Saturday, June 06, 2009

More on Obama's Cairo 'Cantillation'

...The second notable point in the speech is Obama’s analogy between the plight of Palestinians and that of African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow. The context here is Obama’s advice to Palestinians to adopt non-violent means in resisting Israeli occupation. As before, Obama has taken a page from Al Qaeda’s book, in which the alleged humiliation and oppression of Muslims are compared to the tribulations of African-Americans. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s number two leader, often invokes this same history by drawing on the examples of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers to argue that only violence and rejection can lead to political change, and to convince African-American soldiers to desert the U.S. armed forces.

In short, the framing of the United States’ relationship with the Muslim world as one based on friendship rather than enmity, while superficially and rhetorically laudable, is fraught with difficulties and pitfalls, not least because it can unwittingly give credence to the idea that there might in fact be a clash between the United States and Islam. I can imagine a long-bearded man now smiling in a cave on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

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The list of deliverables was exceedingly short. The only firm promise was to a pursue a two-state solution to the Palestine issue—which will be extremely difficult to achieve. There were hints of a softer approach to Hamas (now it’s an organization with “support” and “responsibilities” instead of a terrorist group)

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Let it be said, though, that the harsh rhetoric on Israel plus slaps like no-state-dinner for Mr. Netanyahu at the White House have been replaced by the balanced cadences of the Cairo speech: The Israelis have to do this, the Palestinians and Arabs have to do that.

But the chickens have already come home to roost. The hope, a perennial one, obviously is that the Arabs will be so overjoyed by the U.S. manhandling Israel that they will rally to Old Glory en masse, doing America’s bidding throughout the Greater Middle East. This is not how the Mideast works. To make the point, the spokesman of the Egyptian foreign ministry told the New York Times: “We will judge everything by the degree of Israeli commitments, and measures that are taken.”

In so many words: “Mr. President, now that you have pressured the Israelis, we want to see more of it. And more. And then, perhaps, we’ll do you a favor on other matters.” We are back at the oldest game of the Middle East. It is called “Let the U.S. Deliver Israel, Then We Might Start Acting in Our Own Interest.”
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Both Bush and Obama spoke of Palestine and their desire to see the creation of a state for Palestinian Arabs to live beside Israel. But Bush conditioned U.S. support for Palestine’s independence on a cessation of terrorism. Obama does not. And while he certainly condemned “violence” (perhaps terrorism is too loaded a term for Obama), he implied equivalence between this and the dislocation felt by some Palestinian Arabs.



Cantillation is the ritual chanting of readings from the Bible in synagogue services.

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