President Obama's speech to the General Assembly succeeded in making clear why the Palestinians had no choice but to take their statehood bid to the UN and why the United States can no longer pretend to be an "honest broker" in the conflict.
For the first time since the U.N. conferred statehood on Israel 63 years ago, a U.S President told the international community that the United States will back Israel, right or wrong -- and Israel is never wrong. Gov. Rick Perry gave a similar speech to a group of "pro-Israel" right-wingers earlier in the week but he is not president so his speech was different, except for the motivation which is the same.
Both speeches were standard "pro-Israel" campaign bloviating, but Perry gave his on the campaign trail and not in front of the entire world. (I hesitate to call any speech opposing the Palestinian statehood bid at the U.N. "pro-Israel" when the latest comprehensive poll on the subject says that 70 percent of Israelis support it).
The very best explanation of what Obama did at the United Nations came from Daniel Levy, a British citizen who moved to Israel right out of college 18 years ago. Levy's quote appeared on page 1 of the Washington Post.
"There is virtually no thread of reason running between the way he [Obama] related to the rest of the world and its developments, particularly in the Middle East, and the positions he espoused on Israel-Palestine -- a conflict apparently occurring on another planet," said Daniel Levy, co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation. "Palestinian freedoms, rights and self-determination are somehow supposed to be attained without the recourse to leverage, international law or meaningful international support, considered to be necessary and legitimate virtually everywhere else."
Of course, there is one "thread" although it is not of "reason." Every word in Obama's speech was designed not to advance a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but to keep single-issue (Israel) donors and, to a lesser extent, voters in his camp for the 2012 election. Not a week goes by that the White House, not the campaign but the White House, sends emails out to people it deems Israel voters to remind them of all the wonderful things this president has done for Israel. One recently was dedicated to citing quotes from Prime Minister Netanyahu praising Obama, the first time in memory that a president sought to validate himself by quoting the likes of Netanyahu or any foreign leader.
Unfortunately, Obama isn't lying about his "pro-Israel" record either. This administration has been the most one-sided supporter of everything Israel asks for in history. There is simply no competition.
Not even George W. Bush comes close. When the Israelis, following Obama's election, asked Bush to give Israel permission to bomb Iran, he said "no," despite his Vice President and neocon aides who pushed the Israeli position hard. Bush also did more than Obama to advance the peace process the Israeli right hates so much, convening an international summit at Aqaba and being the first president to say, in unambiguous terms, that the United States fully supports "two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."
On Israel, Obama is to the right of Bush or Reagan and certainly Clinton. On Israel and Palestine, Barack Obama is Rick Perry.
Of course, none of Obama's outrageous pandering to Netanyahu and his acolytes here impresses the Israel Firsters. They disliked Obama from day one, for all kinds of obvious reasons, and they condemned his United Nations speech, as typically anti-Israel.
They are lying and they know it. But, they are adherents of the Mitch McConnell school: they have only one goal which is to defeat this president. And although privately they celebrate their amazing success at intimidating Obama into submission, publicly they denounce him and send scary emails to old people in Florida that Obama wants to destroy Israel.
So, at bottom, these Obama speeches and love-ins with Netanyahu accomplish nothing for Obama. The "Israel First" crowd (3 percent of the Jewish community) will take their money and votes elsewhere.
And Netanyahu will, working from Jerusalem, do everything he can to help the Republicans. It's almost funny how these people would exchange the person who is, looking at it from their "pro- occupation at all costs" vantage point the most "pro-Israel" president ever for an unknown quantity like Perry or Romney. After all, a Republican, not dependent on their campaign dollars as Obama is, could well turn out to approach Israel with more skepticism than Obama.
But it's a game. Netanyahu and the lobby want to defeat Obama to show that they can demonstrate yet again who calls the shots on U.S. Middle East policy.
But forget the campaign for a moment (which is what Obama should have done when addressing the United Nations). The president's speech was an embarrassing disaster. Since 2009, 1,600 Palestinians (overwhelmingly civilians and over 400 children) were killed at the hands of the Israeli army. The number of Israelis killed over the same period was 13. And yet Obama devoted 120 words of his speech to Israeli suffering (even citing the Holocaust) and not one word to Palestinian suffering.
Example: an Australian newspaper reports on a new film about the tragedy of Palestinian women in Gaza (under full Israeli blockade) who are dying of breast cancer because Israel does not permit them to leave Gaza for treatment.
Breast cancer in Gaza is often diagnosed at an advanced stage and the surgical remedies available inside Gaza are not sufficient to treat it. Women must then apply for permits to leave Gaza for treatment in surrounding countries. This is a lengthy process, and often their permits are arbitrarily revoked at the checkpoints. As a result, many women die waiting for treatment.
"Regardless of the reasons for the blockade of Gaza, women should not be left to die of breast cancer," said Misha Coleman, CEO of Anglicord, who recently led a delegation of Australian Parliamentarians to Palestine to learn about the impact of the blockade.
"Radiation treatment is not available in Gaza, because the importation of radioactive material is prohibited," Ms Coleman said. "Chemotherapy, the other mainstay of breast cancer treatment, is also not available, due to the unreliable provision of medications."
One could go on and on about the horrors of the occupation but it won't matter to the politicians who determine U.S. foreign policy. They know which side their bread is buttered on, as Obama demonstrated at the U.N. this week.
But, I'm surprised to say, Obama did Palestinians and the 70 percent of Israelis who support statehood a real favor. By demonstrating that the United States refuses to play the role of "honest broker," by telling the U.N. that we are Israel and Israel is us, the United States is yielding the role of Middle East peacemaker to others.
The Europeans, the Turks, the Indians, Brazilians, Chinese and Russians don't agree on much but they do agree on the urgency of the creation of a Palestinian state in the areas occupied in 1967. And they agree that the United States, no longer the superpower it once was, should move over and let countries not fully invested in one side to take over.
Those who wonder how these "other countries" could exert the leadership the U.S. has abdicated might consider the issue of economics, trade, etc. Israel does not live on an island with the United States. It is part of the world and not even the United States and the $3.5 billion it hands over to Israel each year (no strings attached) can save Israel if the rest of the world says "enough."
Obama has chosen to abdicate. The rest of the world is eager to step up.
And that is why I have no doubt that the state of Palestine was created this week at the United Nations. By opting out, Obama did a tremendous favor to Palestinians and Israelis both. Palestinians will have their fully sovereign, contiguous state. And the Jewish state of Israel will finally be secure. As Israelis like to say, "yhiyeh tov." Or as Arabs say, "insha'Allah khair." Everything will be fine.