Obama reaffirms US stance on Israeli control of West Bank

From Democracy Now! headlines for Monday 23rd May:

“President Obama has confirmed his administration is continuing longstanding U.S. policy of rejecting a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Speaking before a gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama addressed what he called “misrepresentations” of his call last week [May 19th] for a peace deal based on the 1967 borders. Mirroring the stance of his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama suggested he would back Israel’s retention of its settlement blocs in the West Bank.”

President Obama: “By definition, it means that the parties themselves—Israelis and Palestinians—will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.”

“Obama also renewed his opposition to a Palestinian campaign to seek recognition of statehood at the United Nations.”

President Obama: “I firmly believe, and I repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations or in any international forum. Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate. That is my commitment. That is my pledge to all of you.”

“Obama’s speech last week had been billed as a major breakthrough in U.S. recognition of Palestinian rights to a state in the Occupied Territories. But speaking on Democracy Now!, the author and historian Norman Finkelstein said Obama had effectively endorsed ongoing Israeli control of the West Bank.”

Norman Finkelstein: “The formula has to be exactly as the International Court of Justice said in July 2004 and as the U.N. General Assembly says every year with near-unanimous support. The Palestinians have the right to self-determination in the whole of the West Bank, the whole of Gaza, with East Jerusalem, the whole of East Jerusalem, as its capital. That’s the Palestinian right. That’s not subject to negotiations. Rights are enforced; they are not negotiated. The moment you say it has to be mutually agreed upon means Israel has a veto over Palestinian rights.”

Previously, on May 20th, Democracy Now! had hosted a  roundtable discussion on the implications of Obama’s May 19th speech involving author Norman Finkelstein, Palestinian human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the lobby group J Street. The full debate is in three parts:

Norman Finkelstein: Well, if you were to juxtapose the two speeches [Obama’s and Bush’s speech from three years ago], you would see not only is there no difference in content, but there’s actually no difference in form. It’s the same wording: mutually agreed land swaps based on the June 1967 borders. That’s basically been the position of the United States since, you could say, the last 20 or 25 years. There was no new ground in President Obama’s speech. And frankly, there’s no recipe there, there’s no formula there, for resolving the conflict.

Norman Finkelstein: The U.N., every year, has this resolution called “Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question.” It’s every year in the United Nations, in November of each year. And every year they outline the principles for resolving the conflict. We don’t need Mr. Obama to conjure up new principles any more than we needed President Bush to conjure them up. We have the platform or the basic principles based on international law. And those principles have been ratified every year not only by the U.N. General Assembly; they’re ratified every year by all 22 members of the Arab League. They’re ratified—they were ratified by the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Noura Erakat: Israel has the right to defend itself, but it also has the obligation to respect the laws of war that limit the deliberate attack on civilians and their targeting. What happened in Gaza is unacceptable. And any solution requires Obama not to map out and reiterate these same principles over and over. What the U.S. needs to do is to apply pressure to end the settlement expansion…

Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on the Gaza Strip led to the deaths of about 1,400 Palestinians. Last month, the chair of the United Nations’ inquiry into the assault, Judge Richard Goldstone, retracted his key finding that Israel deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians in its three-week assault.

On April 2nd, Goldstone wrote in the Washington Post:

“If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”1

Israel, with U.S. backing, has seized on Goldstone’s comments and called for the United Nations to retract the report.

Goldstone came under criticism from his co-panelists who co-wrote the original report. In a statement, the three—Hina Jilani of Pakistan, Desmond Travers of Ireland, and Christine Chinkin of Britain—wrote:

“[We] find it necessary to dispel any impression that subsequent developments have rendered any part of the mission’s report unsubstantiated, erroneous or inaccurate.”

They continued, “Had we given in to pressures from any quarter to sanitize our conclusions, we would be doing a serious injustice to the hundreds of innocent civilians killed during the Gaza conflict, the thousands injured, and the hundreds of thousands whose lives continue to be deeply affected by the conflict and the blockade.”

Colonel Desmond Travers, a retired Irish soldier and peacekeeper, explained his misgivings on Democracy Now!:

Well, basically, the report is an inquiry. I mean, it has limited legal status. It is an inquiry designed to determine whether events took place of sufficient gravity, which were proven to have occurred, which would justify causing the parties to the conflict to examine the actions of their combatants and their military units. That’s what the purpose was. And that was the limit. It wasn’t a legal document in the absolute sense of the word. It couldn’t generate punishments, for example. And that’s the limit to it. And that’s the intention that was behind its creation, if you like.

1 From an article entitled “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes”, published on April 2nd in the Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/reconsidering-the-goldstone-report-on-israel-and-war-crimes/2011/04/01/AFg111JC_story.html

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Filed under Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Uncategorized, USA

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