Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Obama's Approach: Incremental or Detrimental?

The Obama administration's insistence that Israel halt further settlement construction in the occupied West Bank has sparked predictable outrage from the Israeli and Jewish right, but it has also provoked some sharp criticism from those on the left who feel that the President's first overture was not nearly sufficient. The shrewdest voices in the US and the Middle East have praised Obama's move, however, as an important first step in reversing the abysmal failure of successive US administrations to confront Israel's intransigence regarding the settlements and to formulate a coherent American foreign policy in the Middle East. One such perceptive voice is that of pseudonymous commentator Moshe Yaroni, who has written an informative article in Zeek magazine outlining the reasons why the Obama administration can and should demand a full freeze in Israeli settlement construction. Yaroni goes further than does the recent Peace Now "layman's guide" I cited last week in explaining why supposedly natural population growth in the settlements is at once an artificial concept and a pernicious excuse that allows settlers, with the connivance of Israeli authorities, to expropriate ever more Palestinian land.

In a follow-up blog post, Yaroni supplements his views on "unnatural" settlement growth with a critical response to British historian Tony Judt's acerbic op-ed essay in the New York Times on Monday, June 22. Judt's claim is that the illegal settlement enterprise has long been cloaked in nationalistic mythology and bad faith on Israel's part, but that there is little to do about it today except to frankly acknowledge the hypocrisy with which successive Israeli administrations (and their American "enablers") have sanctioned the continued building. Judt accuses the Obama administration of focusing on the settlement freeze issue while ignoring the harsher reality that the settlement blocs themselves will likely remain an irreversible obstacle to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and regional peace.

Yaroni's view is that Judt is succombing to a common failing of left in which the perfect is the enemy of the good. There is ample evidence, Yaroni argues, that Obama's strategy of insisting on incremental change and recriprocity could succeed where other efforts by American administrations to halt or even reverse the destructive Israeli settlement campaign have floundered. The outlines of a productive American strategy are clear, but what is most needed now is for the left to throw support behind the Obama Administration's initiative and to press hard for its enlargement. This is no time, in other words, for Judt's practical pessimism. Yaroni is right: with a progressive leader in the White House, a window of opportunity may be open very briefly for the left to help generate the vast political momentum that will be needed to achieve a sustainable peace that Israelis and Palestinians can live with.

--Lincoln Z. Shlensky

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
Jewish Peace News sends its news clippings only to subscribers. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription, go to http://www.jewishpeacenews.net

1 comment:

Clair Hochstetler said...

Here is a link, for your awareness, to a poignant open letter -- a statement from Christian Peacemaker Teams to President Obama on the subject of Palestine: