Saturday, September 24, 2011

Is America An Exemplar Of Democracy Or A Hypocrite?

Using its veto like a bully, the US is penalising the Palestinians for acting independently
By Fawaz Turki
Even a big power can be delusional about the objective world it inhabits — and dominates. In his State of the Union address in January 1996, then US president Bill Clinton, citing a series of American brokered agreements in Palestine — all of which came to naught — called the United States “the world’s very best peacemaker”. Really? A peacemaker, if one is not altogether mistaken about the definition, is an impartial mediator who seeks to bring about, free of bias, the settlement of a dispute between two adversaries. In the Middle East, the US was never a peacemaker, an impartial mediator, or free of bias, since it has always taken the side of one of the unfriendly parties and sought to promote that party’s interests in negotiations and diplomatic forums.
And it did so even when that position was clearly at odds with its own stated policies. Put idiomatically, that favoured party would push buttons and Washington, like a boy who runs errands, would jump to it.
Consider this: When in March 1997, in his first term as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu began expanding Jewish colonies in Occupied Jerusalem — yes it was going on then as well — the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the act. For the member states that voted to condemn, it was an open and shut case. Colonising occupied land and transferring to it the occupiers’ population was a clear violation of the UN Charter, not to mention international law and several key clauses in the Geneva Conventions. There was no room for hedging on the matter.
Along with Israel, at the time, only the US and Micronesia cast votes against that resolution. It was not the first, nor the last, time Washington had put itself in such a comical position — comical not only because it had no ally beyond Micronesia — a little speck in the Pacific — to stand by it, but because the US government’s officially stated and oft repeated stance on the issue, since 1967, had been that Israel’s expropriation and colonisation of occupied land was illegal. Surely, you can’t have it both ways, unless someone is pushing your buttons.
In recent weeks, we’ve been witness, since the Palestinians have reaffirmed their intention to go to the UN to seek admission to the organisation as a member state, to America’s lawless folly of preventing a stateless, and in the end helpless, people from seeking recognition of their rights through peaceful means at the forum of an international body. This situation underscores why many thoughtful people in the Arab world, Islamic world, Third World, and indeed the Euro-American world now question the integrity, perhaps even the word of honour, of American leaders.
So next time an American president (with or without an ethnic name like Barack Hussain Obama) delivers a speech in Cairo in which he professes that his heart is bleeding for the Palestinians, that henceforth the US will seek a more balanced approach to its relations with Arabs and Muslims, take it all with a grain of salt. And next time you see that same president stand at the podium of the UN General Assembly and state forthrightly, as Obama did almost exactly a year ago, on September 23, 2010, that his government’s goal is to secure an “agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent sovereign state of Palestine”, just sit back and yawn.
You would imagine that the Palestinians’ bid for recognition as a state by the international community would have been welcomed by the American administration. But no, it is not. Not only is this administration adamantly, fervently opposed to the notion, lawmakers on the Hill as well are up in arms against it. Several members of Congress are now proposing the elimination of humanitarian and development assistance for Palestinians, and the withholding of all funding to UN programmes that recognise any upgrading to the status of their mission at the international body.
Good heavens! You would think, judging by the vehemence of Washington’s opposition, that Palestinian membership in the UN, even in a truncated, amorphous form as a non-voting member state, represents an existential threat to the American heartland. Or something akin to that.
Ironically, though, a plurality of Americans, according to a new poll by the Washington Post and the Pew Research Centre , say that the US should indeed recognise Palestine as an independent state. Joe Six-Pack will not have his buttons pushed.
So come, come now. On what principle is the US acting to prevent Palestinians from seeking recognition at the UN? Defence of the rule of law? No law, international or regional, is being broken here. And for the muzzy charge voiced by Obama in his speech at the General Assembly on Wednesday that he objects very strongly to “short cuts”, to Palestinian membership “because we think it would be counterproductive”, one question: short cuts and counterproductive to what? The US, in an act that could only be defined as capricious bullying, is very simply punishing the Palestinians for acting independently. In other words, its my way or the highway.
The US is either an exemplar of democracy, freedom and social justice, or a hypocrite that preaches those values but never practices them.
Ahmad Oweida, head of the Palestine Stock Exchange in Nablus, said it best. “We think it’s about time”, he told the BBC World Service last Wednesday, roughly around the same time Obama was addressing the General Assembly on the issue, “that the international community is confronted with its obligation to correct the grave injustice that was inflicted on the Palestinians in 1948”.
Sixty-three years is longer than any other people have had to wait, trusting in the goodwill of “the world’s very best peacemaker”, to correct the wrong committed against them. Short cut, he said? Humbug!
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 24/09/2011
-Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile

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