Pro-Israel? Or pro-Palestinian? What will be Obama’s legacy?
Many Arabs believed newly elected President Barack Obama would re-balance America’s heavily pro-Israel foreign policy, including establishing a Palestinian State.
In fact Obama didn’t disappoint Arab world or Palestinian expectations when he embraced Palestinian rights and acknowledged Palestinian “suffering” during an unprecedented speech in Cairo six months after winning election in November 2008.
Seven years later, though, Obama found himself in the ruins of the two-state solution, doing what his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton did as his term ended, currying Israeli forgiveness to strengthen his post-White House legacy.
Clinton spent his entire eight years nurturing Palestinian-Israeli peace only to watch it vanish.
In 1993, Clinton convinced Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with PLO leader Yasir Arafat. It was a spectacular moment that I personally witnessed at the White House with the naïve hope it would end decades of American anti-Palestinian bias.
Clinton blamed Palestinians for the failure of the 2000 Camp David peace process and before leaving office gave Israel a record $3.12 billion in aid.
What a trophy it would be for any President to finally resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. But how to off-set the cost of failure?
After peace failed, both presidents did an about-face at the end of their terms after pressuring Israel.
It is disappointing to see both presidents do the same thing, fight for Palestinian rights for much of their years, and in failure, take the safe route out by showering Israel with support.
At the end of his term in 2000, Clinton tried to force Palestinian President Yasir Arafat to accept a flawed peace accord that was drafted in private meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack by Dennis Ross, who years later acknowledged he is a Zionist with his allegiance to Israel’s interests. Arafat was justifiably skeptical in going to Camp David in July 2000. The Wye River agreements signed by Arafat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spelled out specific actions that Israel was to take, but Israel never took, including withdrawal and the release of prisoners.
After being elected to replace Netanyahu in 1999, Barak was desperate to achieve a peace accord acceptable to Israelis but not to appear too conciliatory to the Palestinians. As a consequence, Barak only met face-to-face with Arafat twice, including only one time during the so-called Camp David “negotiations.” Camp David wasn’t a negotiation at all, but a dictate from Barak in consultation with Clinton and delivered to Arafat by Ross.
Ross conferred with Barak and Clinton to deliver a “peace plan” that Israelis would accept in the hopes of strengthening Barak’s chances for political survival. The plan relegated Palestinians to a state that would remain managed by Israeli soldiers in three buntastans, allow Palestinian “custody” of Muslim Holy sites in East Jerusalem, but refused to take the Palestinian refugees Right of Return seriously.
With Arafat’s rejection of the dictate, Barak’s government collapsed and in the new elections in 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister. Sharon had used violence to raise the apprehensions of Israelis provoking Palestinians by visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Surrounded by army of police and soldiers, Sharon declared the compound would always remain in “Jewish” hands..
Clinton left office without achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It was a peace Clinton needed almost as much as Israelis and Palestinians. In January 1999, Clinton was accused of having sex with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, at the White House over a period of several years during his first and second terms in office.
Congress impeached Clinton but the Senate declined to indict him, even though he repeatedly lied to the public claiming he never had “sexual relations” with Lewinsky. A peace accord might have wash away that stain from his legacy.
Obama walked into the Middle East abyss with his eyes wide open and with the power of a strong mandate from the American people to do what he wanted.
Delivering a powerful speech in Cairo to the Arab world, months after being sworn in as the 44th American president, Obama expressed passionate sympathy for Palestinians who “suffered in pursuit of a homeland.” Declared Obama, “The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”
Hearing Obama deliver the Cairo speech in June 2009 was as powerful as watching Rabin and Arafat shake hands in 1993. The declaration rankled Israel, fueling a long-running battle that hit a record low in 2012 when Netanyahu all but endorsed Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
With three months remaining in his term as the world’s most powerful leader, Obama gave Israel the largest military aid package in US history, $38 billion ($3.8 billion a year) over 10 years.. It’s a steep price to enhance his pro-Israel legacy.
Ray Hanania is an award winning American Palestinian writer based in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected]