Friday, 14 December 2012

"The fate of human dignity is in our hands"

Writing for both Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart used a surprising phrase to describe how President Obama plans to deal with the Israel/Palestine issue during his second term.

Beinart took his clue from the "pro forma and bland" response the White House made after Israel's defiant announcement that it would build 3,000 new housing units  in a area of the West Bank known as E1.
The announcement came just days after the U.N. elevated Palestine to a non-member state status. Some of those Palestinians are shown here, standing in a long line waiting to gain admission to visit Jerusalem during Ramadan.

Obama made no personal comment regarding the new E1 housing, not even the customary "the action is not helpful" reaction. What Beinart learned from "senior administration officials" was that this bland response was the "first sign" of what "may be a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Obama's second term: benign neglect.

Benign neglect?

There should be little doubt that President Obama is well aware of his responsibility to manage and improve Israel-Palestine relations. Repeatedly, in his first term, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was disdainful of the American president, often playing his "additional housing permits" card on Palestinian West Bank land, as a show of defiance.

"Benign neglect" will not be the policy of a president who has just won an election that returned him to the White House for the next four years.

The President's problem with the Israel Lobby is another matter altogether. Obama will need to deal with the Congress on issues large and small.

He will be unable to make appointments if he cannot overcome the opposition from his opponents in Congress. Most of those opponents are Republicans, but in matters that concern Israel, he must also contend with pro-Israel members of Congress within his own party.

The Lobby is losing clout with the younger Jewish generation, as the Holocaust, long utilized as a tool of persuasion, fades into history. However, the Israel Lobby as a political power remains a strong presence to members of the U.S. Congress, where senators and representatives have "grown accustomed to the faces" of their friendly AIPAC financial backers at two- and six-year intervals.

The power will be tested immediately as Obama names a new cabinet for his second term, all of whom will require Senate approval.

The President lost the opening round of the cabinet battle when Republican senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, and Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman, threatened an extended fight over the nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
That setback, in this case, was related not to the Jewish Lobby, but to the desire of the Republicans to continue to show their displeasure over the initial reports of the deaths of U.S. Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other State Department officials.

Ambassador Rice withdrew her name from consideration, even though it was clear that she had merely repeated the information to the media, which she has received from U.S. intelligence sources.
Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, became the strong favorite to succeed Hillary Clinton. He should have no difficulty winning the support of the Senate, a body in which he has long been a member.

The Israel Lobby, however, will most certainly come into play in the appointment of a new Secretary of Defense, if the President appoints and asks for approval of the former two-term Republican Senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel. (shown here).

President Obama would like a Republican in his cabinet and Hagel is an experienced political leader who has been close to the president since both men served together in the Senate.
Judging, however, from the immediate response from the pro-Israel media, Hagel is not in good standing with the Israel Lobby.

A conservative website, The Washington Free Beacon, which came on line a year ago, carried this story on December 6 about the possible appointment of Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

This is how the Free Beacon views the threat Hagel poses to Israel:

 "Democrats and Republicans are expressing opposition to President Barack Obama's possible selection of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Nebr.) as the next secretary of defense.

"Hagel, who is reported to be on Obama's shortlist to head the Pentagon, has long raised red flags on Capitol Hill for his controversial foreign policy views, which include sharp criticism of Israel, supporting the elimination of America's nuclear arsenal, and pushing for direct unconditional talks with Iran.
"Hagel's foreign policy views placed him in the minority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle during his 12 years in the Senate. His recent work to strip the U.S. of its nuclear arsenal has isolated him even further.
"Hagel's ascension to the nation's top defense post could imperil U.S. national security at a time when increased threats are emanating from a Middle East in flux, insiders warned.

"This is the second time that Hagel has been placed on Obama's shortlist for the post. It is believed that he 'would be a comfortable ideological fit for the president,' according to Foreign Policy magazine's Josh Rogin.

"The White House's 2010 effort to enlist Hagel drew outrage from Jewish leaders critical of Hagel's stand on Israel. His current status as the frontrunner is no less controversial.

"'It would be a very unwise and disastrous choice for U.S. policies and activities regarding the Middle East,' said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
"'You could probably consider him last in the class,' Amitay said when asked to rate Hagel's views on Israel. 'He's probably the worst.'

"Hagel's efforts to open up direct negotiations with Iran and its terrorist proxy Hamas have placed him at odds with the pro-Israel community and the majority of Congress."

The U.S. political right's determination to continue its policy of sanctioning the conduct of the current Israeli government will not allow Barack Obama to "neglect" his responsibility to deal with the policies of the Israeli government which continues to deny basic human dignity to the Palestinian people.

Stephane Hessel, now age 94, has long been identified as an intellectual giant in the struggle to overcome oppression of any part of the human family. In his latest book, The Power of Indignation, Hessel writes what he considers to be a continuation of his autobiography. His message is simple and profound.

His book opens with these words:

"So what is it exactly that I have learned and must convey? First, that it is necessary and possible to refuse the unacceptable."
He continued, a few lines later,

"In 1948, when those who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights attempted to characterize a human person, the term they deemed fitting to all religions, in all philosophies, and which they finally selected was, indeed, dignity.

"It is also the concept which inspires the first article of the said Declaration and which sums up, in my eyes, the entire predicament in which our contemporay world finds itself:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
Hessel has been active with the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Near the end of his newest book, Hessel writes of his experience with the Tribunal:
"The first session of the Tribunal took pace in Barcelona in March of last year. The second took place in London in November. Between the two, I made my fifth trip to Gaza with my wife and leaders of LaVoix de l'Enfant, [a French organization looking to promote the rights of children internationally]. ... 

"We were preparing for our third session that following November at the cape with a team of South Africans, who know what apartheid is and can help us contrast it to -- without ignoring the differences of course -- the fate of the inhabitants in the occupied territories."
In a scene from the current film, Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln speaks to his cabinet during a tense period of negotiations in January, 1865. At stake is the elimination of slavery in the United States by the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

His voice rising with emotion, Abraham Lincoln tells his cabinet, "The fate of human dignity is in our hands." That moment is captured in the short clip below:

Human dignity to be gained in the American Civil War in 1865 was Lincoln's goal, working through the complexities and the duplicities of the political system  he led.

Human dignity for the Palestinian people is in the hands of the world in 2013. Barack Obama knows that he and his nation play an essential role in delivering that dignity to the Palestinian people. Benign neglect will not be his policy.
The picture of Palestinian men, above, show them standing in line next to the "Security" wall surrounding Jerusalem during Ramadan. The picture is from Alternative News.
James Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine.

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