahu's own party.  Remember that man's name.  He shares with BennyNet the dream of "Greater Israel" - which extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  The article even uses the terms "Judea" and "Samaria" to refer to the West Bank - terms that the settlers colonists use to describe Palestinian land as though it were already part of Israel.

      Israel is no partner for peace under the current Likud-led government and with those right-wing radicals in power, it never will be.

      Celtic Merlin
      Carlinist

      Struggle with dignity against injustice. IS there anything more honorable that a person can do?

      by Celtic Merlin on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 06:36:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The settlements are the key. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whizdom, snowwoman

    I'm absolutely amazed when I hear that Israel continues to build settlements.  It makes me question whether they are serious about peace.  If, however, Israel insists on claiming the West Bank and Gaza it should go all the way and treat ALL inhabitants thereof as full Israeli citizens with the rights pertaining to that status.

    I've actually thought for awhile that one state might be more feasible since two states requires a split Palestine which both sides might object to.  The model could be the UK where the WB and Gaza have some devolved powers like Scotland and Wales, but Israel would be responsible for defense.  However, this arrangement would require representation in the Knesset and lifting the restrictions on travel, etc. which render Palestinians prisoners in their own country.

  •  Actual value of all aid in excess of 3 billion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    snowwoman

    per year. Israel receives about a third of all US foreign aid, despite being a country with less land area than Hong Kong and containing just .001 percent of the world's population, and despite having the world's 16th highest per capita income.

    On top of the $3 billion in direct aid, there is a substantial amount in indirect aid. Israel is the only foreign country that the U.S. allows tax deductible contributions--over a billion a year, plus another half billion in Israeli bonds are purchased by Americans.

    It is against U.S. law for our government to provide aid to countries with persistent human rights or international law violations; both categories in which Israel has long been perennial offenders.  

    •  Update (0+ / 0-)

      Just in: "The United States signed a U.N. Arms Trade Treaty regulating the $70 billion global trade in conventional arms on Wednesday... The treaty, which relates only to cross-border trade and aims to keep weapons out of the hands of human rights abusers and criminals, still requires ratification by the U.S. Senate..."

      Any bets this treaty does nothing to deter the administration from selling weapons to countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia, or continuing to supply Syrian extremists in their civil war?

  •  Unfortunately, Obama is wrong w.r.t "growing recog (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    callmecassandra

    -nition.

    In fact, I heard the speech summarized in the nightly news of Israel's military radio station (which is the very popular among the young, playing contemporary music etc.)

    They quoted it as "the so-called Occupation".

    So much for "growing recognition". In fact, arguably the opposite is happening. Most Israelis might be ok with some sort of two-state deal, just to get all the "pests" (whether the Palestinians or those foreign governments demanding something is done) out of their hair.

    But by now the vast majority of Jewish Israelis are truly clueless about the Occupation in our back yard. And couldn't care less, either.

    The other day, I published a blog-post in Hebrew showing that Israel's most dramatic growth, arguably its critical jump into the fold of wealthy nations, occurred during the years 1967-1973, several of which saw double-digit growth rates.

    It was easy to attribute this spurt to the set-up of the Occupation which took place precisely then. Most prominently, the harnessing of cheap and productive Palestinian day labor.

    There were quite a few angry comments, not from wingnuts but from centrist and even liberal economist-types, who got very busy denying reality on its face.

    This is where things stand, this is what brings people to vote for vacuous jerks like Bibi and his finance minister Lapid, and this is why the Labor party leader didn't dare bring up the Occupation during the last election campaign.

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