'Forever'? Palestinians Decry 'Endless' US Support of Israel
For last 35 years, says expert, US has stifled peace by its unwillingness to address true grievances of conflict
What President Obama describes as a support for Israel that goes on "forever," many Palestinians see as a foreign policy that continually betrays hopes of a true and meaningful peace in the region.
At a welcoming ceremony in his honor at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, President Obama told the crowd of Israeli officials on Wednesday that the U.S. would continue its commitment to the country, describing the relationship as 'eternal.'
As his first to Israel as president, Obama described the trip as an opportunity to "reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations" and "to restate America's unwavering commitment to Israel's security." Obama went on to say the alliance between the two countries would be "eternal".
Describing the scene, the Associated Press reported:
"It is forever," he said to applause as Israeli and U.S. flags fluttered in a steady breeze under clear, sunny skies.
The words Palestine or Palestinians, however, were not mentioned. And though Obama does have scheduled plans to visit the West Bank on Thursday, few in the region—especially those on occupied side of the militarized border that separates the West Bank and Gaza from Israel—believe that any meaningful progress will be made during the three-day visit.
On Tuesday, residents in the West Bank staged a protest in Ramallah to voice their opposition to Obama's policy of neglect when it came to Palestinian rights.
"We've heard Obama's promises in the past and saw his actions," said Omar Shehada, 24, an unemployed Ramallah resident. "Why should we expect that he's going to change now?"
And as Al-Jazeera reports:
Hopes for a new policy are low, with the White House having deliberately minimized expectations of any major breakthroughs, a reversal from Obama's first four years in office when aides said he would only visit Israel if he had something concrete to accomplish.
"Analysts say they don't expect any new action on Iran, or even Syria, in a trip that even the White House has indicated is meant to create a lot of publicity but not new policy," said Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington.
Workers have hung hundreds of US and Israel flags on lampposts across Jerusalem, as well as banners that boast of "an unbreakable alliance," but the apparent lack of any substantial policy push has bemused many diplomats and analysts.
However with both Netanyahu and Obama starting new terms, the visit could be seen as the American leader's endorsement of Israel's government, said Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian journalist and founder of Electronic Intifada.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Chicago, he said: "This visit coming just days after Israel swore in perhaps its most openly extreme government in its history...must be seen as the strongest staunchest endorsement of this extremist Israeli government's policies. That's the only message Palestinians and the broader world can take away from this visit."
Ahead of the visit, and tasked with being the voice of Palestinian frustration, independent Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti told reporters on Tuesday that as the US continued to offer clear signals for its deference to Israeli interests, Palestinians were on the verge of throwing in the towel on 'the two state solution.'
"We are in an emergency situation," Barghouti said from Ramallah, where Obama will visit on Thursday to meet with President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmud Abbas. He criticized the international community, but "especially the United States" for its "passivity" when it came to legitimate talk of fostering peace in the region.
"We don't have time," Barghouti continued. "Either the settlements are stopped immediately... or you can kiss the two-state solution goodbye."
Further describing Bargouti's comments, Haaretz's Amira Hass reported:
He noted that he had personally been encouraged by Obama's election, which could not have happened without the success of the civil rights movement against segregation in the United States. He said he hoped that this president would be the one who could appreciate the nonviolent Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation and express his support for it. Maybe such a miracle will happen after he visits the Church of the Nativity, said Barghouti.
Every responsible Palestinian leader must tell Obama: Either construction of the settlements stops immediately or the death of the two-state solution should finally be declared, he said. After Obama's visit, the PLO must speed up the process of being accepted in the various UN bodies, and in particular should file a petition to the International Criminal Court over the settlements, he stressed. Demonstrations in the occupied territories should be intensified along with the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel, such as those during the time of the apartheid regime in South Africa, said Barghouti.
On Tuesday, warning of possible "political collapse" of the West Bank economy, the Palestinian Authority issued a report calling on the international community for help to ease its financial crisis by pressuring Israel to release Palestinian-owned revenues held hostage since last year.
Putting these new developments in context this week, Professor of History and Arab Studies at Columbia University Rashid Khalidi, speaking on Democracy Now!, described that more than anything, US foreign policy in the region is a block on a path to peace, not a call for it.
"For the past 35 years," Khalidi said, the US role in Israel/Palestine has been "to exacerbate the conflict, to make it much worse, by, in effect, supporting an Israeli position which really wasn't directed at ending the conflict or at ending the occupation or at stopping settlement. By supporting that, in a variety of ways, we have made this thing infinitely more intractable."
Watch the full Democracy Now! interview with Khalidi here: