Scott Senn, who helped me correct "the Just War Theory lecture" last summer, sent me his transcript. I'm happy to post this important talk. Thanks.
"Assessing the Role of US Foreign Policy, Israeli Security, & Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories"
7 April 2009 Madison, WI
Well, the question that presumably is on the mind of most people – me as well – is simple; it's: "What next?" We have a new administration. It was elected on a slogan of "change" and "hope". It has inspired a great number of people, here and abroad. What can, then, we expect in its actions generally, specifically in the Middle East region and more specifically with regard to Israel-Palestine?
Now there is a criterion – a very clear criterion – by which we can evaluate these policies as they develop and are implemented. The criterion is an agreement that's held worldwide, that has been held for over 30 years. It's quite explicit. There's no ambiguity about it. It was recently expressed again, a few weeks ago, by a high-level bipartisan commission in the United States, led by Paul Volcker with leading specialists from the security system from both parties [http://www.usmep.us/bipartisan_recommendations/A_Last_Chance_for_a_Two-State_Israel-Palestine_Agreement.pdf]. And they reiterated what has been this overwhelming international consensus; [it] includes essentially everbody. The consensus is that there should be a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border – that's the pre-June-'67 border – with perhaps "minor and mutual modifications". That's the official US-government wording, during the period when the US accepted the basic assumptions of the fundamental document everyone agrees [on]: UN 242 of November 1967. So that's the criterion. How will the Obama-administation's policies relate to this criterion?
I should emphasize how broad agreement is on this. It literally includes virtually everyone who matters. It includes the Non-Aligned countries (most of the countries in the world), Europe, Latin America. It includes Hamas. It includes Hezbollah. It includes Iran. In fact, it includes anyone you can think of, with one critical exception: us. The United States has blocked it for over 30 years, along with Israel, and – I'll come back to that – apparently still does. That's critical, because as long as – . And it's blocked it not only in words, but in deeds, which is much more significant.
Well, what can we expect? During the campaign, Obama said virtually nothing about this. In fact, the truth of the matter is: he said virtually nothing about every topic; so it's not surprising. So he said nothing about this. However, his saying nothing was done with what was called "soaring rhetoric", the main thing that the press admired in every article. There were a few – There was one comment about Israel-Palestine during the campaign. Last summer , he visited Israel and made the obligatory visit to Sderot, the town that's been hit by Hamas rockets from Gaza. And he said that "if my daughters were subject to the fear of rocket attacks, I would do anything to protect them." And that comment – And in fact he met with sort of the two extremes of the Israeli political leadership: Shimon Peres who's regarded as one of the leading doves, and Benjamin Netanyahu who's now the prime minister and is considered the leading hawk. And both of those leaders reported to the press that they were very pleased that Obama had agreed with them completely. So they thought this was very good. That led to an article by one of Israel's leading political analysts saying, "It's not surprising. That's Obama. His style is to sit and listen, make people feel that he cares for them and that he agrees with them, and then go ahead and do what he wants." So, from the campaign, we're left with essentially nothing except this.
That continued after the election, in fact, right till the end of the attack on Gaza, which incidentally was carefully timed so that it ended immediately before the inauguration. That gave Israel maximal time to do as much destruction as possible. And it insured – It eliminated the remote possibility that Obama might say something critical about it. He didn't have to, because, after all, it's over – you know, "past history" – let's "move on". The only thing that was said during this whole period was that his campaign reiterated his comment about Sderot.
So we learn very little from before the inauguration. We do learn something from afterwards. Obama has in fact made one foreign-policy declaration bearing on this; in fact, it's practically his only one. That's when he introduced George Mitchell as his emissary for Israel-Palestine. Now that's a good choice. Mitchell is a serious person, has successful experience in resolving conflicts. Northern Ireland was his main achievement. He was an emissary for Israel-Palestine and had pretty sensible recommendations which were ignored by Israel and the United States. Though it's a good choice, I think. The question is: Does he have any leeway to do anything? And Obama made it clear that he doesn't: his job, he said, is to listen, not to talk. And he's not supposed to listen to everybody. So, for example, he's not permitted to listen to the elected government in Palestine. Well, it would be a little difficult to listen to them anyway because most of them are in jail in Israel: can't get in there. But he's not supposed to listen to the ones who are out of jail either. There are pretexts for that; I'll come back to them if there's time; but I'll just say, they don't have even minimal credibility. They simply reflect pretty traditional US opposition to democratic elections if they come out the wrong way. Now that's not the official line, but it's a very well-established principle. I'll come back to it. So Mitchell can listen, except to the elected government of Palestinians in a free election.
However, he [Obama] went beyond that in accouncing Mitchell's appointment. He made it clear that our prime concern is the security and safety of Israel. Nothing about the security and safety of the people under military occupation. But he did say that there is one constructive proposal that we shoud pay attention to: namely, the Arab League proposal. The Arab League proposal, he said, has highly constructive elements: it calls on the Arab States to normalize their relations with Israel. He said that's a very good idea, and he called on the Arab States to live up to their proposal.
(to part 2)