Jul 13th 2010


by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute
Two decades ago, I remember Jesse Jackson noting that when dealing with controversial issues that created deep divisions, one should be careful "not to excite one side, while only inciting the other". Although these cautionary words apply perfectly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they have too frequently been ignored. The U.S. has always, of course, been attentive to its own domestic politics and has long recognized the importance of Israeli opinion. Arab opinion, on the other hand, has too often been given short shrift. We have coddled Israeli leaders whom we have felt we could not pressure too much because of the adverse reaction of their public. At the same time we have demonstrated no such compunction about pressuring Arab leaders to take steps that were manifestly unpopular, paying no heed to the impact this might have on their legitimacy or on their public's reactions.

After his remarkable speech in Cairo, I believed that this President understood the need to address the price paid by decades of neglecting Arab opinion. I had hopes that he would continue to seek balance in his approach in order to neither "excite" nor "incite". Listening to President Obama's press conference following his White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, gave me pause and a bad case of whiplash.

I had fair warning that this visit would be different than the last, reportedly testy, encounter between these two leaders. And so I should have been prepared for the fact that tough love would be replaced by just plain love. I just wasn't prepared for how much love. And so I confess that I found the apparent public pass Netanyahu received on settlements, the U.S. threat to boycott a summit on Middle East non-proliferation, and all the "unwaverings" and "unbreakables" to be a bit too much to ingest.

In this, I was not alone. A number of U.S. commentators were equally confounded by the White House's behavior, while the Arab World commentary I read, and emails and text messages I received from friends across the region, ranged from despondent to angry.

Now I do not doubt this President's commitment to achieving a comprehensive Middle East peace. And I fully accept as sincere (though surprising) his acknowledgment, at the end of his first year in office, that he had no idea how difficult progress toward this goal would be. As a result, there has been a disturbing meandering quality to his Administration's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There have been moments where they displayed carefully calibrated messaging (as in the Cairo Address, which though ostensibly designed to send a message to Muslims, included passages that addressed the concerns of Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis). On other occasions, there have been flashes of "getting tough" (on settlements or provocations in Jerusalem). But these have been followed by episodes of tone-deafness (the President's insistence that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu join him in that pointless joint appearance last September at the U.N., or the U.S. pressure on the Palestinians to withhold support for the Goldstone Report).

And through all of this meandering, too little has changed on the ground - where realities speak louder than words. Settlements may have been "frozen" but as Peace Now reports make clear, some construction has continued, as have the pressures faced by Palestinians in Jerusalem. The blockade of Gaza, though now somewhat modified, continues to take its toll on that captive population. And aggressive and violent behavior by settlers and occupation authorities in the West Bank continues unchecked.

Despite this troubled setting and the lack of progress in five rounds of indirect "proximity talks", it appears that President Obama now wants direct talks to begin. President Abbas has identified a number of requirements that should be met before such peace talks can begin, and is loathe to drop these requirements lest he experience a replay of last September when he was embarrassed by being compelled to participate in that U.N. appearance with Netanyahu. While we received no indication during that July 6th press conference that the Israelis were ready to meet any of Abbas's terms, in the days that followed, there have been hints from the U.S. side that more occurred in the White House meetings than was revealed in that whiplash-causing post-meeting love fest..

Administration officials point with pride to the results of their efforts to quiet the Israeli behavior in Jerusalem and their success in pressing the Israelis to ease the blockade on Gaza - all of which they felt justified a White House embrace. (Although in both instances they acknowledge that much more needs to be done. And they insist that they are committed to seeing that more will be done.)

For battered Palestinians who lack trust in Benjamin's Netanyahu's words or, at this point, in the promises of any U.S. president, "seeing is believing". They have experienced too many failed settlement freezes, too many rounds of fruitless talks, too many retractable "confidence building gestures, and more than enough unmet deadlines. They are feeling a bit of whiplash, themselves - not knowing whether to just be angry and believe that the Israelis won another round, or to trust this U.S. president and his promise to help deliver peace.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."