Friday, May 20, 2011

Two Cheers

A Guest Post by SM

Obama's speech about the Middle East is an interesting mixture. He was plainly concerned to position America on the side of the masses who have brought about the "Arab Spring". There was a bit of work to do there: America had got behind the curb on Egypt (Kissinger popped up in the British press last week, suggesting that the USA should have maintained its support for Mubarak), gone in heavy on Libya, not been able to match that response when it came to Syria, kept quiet about Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and been dismayed (aren't we all?) that it hasn't really taken in Iran.

All of that means little. Sanctions on regimes the US already dislikes; violence on those that everyone dislikes. Silence on those who the West regard as allies. No one will or can make a move until two things are clear: firstly, whether this really is the masses and secondly what they want to do with the power they have acquired.

Obviously one of the concerns is that the new governments will be less friendly to the US - whose money may be necessary for aid, but no longer required to enable a regime to impose a security operation on a whole country with the one aim of propping itself up. And the US may find that it needs to aid those countries anyway and that the new governments are not quite so biddable on the political front. It seems unlikely - for the immediate future anyway - that these countries are going to be any more friendly to Israel, and they may be less so. The effect of 60 years plus of anti-Semitic education isn't going to go away in the blink of an eye.

But if these countries do move towards democracy what of the rationale for America's support of Israel?

The emphasis on a fair solution, granting the Palestinians what has been granted the Jews, is an obvious answer and is nothing new. The identification of the 1967 borders has been greeted in Europe as a significant shift. It is nothing of the kind and the emphasis on it where I live, simply reflects the media's anti-Israel stance.

The significance seems to me to lie in the express recognition of land swaps as the way forward. That recognises reality on the ground - created by the Israeli policy of settlement - and will not, therefore, please the Palestinians. It also opens the door to discussion of the transfer of parts of Israel proper to a new Palestinian state. Not only will that be anathema to the Israeli right, but it is something that I think we should all regard with concern. It does not assist Israel to be a tolerant and decent society to make sure that its Arab minority is even smaller and that complaints about their treatment can be met with an invitation to move to a different country. Lieberman is a racist and any suggestion endorsing his opinion has something wrong with it.

However, in its willingness to confront the issue - albeit late, unenthusiastically and forced by circumstances - and in its refusal to recognise a unilateral declaration of independence, which would merely be an excuse to avoid negotiating with Israel and dealing with the problems posed by Hamas' rejectionism, the speech is a move in the right direction.

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