David Landy, chair of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign writing in a personal capacity for the Spring 2010 issue of Resistance, the bulletin of the Irish Socialist Network
When Barack Obama was elected, he made many pledges about bringing peace to Israel/Palestine, and there was some hope he would end the Bush Doctrine of supporting Israel, right or wrong. In truth, most Palestinian solidarity activists weren’t that hopeful about Obama. In the US, even in leftist circles, ‘peace’ is defined as Israel winning – maintaining itself as semi-apartheid state within its borders, holding on to major settlement blocks and preventing Palestinian refugees (the majority of the population) from returning. Israel’s illegal settlements are the most immediate problem: they have split up the West Bank into a series of disconnected Bantustans bifurcated by Jewish-only roads, enclosed by the Separation Wall. Any real peace needs an end to them.
Many people, myself included, were then pleasantly surprised when one of the first things Obama insisted on was that Israel should stop constructing new settlements in the West Bank, especially Jerusalem. There was nothing about evacuating existing settlements, but the process has to start somewhere. This was followed by the June 4th speech Obama made in Cairo, where he declared his commitment to a Palestinian state, and talked of Palestinians as if they were something other then terrorists. Israel’s far-right government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu was running scared, concerned they may have to make some concessions to maintain US favour. Israelis were pouring racist abuse on Obama. It seemed that there was some small possibility of change happening.
That was in early summer. Already by mid-summer it was clear there would be no settlement freeze. The Israelis stepped up their evictions and slow ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and settlements continued to grow. New settlements are being built in the Jordan valley and Netanyahu is boasting about how he dealt with Obama and averted the threat of peace. Even worse, the US is once again helping Israel undermine international law. It succeeded in pressuring the Fatah-led Palestinian authority to refuse to endorse the Goldstone report, which investigated Israeli war crimes in Gaza. In the UN, the US didn’t bother to turn up for the November 4th debate, vowing to side-line it. It’s back to business as usual, with the ongoing Israeli dispossession of Palestinians overlooked by the US – and by the EU. What happened?
Some will say this shows the all-powerful nature of the Israel lobby. This conspiratorial theory is, at best, deeply disempowering. Certainly Zionists in the US are better organised than Palestinian supporters, and in all likelihood Obama weighed up the balance of forces and – as with so many other things – decided not to upset the more powerful side. But there is nothing inevitable about this. Far from it – US Palestinians and their supporters are a growing force and Zionism is declining. For many Americans the January 2008 attack on Gaza that killed 1300 Palestinians was a watershed, one which has allowed pro-Palestinian points of view, debate about the Israeli lobby, and even talk about the boycott of Israel to enter the mainstream. The breaking of taboos has been accompanied by a growing revolt among American Jews against Zionists controlling their community.
The growth of boycott and divestment actions in the US has taken everyone by surprise. For the first time ever the international Palestine solidarity movement is taking the lead from the US in how to organise boycott and other Palestinian solidarity actions. In the end this is more welcome than any amount of empty rhetoric issued by faux-messianic leaders, The humiliation of Obama by Israel has shown that any real change in US policies towards Israel/Palestine will not be brought about through such rhetoric, but through the grassroots solidarity actions of this growing and diverse array of activists.