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Obama's pro-Israeli turn dismays peace advocates

Barak Obama's pronouncement last Wednesday at the annual convention of the US pro-Israel lobby that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided" was a body blow to all who had hoped to see serious change in US policy on Palestine once George W. Bush vacates the White House. Obama's statement was perfectly in tune with the demands made by Israel's hard right ­ led by Binyamin Netanyahu ­ rather than the majority of Israelis who are prepared to accept the re-division of Jerusalem as part of an overall peace deal with the Palestinians and Arabs.

The storm of protest from Palestinians, Arabs, moderate Jews, politicians brave enough to criticise Israel occasionally, and some commentators compelled Obama to explain himself a bit more fully the next day. "Well, obviously, it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations." However, he added that dividing Jerusalem "would be very difficult to execute. And I think it is smart for us to ­ to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem, but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city."

Thursday's comments not only demonstrate his capitulation to the lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), but also reveal his total ignorance of the situation. Israel does not have "a legitimate claim" on Jerusalem. Not even the western sector it conquered in 1948 ­ which was, according to the UN partition plan, meant to be part of a corpus separatum administered by an international body. Israel's claim is rejected by the international community as evidenced by the fact that foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv.

This being the case, Obama was doubly wrong in asserting that Israel has any sort of claim on East Jerusalem, occupied in 1967. This consists of the Old City and neighbourhoods which grew up around it during the 19th and 20th centuries. These are Palestinian Arab in ownership and character. Separating these areas from the western quarters seized by Israel in 1948 would be possible because Israel has not been able to erase the basic division between Palestinians in the eastern sector and Israeli Jews in the western sector. Revocation of Israel's unilateral expansion of the municipal limits which incorporated Israeli settlements on the fringes would be a first step in returning the city to what it was in 1967: the demand put forward by Palestinians.

This would not mean putting up fresh barricades and barbed wire but creating two separate but co-operating municipalities to run the affairs of the two peoples. Israelis living in Jerusalem area settlements permitted to remain under a peace agreement could have their own local councils as would Palestinian villages. Freedom of movement and access to holy sites would be guaranteed ­ two rights currently denied both Christian and Muslim Palestinians living in Jerusalem and its environs.

It is significant that Obama made his sycophantic statement at the AIPAC conference on the day after he obtained enough delegates to ensure his nomination as the Democratic party's presidential candidate in November. Since AIPAC and many Democratic Jewish voters of the hawkish variety have expressed serious reservations about Obama, he obviously gave priority to securing their support in a contest which is likely to be hard fought and close.

He is, quite rightly, haunted by his party's defeat in 2000 due to Florida, a state with many elderly Jewish voters. It is also unfortunate that his comments on the occupied Jerusalem were uttered at the AIPAC gathering on June 4th, the eve of the 41st anniversary of the 1967 war. This stoked resentment amongst Palestinians and Arabs who are highly sensitive to historical connections. June 4th was also the eve of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of another Democratic hopeful Robert Kennedy by a young Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan. I happen to know a great deal about this event because a few days after it took place my husband, Indian journalist G. H. Jansen, flew off to California to do interviews for a book, eventually entitled  "Why Robert Kennedy Was Killed."        

I helped my husband with some of the research and accompanied him on a visit to the occupied West Bank where we met with Sirhan's father. Sirhan was between three and four years old when the US passed its resolution to partition Palestine between Palestinians and Jewish colonists. He lived in the Musrara Quarter of Jerusalem a few minutes walk from the Old City and was present in December 1948 when a Jewish terrorist exploded a bomb at Damascus Gate killing many Palestinians. The Sirhan family ­ which consisted of parents and seven children ­ was forced to take refuge in a single room in the Old City and to rely on rations supplied by the UN. Eventually the Sirhans emigrated to Los Angeles, the marriage fell apart, the father went back to Palestine and the mother and children lived a precarious existence in exile. Sirhan, a quiet studious lad, took menial jobs and struggled to get a higher education. He greatly admired President John Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963. When Robert Kennedy, belatedly, entered the presidential race in 1968, Sirhan transferred his loyalty to the younger Kennedy. But Sirhan soon found that he had been on hand in Jerusalem in 1948 and had been since then strongly committed to Israel and all its works. Sirhan was particularly outraged when in a campaign speech Kennedy promised that, if elected, he would sell Israel 50 Phantom war planes which could be used to kill Palestinians and Arabs. After watching a campaign film designed to attract pro-Israeli voters, Sirhan began to make plans to kill Robert Kennedy.

In the aftermath of the assassination, the US media successfully covered up Sirhan's motivation. If it had come out that he had committed this dark deed, as he said, out of love of his country, Palestine, the whole story of Israel's establishment by war and ethnic cleansing would have been revealed to the largely ignorant US public. Sirhan's inability to tell his story was repeated in September 2001 when the mainstream US media again conspired to ignore the motives of the 19 young Arabs who attacked the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. If Sirhan's message had been absorbed and the US had taken a line independent of Israel and had brokered a just, comprehensive peace between the Arabs and Israel, September 11th would not have happened.

It is the combination of widespread ignorance and indifference on the part of the US public and the power of AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobby groups that enables US politicians to make statements and follow policies laid down by Israel's governments of the day. Many people in this part of the world had thought Obama would not become AIPAC's slave. They are now deeply disappointed and all the more distrustful of a democracy which bows to the diktat of powerful lobby groups which serve the interests of a foreign country rather than of the US.

Source: Gulf Today

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