Barack Hussein Obama is human–he is also a young and ambitious politician that likely already has his eye on a second presidential term. This all may sound self-evident, but listening to the expectations Americans–and much of the world–have for him makes one wonder.
Seeing what Israel did in Gaza over the past three weeks–as if in a rush to complete their crime against humanity before President-elect Obama is sworn into office–seems to indicate that Israel is fearful that their 60-year free-ride with the US may be coming to an end. Thus, Israel decided to set the terms–in Palestinian blood and destruction of Gaza–of their relationship with the Obama Administration. On the other hand, listening to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah building up hopes that this US president is going to come to their rescue makes one sick to the stomach, yet again. For sure, President Obama is making history by being the first African American president, but as far as the Palestinian issue is concerned, all would be well-advised to look deeper into how US government policy is formulated before expecting a superman-like US president to come to our salvation.
Compared with the past eight years of President Bush, I can understand the excitement that someone saner will be at the world’s helm. Likewise, having a new president who is young, articulate, and able to connect with the masses is a feature long missing from US politics and bound to create a buzz in America and abroad. However, in the excitement of the moment, people are forgetting that US policy formulation has little to do with the likeability of the person sitting in the Oval Office. The US model of democracy has a deep separation of powers. The dynamics of each power are so complicated, and the divisions between the powers so distinct, influencing US policy making has become a science–a science that Israel has mastered long ago and the Palestinians refuse to engage.
The Palestinian people have been on the receiving end of the US-armed- and-financed Israeli military machine for over sixty years. Yet, ever since 1974 the Palestinian leadership has looked toward Washington D.C. for justice to be served. Instead of understanding and accepting that the US has long ago taken the Israeli side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many Palestinian leaders continue to reach out to every incoming US administration as if one day the US will wake up to be the neutral mediator we all desire. That day is not coming–it has not come with eleven US administrations since the creation of the State of Israel, nor will it come with the twelfth, President Obama’s.
Since its first 11 minutes of existence, Israel pulled off the largest heist in US politics to date; they were successful in converting what should be a US foreign affairs issue–how to deal with Israel–into a largely domestic issue. This shift should never be underestimated and can be seen in all 50 states, whether you are running to be a US mayor, congressperson, or senator. In each such case, and in many more, candidates and appointees across the US are brought to task to register their blind and inviolable support for Israel and everything Israel does, or otherwise be forced to compete with the well- oiled, ruthless pro-Israeli lobby.
Barack Obama becoming President does not change the basic political foundations of the institution called the United States of America. However, given the renewed political interest and involvement of millions of Americans due to Obama’s descent on the Whitehouse, time is ripe for Palestinians to finally play US politics. The US politics game requires real leadership, real resources, and a sustained institutional effort to engage America from the grassroots–the only place where change can start to be made. Such an approach would require more than outsourcing narrow-focused, ego-driven, Palestinian-run non-governmental organizations in D.C. to fawn US administration officials. Understanding and linking into the fabric of America, while working to bridge American citizens’ interests into realizing a just approach to Palestine, is the most prudent way to support President Obama to lead America to be on the right (as in correct, not politically right) side of history on this seemingly intractable issue.
President-elect Obama’s website starts with a quote by him saying: “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours.” Let’s hope the Palestinian leadership understands that he is talking to them as much as to every American citizen.
First published by the Bitterlemons