Barack Hussein Obama is human. He is also a young and ambitious politician who probably already has his eye on a second presidential term. This may all sound self-evident, but listening to the expectations Americans — and much of the world — have for the new President makes one wonder.
The actions of Israel in Gaza over the past three weeks — as if in a rush to complete their crime against humanity before Obama was sworn into office — seem to indicate that Israel fears their 60-year free-ride with the US may be coming to an end. Israel thus decided to set the terms — in Palestinian blood and the 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 superhero president to come to our salvation.
Compared to the past eight years under President Bush, I can understand the excitement that someone saner will be at the world’s helm. Likewise, a new president who is young, articulate, and able to connect with the masses, a feature long missing from US politics, is 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 is predicated on the separation of powers. The dynamics of each head of power are so complicated, and the divisions between the powers so distinct, that influencing US policy making has become a science: a science that Israel mastered long ago and that 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 60 years. Yet, ever since 1974, the Palestinian leadership has looked to Washington 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, Palestinian leaders continue to reach out to each new US administration as if one day the US will become the neutral mediator we all desire. That day is not going to arrive. Palestinian hopes have not been fulfilled by the 11 US administrations since the creation of the State of Israel, nor will they be by the 12th, President Obama’s.
The US was the first nation to recognise Israel, 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. Israel has since been successful in converting what should be a US foreign affairs issue — how to deal with Israel — into a largely domestic issue: arguably the largest heist in US politics to date. This shift should never be underestimated and its effects can be seen in all 50 states at every political level, from local mayoral elections to the contestation of seats in Congress and the Senate. 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 pro-Israeli lobby.
The inauguration of Barack Obama does not alter 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 in Obama’s ascent to the White House, the time is ripe for Palestinians to play US politics.
The US politics game requires real leadership, real resources, and a sustained institutional effort to engage Americans at the grassroots — the only place where change can start. Such an approach would require more than outsourcing narrow-focused, ego-driven, Palestinian NGOs in DC to fawn over US Administration officials. Linking into the fabric of America, while working to bridge American citizens’ interests into realising a just approach to Palestine, is the most prudent way to support President Obama to lead America to be on the right side of history on this seemingly intractable issue.
During his campaign, President Obama has implored audiences to get involved in making change: "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 addressing them as much he is addressing every American citizen.
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