The truth remains that without Arab-Americans trying to change domestic policy and working together to establish an Arab lobby with a popular base representing Arab interests in the United States, Arab influence over American policy will remain limited.
In Barack Obama’s speech on American policy in the Middle East, he tried to satisfy the Arab people by speaking about freedom, democracy and the United States’ support for the popular forces striving for democracy in the Middle East; he also made assurances that America would support these aspirations and the plan for change in the Arab states. This speech echoed his address in Egypt, in which he promised Arabs and Muslims that America’s policy toward them would change. In this speech, Obama surprised some by raising the Palestinian issue, clearly announcing his support for a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967 borders, something that no American president has ever done before. However, this effort to satisfy the Arab people did not please the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was among the first to comment on this speech when he announced that he rejected a return to 1967 borders, because Israel wouldn’t be safe within them.
Similarly, the official and unofficial Israeli reaction to Obama’s suggestion to return to the pre-war borders was predominately anger. Israeli ministers and their supporters in the United States launched a fierce campaign against President Obama, urging him to retract his statements. Prime Minister Netanyahu made the Israeli government’s peace strategy clear in a speech when he said that he wanted all Palestinian factions to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state before entering into negotiations. He also stated that the fundamental conditions for beginning the peace process would be to for Palestine to relinquish the right of return and have no army. And at the same time that the Israeli government imposed all these conditions on the Palestinians, they demanded the Palestinians come to the negotiating table without any preconditions and rejected consideration of the 1967 borders as fundamental to the negotiations.
This Israeli intransigence forced the Palestinians to believe that negotiations with the current Israeli government would not lead to an agreement that would lead to a Palestinian state. Even Israeli opposition forces, such as Saul Mofaz, former Israeli minister of defense, and Tzipi Livni, former minister of foreign affairs, spoke about their lack of faith that Netanyahu wanted to arrive at a peace agreement leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. In her speech in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Israeli lobby in America, Livni explained how Israel’s security didn’t depend on control over the West Bank but on peace, and that peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state was in the common interest of both Palestinians and Israelis.
Despite Palestinians’ joy in Obama’s words — the first he expressed in support for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders — his demand that they cease their efforts with the United Nations was a disappointment. Obama’s failure to link the freedom revolutions in Arab states with the popular Palestinian movement was similarly unwelcome to Palestinians. There is no difference between the peaceful popular movement in Egypt, which ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, and the popular Palestinian movement demanding an end to the occupation of Palestine. In spite of this, Palestinians announced their willingness to enter into negotiations with Israel when they accepted the 1967 borders as fundamental to the negotiations. They called on Netanyahu to accept the essential guidelines of Obama’s speech in order to return to negotiations, which Netanyahu rejected categorically. This is the latest proof of Palestinians’ desire to reach a final agreement at the hands of President Abbas that is based on the principles announced by French President Sarkozy —as a foundation of the negotiations — without any serious response from the Israeli government.
When Obama announced that he would speak before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Palestinians expected that the president would change his tone toward Israel, and indeed his words were somewhat different. Obama reiterated his support for Israel, his commitment to its security, and that the relationship between the two states was unwavering. He also explained what he meant by the 1967 borders: He didn’t mean that Israel must return to the exact borders, but that the new borders would be slightly different on the basis of equal exchange of territory. Obama succeeded in absorbing the anger of the Israeli right and earning the support of many of those present at the AIPAC conference, even to the point that some members of Israel’s Likud party described his speech as a diplomatic victory for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Some of them went so far as to say that the speech was proof that Obama was complying with Netanyahu’s dictates.
Netanyahu realized that Obama had already entered the 2012 election battle, which constrains his foreign policy toward Israel and will prevent him from pressuring Netanyahu to the same degree. The Republican Party’s request that Netanyahu speak before Congress is a part of this election battle, in which the Republicans want to win over the Jewish community, 70 percent or more of which votes for Republicans. They also want to convince other Jewish donors to stop supporting Democrats and transfer their support to Republicans. But the pressure Obama is facing is not from Republicans alone, but also from Democrats concerned about the loss of their supporters among the Jewish minority. The warm reception that Netanyahu received is cause for interest — even Danny Danon, a member of the Knesset from the Likud party, called for Netanyahu to run against Obama in the American elections as a representative of the Republican Party rejecting Obama’s policy in Israel.
The truth remains that without Arab-Americans trying to change domestic policy and working together to establish an Arab lobby with a popular base representing Arab interests in the United States, Arab influence over American policy will remain limited. Despite the fact that many Arabs have achieved positions of power in America and accumulated great wealth, unlike the Jewish minority, they do not care to use their positions or money to influence domestic or foreign policy, as guaranteed by American law. Perhaps after the democratic changes in the Arab world, some Arab-Americans will begin to rearrange their files and decide to enter the field of political influence in the United States.
By Aziz Abu Sara
Translated By Maggie Proctor
7 June 2011
Edited by Heidi Kaufmann
Palestine – Al Quds – Original Article (Arabic)