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Apr-03-2011 15:27printcomments

If Obama's Libyan Intervention 'Succeeds', Will Palestine Be Next?

If Libya does stabilize, President Obama will be on a roll, all the more reason he could decide he will not need congressional backup to end Israel’s irresponsible domination of the region.

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama

(CHICAGO) - President Obama’s surprise decision to conduct an “humanitarian” effort to protect Libyans from attacks by Muammar Quaddafi, was followed by the President’s swift withdrawal in favor of NATO.

This was a clear sign that Obama knew he had to combine caution with wisdom when he brought American arms into yet another Arab country.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen was one of many media liberals who was surprised to find himself supporting the President’s decision to intervene in Libya.  He had not expected Obama to embrace American exceptionalism with such enthusiasm.

Cohen is not speaking of the neo-conservative self-righteous, superior exceptionalism, but of an American exceptionalism “as a transformative moral beacon to the world.” Cohen figured the term itself made the president “uneasy”. He explains:

And yet, and yet, this cautious president, who has been subtly talking down American power — with reason — has involved the nation in a new conflict in Libya, one in which his own defense secretary holds that the United States has no “vital interest.” He has joined a long line of U.S. leaders in discovering the moral imperative indivisible from the American idea.

Michigan professor Juan Cole, another liberal who supported President Obama’s air war intervention over Libya, is now equally enthusiastic over his decision to pull back in favor of NATO.

Cole’s Informed Comment column on Friday points to two significant developments which suggests a political solution could be imminent in Libya: The US withdrawal from active military participation and the growing number of inner-circle defections away from Muammar Quaddafi.

The situation remains fluid, so this optimism could disappear overnight. There also remains the presence of American CIA operatives on the ground in Libya, assisting the rebel forces and helping to identify targets for the allied bombing runs. Technically, these operatives are not US military, so the US pledge to have “no boots on the ground” has not been violated.

Cole writes:

The slow, cautious war of attrition from the air against Qaddafi’s forces that undertake attacks on civilians in rebel-held cities will continue. Qaddafi’s closest associates are fleeing from Tripoli in terror of being held accountable for his crimes against humanity when his regime ultimately falls.

Some of these developments on Thursday drew howls of outrage from hawks such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, which is how you know that they are promising developments. It is better that the intervention in Libya not be branded a US one, but rather be seen as the effort of the 28 nations of NATO plus the Arab League.

Following the change in Libya, it is not too early to look northward toward Israel. Knowing of Juan Cole’s support for the Palestinian struggle, it would be assumed he would be even more enthusiastic over a non-violent, second intervention in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

If Libya does stabilize, President Obama will be on a roll, all the more reason he could decide he will not need congressional backup to end Israel’s irresponsible domination of the region.

Robert Burns,  the Washington-based National Security Writer for the Associated Press, described the disappointment of members of Congress who had earlier supported the President’s decision to engage in the air war.

“Odd,” “troubling” and “unnerving” were among critical comments by senators pressing for an explanation of the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that American combat missions will end Saturday.

“Your timing is exquisite,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said sarcastically, alluding to Gadhafi’s military advances this week.

Gates and Mullen, in back-to-back appearances before the House and Senate armed services committees, also forcefully argued against putting the U.S. in the role of arming or training Libyan rebel forces, while suggesting it might be a job for Arab or other countries.

We can be certain that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is watching to see if the Libyan intervention ends as a “success”. From his perspective, “success” would be measured by its impact on Israel. Because these uprisings are a new phenomenon, Netanyahu is apprehensive about what to expect next  from the Arab Spring.

Israel’s greatest fear is that the Palestinian civil society within Israel, and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, will continue to expand and gain confidence.

Ramzy Baroud, editor of the Palestine Chronicle, describes what it is about the growing impact of civil society that frightens Israel’s leaders.

The concept of civil society is often used as a meeting point between other forces, including a healthy and fully functional state. In the Palestinian scenario, however, with the occupation, siege and regular assassinations and imprisonments of political leaders, such a state is missing.

This reality has skewed the traditional balance, resulting in a political void engineered by Israel to de-legitimize Palestinian demands and rights. It is most impressive, to say the least, that representatives of Palestinian civil society have managed to step up and fill the void.

This success would have never been possible without individuals from international civil society, including Rachel Corrie, the Turkish heroes aboard the Mavi Marmara, and the many Israeli activists and organisations who are currently being targeted by the rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman.

Israel has shown alarm over the growing importance of civil society by reacting on many fronts. In Palestine, it has imprisoned Palestinian non-violent resisters. In Israel, it has cracked down on funds received by Israeli human rights groups. And internationally, it has pushed forward a media campaign of defamation.

Palestinian civil society will not “overthrow” the Israeli government. But Palestinians have demonstrated that they have the power to expose the aggressive Israeli policies that are so antithetical to the “moral imperative” that lies at the core of American ideals.

In September, the United Nations will consider a proposal to make the State of Palestine a UN member in full standing. The new state would include all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The New York Times calls this vote  ”a move that could place Israel into a diplomatic vise”.

Why? Because Israel would be occupying land belonging to a fellow United Nations member, an ugly and brutal reality called The Occupation.

Palestinian civil society has been steadily building toward this UN vote through non-violent actions during a period when the US indulged Israel as a rich parent might indulge a spoiled child, with generous gifts of military funding and protective political cover.

The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, has worked with international civil rights groups and governments, urging support for a Palestinian state.  The PA started that process two years ago, creating its own government which will be ready to function as an independent government once it is established. This was difficult for a people living under military occupation, but the PA was persistent.

At last count, 112 members of the UN have endorsed a Palestinian state, a result achieved by the efforts of the PA, in spite of the occupation, to build a government structure which has gained the trust of the international community.

The huge advantage the Palestinians have over rebellious groups in other Arab states is that, in spite of the efforts of Israel to delegitimize the functioning government, it is a work not just in progress, but a state that is ready to stand on its own as a nation, once it is receives UN recognition.

This has been done non-violently, led by the growing strength of the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) movement, which has given international activist groups a tangible way to support the creation of a Palestinian state. This movement began in Palestine in 2005,  modeled after the successful anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa.

Israel’s leaders see, and fear, this tangible non-violent resistance to the occupation. American church leaders are familiar with this fear, as anyone within the churches can testify.

The moment any church body decides to embrace BDS as a non-violent tactic, or even suggests a conversation on the issue, Israel’s US supporters show up at the church’s door armed with the weapons of mass destruction which always include guilt over the Holocaust and the ever present threat to play the”anti-semitic” card.

Ramzy Baroud describes Israel’s response to its opposition:

Israel’s actions have not been limited to de-legitimizing Palestinian rights and dismissing their existence. Israel has also worked hard to fragment any sense of political or national cohesion, through many creative means, separation walls notwithstanding.

Yet it is the Israeli occupation that is now being de-legitimized, its own government that is being isolated, and its own country’s reputation that is constantly compromised. The power of civil society has indeed surpassed that of military hardware, archaic and exclusivist historical discourses, propaganda and political coercion.

The Palestinian civil society uprising is an uprising which President Obama must embrace. The President showed caution and wisdom in his limited use of force in Libya. In confronting Israel he does not need to rely on the force of arms. What he does need is the power of a non-violent movement designed to eradicate injustice.

Israel’s occupation has been de-legitimized, its own government increasingly isolated, and its own country’s reputation has been compromised.  It is for Israel’s own good that President Obama must support Palestinian civil society and bring a permanent end to Israel’s illegal and immoral military occupation.

The Arab Spring is all about overthrowing the forces of oppression, wherever and in whatever form these forces exist.  Israel’s occupation is one of these forces of oppression. End it, Mr. President, end it peacefully.

The picture of President Obama is by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images. It is from the Shadow Government blog on the Foreign Policy web site.

The photo of graffiti art by Banksy on the Palestinian side of Israel’s separation wall, is in the East Jerusalem district of ar-Ram. The photograph is by William Parry, whose book Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine will be published in the US by Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press this spring.

Journalism was Jim Wall’s undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. An ordained United Methodist clergy person; he and his wife, Mary Eleanor, are the parents of three sons, and the grandparents of four grandchildren. They live in Elmhurst, Illinois.

Jim served for two years on active duty in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF (inactive) reserve. While serving with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years, starting in 1972. Time magazine wrote about the new editor, who arrived at the Christian Century determined to turn the magazine into a hard-hitting news publication. The inspiration for Wall Writings comes from that mindset and from many other sources that have influenced Jim’s writings over the years, including politics, cinema, media, American culture, and the political struggles in the Middle East. Jim has made more than 20 trips to that region as a journalist, during which he covered such events as Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem, and the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. He has interviewed, and written about, journalists, religious leaders, political leaders and private citizens in the region. You can write to Jim Wall at Visit Jim's Website: Wall Writings

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Anonymous April 4, 2011 8:07 pm (Pacific time)

I think you should remember that Goldstone's entire family was probably being threatened in order to flip flop...

John April 3, 2011 8:01 pm (Pacific time)

Wow, what a balanced analysis.

Anonymous April 3, 2011 5:54 pm (Pacific time)

Listen..I know what is going on in the world, I nailed what was happening in Egypt 2 days after the chaos started when no one else did. Lets move to Libya now. Here is what we have. WRH, Gordon Duff, are saying that israel sent 50,000 mercenaries to Libya to keep Qaddafi in power, but obama/UN/NATO are sending bombs to get Qaddafi out. If you think I believe that for one minute, you are mistaken. This means obama/UN/NATO are against israel. Tell me one time where obama/UN/NATO has not bowed down to Israel. Never, and it will never happen. I dont know exactly what is going on yet, I have to admit, its confusing, but the truth will come out soon, and I will be here to share that truth. Stay tuned, film at 11 :-)

Brian April 3, 2011 4:38 pm (Pacific time)

What a load of crap.
Comparing a murderous dictator to a liberal free democracy defending itself from terrorists committed to its destruction cannot be thought of as anything else

Editor: For a second there I thought you were saying Israel was a 'liberal free democracy' and I had to pick myself up off the floor.  Israel is not free, it is not a democracy, and it certainly isn't liberal.  Separate laws for Arabs and Jews, separate laws, separate court punishments... Israel is doing its evil dance in the shadows of too many that came before.    

Tom April 3, 2011 4:00 pm (Pacific time)

and did you not see the latest Goldstone retraction!

Editor: Here is our reaction to that sad man whose moral code blows in the wind: Goldstone: the Real Face of Change - Tim King

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