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Originally published on Tikkun Daily |

On a frigid evening in February, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama stood before a gathering of the Wisconsin Democratic Party and gave what, at the time, was an iconic and momentous address.

Responding to Hillary Clinton’s critique that Obama’s candidacy was principally built upon pretty speeches that lacked substantive policy commitments, Obama offered this:

Don’t tell me words don’t matter. “I have a dream” — just words? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — just words? “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” — just words? Just speeches?

It was an address in which Obama forcefully championed several policies that have since been abandoned or put on hold, an address in which he went on to say, “I know good intentions are not enough when not fortified with political will.” As a progressive Democrat, it is a speech I now find mildly difficult to watch.

President Obama's Speech in Cairo
President Obama delivers a speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009. Photo from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

But my mild disappointment is nothing when one considers the speech that Palestinians would find difficult to watch, though few today would likely admit to having actually watched it, much less have been moved by it. I am referring to the moment when, in 2009, Obama symbolically stood before the Middle East in Cairo and said, regarding the Palestinians:

For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

Three years later, it is the Obama administration which is now turning its back on the Palestinians, for as the Palestinian Authority prepares to approach the United Nations in September, hoping for recognition of an independent Palestinian state, it is the Obama administration which is pledging to stand in the Palestinians’ way. In order to legally attain an internationally-recognized status of statehood, the Palestinians must become a full U.N. member by going through the Security Council. The PA recently announced that it plans to do just that in September, and all indications are that the Obama administration will serve as obstructionists, promising to veto this effort, and thus any legal claim to statehood.

This move to the U.N., self-described as a last ditch effort by the Palestinians, is being pursued out of desperation, principally because they have not found in Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government a willing peace partner. They have not found an Israeli government willing to stop expanding its settlements, willing to stop expanding its territorial hold over the West Bank, willing to engage in serious, final-status talks.

And they have not found a U.S. government — the single international entity capable of significantly influencing Israeli policy — willing to compel Israel to cease settlement construction and return to the negotiating table.

All they have found is the clock ticking, interminably, with time running out on the prospects of a contiguous, self-determining Palestinian state as more and more of its land disappears.

President Obama's Speech in Cairo
A student watches Obama's speech at Cairo University. Photo from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Consider, once again, Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, in which he said the following:

Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Of course, the settlement expansion has not stopped during a time in which the Obama administration has failed to follow through on its rhetoric. Recently, Netanyahu’s government approved 900 units to be built in the settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem, a settlement the United States has long opposed. The Obama administration responded with a statement of condemnation, saying it was “deeply concerned.”

After what Netanyahu’s office described as a “friendly” conversation between Obama and Netanyahu, Haaretz reported that Israel authorized the building of an additional 1,600 apartments in East Jerusalem (with another 2,700 slated for approval) as well as 277 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Obama’s words, it appears, don’t matter. And this is something Palestinians have long been frustrated with: the divide between U.S. rhetoric and substantive actions. Yes, the PA has received important funding from Washington. However, with regard to policy, words have rarely matched deeds. The hoped-for shift to a more robust implementation by the White House of American policy vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — perpetually hamstrung by various lobbies, including AIPAC and the Christian right — never came.

The Obama administration claims that the U.N. is not the proper forum in which to establish a Palestinian state. But in the face of long-stalled peace negotiations and the shrinking of West Bank lands, is it not enough to consider that the U.N. is precisely the forum in which questions of statehood can and often should be resolved when no other options exist?

After all, this is the venue that was approached in 1947 when the General Assembly voted to recognize the establishment of Israel. The country’s Declaration of Independence says as much:

On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.

These words matter. The U.N resolution, which symbolically granted Israel its international birth, matters. And this is precisely why the Palestinians are now attempting to go to the United Nations, where they will likely receive a nominal recognition of statehood though a General Assembly resolution after being denied in the Security Council — a denial that will come due to a U.S. veto.

In 2009, Obama laid the rhetorical groundwork for a shift — not a shift in U.S. policy, but in the implementation of long-articulated U.S. policy. His words, cynically absorbed by many in the Middle East at the time, were nevertheless welcomed by Arab states and Palestinian leaders.

That groundwork has since been buried. For as the administration engages in pro-forma condemnations of Israeli settlements, saying it’s “deeply concerned,” nobody is listening.

Why? They are just words.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

Author's Note: This is the only diary I intended to post today, but got sidetracked after the Joe Lieberman rant. Interestingly, this one forms a strangely appropriate bookend. For while in my previous diary, I raged against Lieberman's misrepresentation of Obama's I/P position, in this diary I take time to offer some critiques of Obama's actual position. As always, dissenting opinions welcome.
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Comment Preferences

  •  What does AIPAC have on the entire government? (5+ / 0-)

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 07:22:40 PM PDT

  •  I respect your view (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes

    but i have few issues.

    This a simplistic view of the I/P conflict, you know there are many factors behind the scenes that making a peaceful resolution difficult and i am not talking about Netanyahu.

    Going through the UN was going to be a tough gamble and as far as i know the President never promised to go along with such a plan.

    The Palestinians are not without faults and you seem to lay all the problems on Israel and President Obama's feet.

    Lastly, the I/P conflict will not be solved by an American President this is why most have tried and failed, it will be solved when both sides decide to come together put their distrust aside and work on a reasonable solution. When that will happen i cannot say but i pray i see it in my life time.

    •  Hi Bensonola...I agree with many points you make (4+ / 0-)

      Yes, Palestinians have faltered in their own leadership and efforts. And yes, a President cannot be expected to forge peace between the two sides.

      My point here is that we have come to a place in which THERE IS NO NEGOTIATION OPTION. Meaning: the two sides cannot work this out, and I place much of that blame on a Netanyahu government which continues to reject prospects for talks while expanding settlements.

      In such a situation, the UN is an appropriate last option, and it is time for such an option to be championed.

      I'm "THE" Troubadour," and not "Troubadour" without the article. We're different people here at DK :)

      by David Harris Gershon on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 07:41:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hamas is even more rejectionist (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Troubadour, Corwin Weber

        Netanyahu has accepted the principle of a two state solution. Hamas hasn't even accepted the principle of Jews living in the Middle East! What point is there in negotiations at this point? Abbas and Fayyad couldn't deliver anything.

        •  No argument from me on that point! (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          PeterHug, Celtic Merlin, blueoasis, koNko

          However, it's important to note that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are going to the U.N. alone.

          This is not being done with Hamas, as there is no unity-reconciliation in place at the moment.

          So Hamas can't be used as an excuse anymore, at least not with regard to the U.N. move.

          I'm "THE" Troubadour," and not "Troubadour" without the article. We're different people here at DK :)

          by David Harris Gershon on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 07:56:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  No point in negotiations? (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          PeterHug, Terra Mystica, downsouth

          Then declare the Palestinian state to exist from the Green Line to the Jordan and be done with it.  It will give the Palestinians firm ground to stand on when talking about land swaps and it will give Israel the kick-start it needs to begin bargaining in earnest.

          Struggle with dignity against injustice. IS there anything more honorable that a person can do?

          by Celtic Merlin on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 07:57:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I personally support the UN option (0+ / 0-)

        it makes more sense than US being the chief mediator.
        That said' the political environment here in the US is so toxic that it would definitely be a divisive issue.

        When Netanyahu came to Congress few months ago, it was to buy some capital to use as leverage just in case Obama blinks and decides to go along with the UN.

        When the US Congress favors one side more than the other there is very little a President can do. Past Presidents faced the same problem.

  •  jkl; (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    In order to legally attain an internationally-recognized status of statehood, the Palestinians must become a full U.N. member by going through the Security Council.

    Says who?

    Politics is the art of changing what's possible.

    by happymisanthropy on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 07:41:52 PM PDT

    •  I'm just describing the procedure in the UN (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Celtic Merlin, koNko

      If we are to characterize the UN as the international body capable of offering recommendations to the world (non-binding resolutions) and bestow resolutions with legal force (binding), then this is how it works.

      Recognition as a state in the General Assembly means a non-binding resolution. It's a recommendation.

      Recognition as a full UN member state happens in the Security Council first, before going to the General Assembly, and this is binding, with the force of international law.

      I'm "THE" Troubadour," and not "Troubadour" without the article. We're different people here at DK :)

      by David Harris Gershon on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 07:45:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actions speak louder than words (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    downsouth, IndieGuy, FishOutofWater, mickT

    Obama's words have lost theireaning because they are so regularly contradicted by his actions.

  •  They're words with no intent (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    or capability to execute.  They're words, but they're words apparently not worth fighting for.  Whatever principle is in their marrow have been sucked out by compromise.

    Ordinary political process is dead. The Supreme Court killed it. In Chambers. With a gavel.

    by Publius2008 on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 07:46:38 PM PDT

    •  In this case, it's not compromise in the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueoasis, neroden

      domestic sense, or in the sense that Obama has been criticized for in relation to, say, the debt ceiling negotiations.

      His obstacles are different in nature, and relate to the intense hold and pressure that comes from the "pro-Israel" lobby in the U.S.

      I put that in quotes because, as a progressive Jew who cares deeply about Israel's success, I am staunchly pro-Israel. I simply view what being pro-Israel means through a different lens than, say, Joe Lieberman.

      I'm "THE" Troubadour," and not "Troubadour" without the article. We're different people here at DK :)

      by David Harris Gershon on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 07:49:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  IF tomorrow peace could (5+ / 0-)

        be had, but it would require turning over East Jerusalem, would you support it?

        I ask, because I have had many discussions with American Jews about this, and they will start by saying they are pro-peace, but then must say no if it requries turning over any part of East Jerusalem.

        Which means they really don't want peace: they want surrender.

        The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

        by fladem on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 08:34:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I saw Andrea Mitchell (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Terra Mystica

          interview Netanyahu after his speech at congress, and the first question she asked him was something like, "you say that you will never consider partitioning Jerusalem, isn't that a declaration of eternal war?"  and he was like  uhhhh, ummm, ummm and could not even respond!  It was a tough interview for him, but she was really just asking him point blank about that, and he just changed the subject.

          When the two sides are so far apart on something so basic, there is really no point in trying to deal with this.

        •  Hi fladem, if you're asking me, my answer is (0+ / 0-)


          In fact, it's important to know that "East Jerusalem," the language that we use to describe the area, is actually part of the West Bank, and so "turning it over" would be the same as turning over the rest of the West Bank.

          Israel unilaterally expanded Jerusalem's municipal borders many years ago to include "East Jerusalem." It's why the U.S. government considers Har Homa, a "neighborhood" in East Jerusalem built by Israel, to be a settlement.

          I'm "THE" Troubadour," and not "Troubadour" without the article. We're different people here at DK :)

          by David Harris Gershon on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 04:55:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Several problems (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Corwin Weber

    At Oslo, the Palestinians committed to Land for Peace.

    After a lot of pressure, even Netanyahu has committed to that framework.

    A unilateral declaration of independence breaks with that framework and exempts Israel from all its commitments at Oslo.

    Furthermore, a single Palestinian State right now is ludicrous, as the two parts of it are each ruled by people who don't even dare travel to the other part. The only thing preventing civil war is that Israel is between them.

    And there is no chance for Land for Peace as long as Hamas is in power, as it categorically rejects that framework. Netanyahu won't negotiate with Hamas because there is nothing to negotiate about.

    •  You're right - the only remaining option (3+ / 0-)

      is a single state solution.


      (with a full right of return, naturally.)

      •  No Palestinian State? Then make ONE state! (4+ / 0-)

        The Occupation can't continue, so the time has come to make a choice.  Charlie seems to not like the 2-state, so what's left but the 1-state?

        Full RoR would naturally be a part of that.

        I just never pegged Charlie for a 1-stater.  Who knew?

        Still, I'm gonna push for the 2-state.

        Celtic Merlin

        Struggle with dignity against injustice. IS there anything more honorable that a person can do?

        by Celtic Merlin on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 08:04:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Actually I support a 2 state solution (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Corwin Weber

          but not when one of the states does not accept the right of the people of the other state to exist. There are a few extremist Israelis who have that attitude regarding Palestinians, but they aren't in power. Hamas has that attitude regarding Jews, and they have the guns.

          Hate Netanyahu all you want, but he'll throw the extremists under the bus in a second if it will help him politically. He did that once before, at Wye. Who is going to throw Hamas under the bus and run them over?

          And that still leaves the problems of Syria and Lebanon, one of which is committing mass murder of its citizens, and the other of which is now in the position of being dominated by Hezbollah, which is even worse than Hamas.

          •  To be frank, neither Syria nor Lebanon (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Celtic Merlin, valadon, Terra Mystica

            pose any serious threat to Israel as a state.

            Neither state has substantively acted aggressively towards Israel in decades, and the non-state actors within their borders are irritants rather than anything more.

            I don't see how the internal catastrophes in Syria (which are in themselves quite horrible) have any impact whatsoever on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

            •  decades??? How about five years! (0+ / 0-)

              There was an actual HOT WAR between Israel and Lebanon in 2006, and Syria liberally provided arms.

              •  Oh, right - that would be the war between (0+ / 0-)

                Israel and Hezbollah- NOT Lebanon.  Please read what I wrote before you respond to it.

                And would reiterate the central point I made - Syria, Lebanon, Hezbollah are none of them a serious threat to Israel in any sense whatsoever.

                Nothing any of these three do should have any impact whatsoever on negotiations between Israel and the various Palestinian groups to define a solution, whether it's one- or two-state.

          •  That ship sailed a long time ago (3+ / 0-)

            Plutocracy too long tolerated leaves democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder ~ Bill Moyers

            by Lefty Coaster on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 09:19:25 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Why do you bring up Hamas . . . (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            PeterHug, Terra Mystica

            . . . in damn near every comment about I/P?

            They don't control anything outside of the Gaza Strip.  They probably wouldn't win another election - if one can be forced to occur there.  You comment as though they're the single political entity in the entirety of the Palestinian Territories.  THEY'RE NOT.

            Hamas has guns?  They have shit compared to the IDF which has tanks, fighter jets, attack choppers, and artillery pieces.  Have you forgotten Cast Lead?  Hamas couldn't defend its own honor, let alone mount an attack against Israel.  You make them out to be alot more of a force than they are.

            But, that's your way.  It makes continuing The Occupation seem reasonable, and that's your real goal.  The longer it goes on, the better the chance for Greater Israel - Bibi's Golden Touchdown.

            Syria has nothing to do or say about a Palestinian state.  Nor does Lebanon.  All they can do is vote for it in the GA.  Those two states have no bearing upon the declaration of the new state otherwise.  They're NOT part of the negotiations.

            If you really support a 2-state, get behind the GA vote for the Palestinian State.  Else, you're blowing smoke up I/P's collective ass.

            C M

            Struggle with dignity against injustice. IS there anything more honorable that a person can do?

            by Celtic Merlin on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 09:23:40 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  beautifully stated, Troub. n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    downsouth, Celtic Merlin

    "In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."- Albert Camus

    by valadon on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 08:08:32 PM PDT

  •  Back in 1947, the UN gave the Palestinians... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Corwin Weber

    an irrevocable state as well, if only they took it, but they did not.  Instead, there were calls to annihilate the Jews, calls that continue to this very day.  What about THEIR words?

    “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion.”
    - Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem
    (Radio Berlin, March 1, 1944; quoted in Robert Wistrich, Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger [American Jewish Committee, 2002], p47)
    “The operation of liberation is not merely removing an imperialistic base, but what is more important: the extermination of a society; not only is military defeat the aim in the Palestinian war of liberation, but the liquidation of the Zionist character of the occupied land, whether in manpower or in society.”
    - Fatah statement
    (Liberation of the Occupied Lands and the Method of Struggle Against Direct Colonialism, September 1967; quoted in Y. Harkabi, The Palestinian Covenant and its Meaning [Vallentine Mitchell, 1979], pp47-8)
    “We shall never stop until we can go back home and Israel is destroyed… The goal of our struggle is the end of Israel, and there can be no compromises or mediations… the goal of this violence is the elimination of Zionism from Palestine in all its political, economic and military aspects… We don’t want peace, we want victory. Peace for us means Israel’s destruction and nothing else. ”
    - Yasser Arafat, PLO chairman
    (Washington Post, March 29, 1970)
    “The [Palestine] Liberation Organization will employ all means, and first and foremost armed struggle, to liberate Palestinian territory and to establish the independent combatant national authority for the people over every part of Palestinian territory that is liberated” (Article 2); “Once it is established, the Palestinian national authority will strive to achieve a union of the confrontation countries, with the aim of completing the liberation of all Palestinian territory…” (Article 8).
    - PLO Phased Plan
    (Wafa, Beirut, June 9, 1974; Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 1974, p224)

    “The PLO will now concentrate on splitting Israel psychologically into two camps... We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. Jews will not want to live among Arabs. I have no use for Jews. They are and remain Jews. We now need all the help we can get from you in our battle for a united Palestine under Arab rule.”
    - Yasser Arafat, speech to Arab diplomats in Stockholm
    (Jerusalem Post, February 23, 1996)
    “... the Jews are a virus resembling AIDS, from which the entire world suffers… the Jews were behind all the civil strife in this world. The Jews are behind the suffering of the nations… The day will come when we will rule Britain and the entire world – except for the Jews. The Jews will not enjoy a life of tranquility under our rule, because they are treacherous by nature, as they have been throughout history… The stones and trees will want the Muslims to finish off every Jew.”
    - Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris, Palestinian Authority cleric
    (Palestinian Authority Television, May 13, 2005)

    And on and on and on.  

    And this does not even include Hamas!

    Is there any responsibility that lies with the Palestinians?

    PS -- In my opinion, to say that dissenting opinions are welcome is laughable.  

    A writer cannot prevent and is not responsible for the deliberate desire of some to distort his words. -- Eric Sevareid

    by citizen53 on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 08:18:34 PM PDT

  •  Shalom David, I'm an American. I embrace my (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, isabelle hayes

    heritage.  I've discovered that my Goya roots, matriarchal, might have a link to the French House of Sharon.  

    My ancestors were very good at moving beyond their past.  It seems they rejected all links to religious and ethnic affiliations  Sorta like the "Lion King" line from Pumba, " You gotta put your behind in the  past".

  •  With a more normal less partisan congress Obama (5+ / 0-)

    could have accomplished much more. I suspect Eric Cantor wanted to use Israel as a wedge issue against the Democrats, and he encouraged Bibi to be defiant because Republicans in congress would have Bibi's back, showing that the GOP is more protective of Israel's present leaders than Obama.

    Plutocracy too long tolerated leaves democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder ~ Bill Moyers

    by Lefty Coaster on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 09:14:13 PM PDT

  •  You know what else matters. Massive and historical (0+ / 0-)

    filibusters for the first 2 years and all the obstruction for the next 7 months. Yeah, speeches don't mean much, if you can't get what you said in the campaign done because of them. I think if you went through the over 400 bills Leader Pelosi sent to the senate, that never came to the floor for a vote, because of the obstruction, you will see that he was in fact, trying to make what he said in his speeches come true. Here are quit a few he was able to get done in spite of all the obstruction. I am sure you will see some of the things he said he would get done in his speeches. Other things have been done since. Thank you.

  •  words without action have no meaning nt (0+ / 0-)

    "Look at this; I'm a coward too; You don't need to hide, my friend; For I'm just like you" - Monster/Sprite (Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites - Skrillex)

    by AZ Independent on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 10:00:54 PM PDT

  •  The President himself is irrelevant. (5+ / 0-)

    Part-time annoying scold, full-time yes-man for Netanyahu.

    "[R]ather high-minded, if not a bit self-referential"--The Washington Post.

    by Geekesque on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 10:58:41 PM PDT

  •  god almighty. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Terra Mystica

    May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.

    by GlowNZ on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 11:06:50 PM PDT

  •  geez, isn't that the truth (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Terra Mystica

    and not just on this topic

    "Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war" - John Adams

    by esquimaux on Wed Aug 17, 2011 at 11:55:31 PM PDT

  •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Terra Mystica, mickT

    I pretty much stopped listening to Obama about a year ago. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 7 times........

    Of course, I will likely hold my nose and vote for him again - but living in New York State, I might go Green in 2012, my vote not being all that important in a state that will be BLUE again without it.

    The Democratic Party. Never has so much been squandered so quickly for so little.

    by GayIthacan on Thu Aug 18, 2011 at 01:07:25 AM PDT

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