They all stood, and applauded President Obama, after he delivered a historical speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last month. For many, this must have seemed like the US announcing a change of attitude, and policy towards the Arab world, after showing decades of hostility. The presence of the first black President with Muslim heritage must have enhanced that feeling of optimism in the Arab world. However, the Arabs also know from experience that one should not judge a book by its ‘colour’!
Prior to the Cairo speech, President Obama gave an open invitation to engage Iran diplomatically, also announced his intention to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay and remove the US troops from Iraq. All these maneuvers will be interpreted as Obama pursing a very different route to the previous neo-conservative regime. Whereas the sceptics would argue the US-Israel agenda has remained the same, but only the emphasis or style has altered, relying more on the soft-power rather than hard-power. They would also point out that removing troops from Iraq is a prelude to increasing troops in Afghanistan with the long term objective of planning the break up of Pakistan and removing its nuclear capability.
In the Cairo speech, President Obama outlined his vision for the Middle East peace plan, specifically stating that he expected Israel to lift restrictions on Palestinian movement, and implement an immediate and comprehensive settlement freeze. Many expressed caution because they want to see if Obama can put his words into action. That time has already come with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, refusing to halt expansion of Jewish settlement in predominantly Arab neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.
This refusal comes on the back of creeping Judaization of Palestine, as the Israeli Transport Minister announced recently that signs on all major roads in Israel, including East Jerusalem and possibly parts of the West Bank would be “standardised”, to Hebrew name.
Will this settlement expansion issue be the first test for Obama’s historic speech delivered at Cairo? If so, what are his options? The ‘polite’ request issued by the State Department to halt the expansion, has been casually ignored by Israel. Apart from diplomatic pressure, the US could threaten to reduce or halt the annual economic and military aid, concurrently increase aid to the Arab world. If Israel continues to ignore the US demand or shall we say the demand of the ‘international’ community, the US can call for trade sanctions with threats of military actions through the UN – and for once it would not use the UN veto saving Israel.
If Israel persisted to ignore the UN resolutions, the US could do the unthinkable, and threaten Israel with military actions, as it does frequently with the Arab countries. Of course, that would be too much to expect from Obama or any US President as they all rely on the powerful Zionist lobby, and the Christian-Zionists to attain power in the first place.
In terms of lifting restrictions on the Palestinians, the walls and barriers remain in place, with the inhumane siege of Gaza.
Forcing Israel to freeze settlement, lifting the siege and restrictions on the Palestinians will be important tests for President Obama; if he fails, then it is highly unlikely he will be able to proceed to pass the big test of implementing the two-state solution that has gained currency over the years.
It is unlikely that President Obama can break free from the Zionist shackles, and become an honest broker in the Middle East. Israel will continue on its track to remove all traces of the Muslim heritage, which includes the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Concurrently, Israel will continue to expect further concession from the Palestinians or it will create further barriers and offer to remove them as ‘concessions’. All the indicators suggest that the Cairo speech will prove to be empty rhetoric!