Clearly emboldened by his recent electoral victory, Barack Obama has embarked on a radical and historic change of direction regarding America’s relationship with Israel. During a state visit to Thailand this weekend, the president called on Israel to halt what he called a ‘gratuitous and murderous assault’ on the Gaza Strip.
Obama dismissed Israel’s claims that it was acting in self-defence, and accused Israel of having deliberately provoked the latest confrontation, and engaging in the ‘collective punishment’ of a ‘defenceless’ civilian population.
He rejected claims by the Israeli government that Palestinian civilian deaths were due to the use of ‘human shields’ by Hamas fighters. Though Obama condemned Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups for firing missiles at Israeli civilian targets, he placed primary responsibility for the conflict on Israel itself. ‘ Given Israel’s continued domination of the Gaza Strip even after its 2005 disengagement, the idea it is acting out of self-defence is meaningless,’ the president declared.
Obama insisted that the Palestinians of Gaza also had ‘ a right to security, hope and human dignity’ and demanded that Israel immediately halt all military activities, end its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, and enter into direct negotiations with Hamas under international supervision in order to bring about a ‘ a lasting cessation of hostilities’ as a precursor to a more permanent peace.
For the first time in American history, Obama warned the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US would halt all military and economic aid to Israel if it did not stop what he called its ‘unconscionable and gratuitous assault’ in Gaza. The president also announced that he would be convening an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to consider a coordinated international response to the Gaza crisis.
Though Obama did not explicitly call for military action in Gaza, he warned that ‘all options were on the table’ if Israel did not conform to the will of the international community. Asked what these options might be, Obama suggested that they could include the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force between Gaza and Israel, the establishment of a ‘humanitarian corridor’ at the Gaza-Egypt border and the transformation of the Gaza Strip into a no fly zone under UN jurisdiction.
Clearly determined to continue the same moral foreign policy agenda that characterized his first term in office, Obama warned that ‘America cannot stand idly by’ in the face of a ‘massacre’ that ‘stains the world’s conscience’.
Except readers, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, none of this actually took place. Though Obama was indeed in Thailand, this is what he actually said:
‘Let’s understand that the precipitating event here … was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.’
In consequence Obama was ‘fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself’. The Peace Laureate nevertheless insisted that he would ‘prefer’ not to see ‘a ramping up of military activity in Gaza.’
And who did the president blame for this ‘ramping up’? Not Israel, but Turkey and Egypt, whose governments have both condemned the Israeli assault. Wise and statesmanlike as always, Obama warned that
‘those who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognise that if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza then the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future.’
So there you have it; Israel must keep bombing Gaza in order to bring the Palestinians back on a ‘peace track.’ Countries that criticise the bombing and call for it to stop are responsible for bringing about a ‘further escalation’ of the ‘situation’ in Gaza.
Which only goes to prove that the president is either a fool, a liar or a coward, or perhaps a combination of all three. And whichever it is, such statements are a grim reminder of why Israel continues to believe – with good reason – that it can do whatever it likes.
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