Middle East studies in the News
Obama's Other Side [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
by George S. Hishmeh
It is almost anyone's guess what the US policy in the Middle East would be like under a new American leader next year.
Judging by the rhetoric in this amazing primary election campaign, reportedly the costliest in US history and the likes of which has not been seen in past decades especially among the Democratic Party's surviving candidates, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, it may be disappointingly not much different than the disastrous policies of the Bush administration.
This is especially true with regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, now in its 61st year.
The presumptive Republican nominee, Senator Jim McCain, is not expected to deviate from this administration's line, though he sounded more reasonable when for a short while he respected the outcome of the internationally-supervised Palestinian election in 2006 which brought Hamas to power.
Likewise Clinton's stance; after all it is unexpected for a senator from New York, which has a large Jewish community, to deviate much from the pro-Israeli line that Americans have been nurtured on.
For the record, the current US foreign policy has been described as "a little more than an extension of Israeli foreign policy".
But as far as Obama is concerned, he was in the first months of his campaign an unknown entity on the Middle East's key issue, a factor that has raised apprehension among some in the American Jewish community while giving some hope for some Arab-Americans.
Interestingly, the African-American has won admiration from many former key American officials including Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national adviser to president Jimmy Carter and Robert Malley, the programme director for Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group and a former special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs. Both are known advisers to the senator.
As he gained prominence and seemed virtually certain of his nomination as the Democratic Party's nominee in the general election, he is now being hounded mercilessly by pro-Israelis, especially the pro-Israel lobby known as AIPAC - the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Their ire was raised after Obama indicated that he was willing to talk to Iran, at present Israel's arch enemy because of the Tehran government's alleged nuclear ambitions. (But the fact, as revealed by Carter, that Israel possesses 150 nuclear weapons should not be a concern to any nation in the Middle East and hardly raises an eyebrow in the halls of the White House!)
To counter the pro-Israel lobby offensive, Obama ultimately switched gears and began to court the Jewish vote, stressing that the US should show "unshakeable" support to Israel.
His major step in this direction was his address last Friday to the B'nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Florida, which was described by one commentator as "a high-wire exercise of political pandering" designed to quell anti-Obama views in the Jewish community due to fears that he does not support Israel.
There was actually not much difference between what President George W. Bush told the Knesset on Israel's 60th birthday celebration than Obama's remarks before the Jewish audience in Florida.
Both had a perfunctory one-liner about the Palestinians. Although the senator had pegged his election campaign to the attractive theme of "change", meaning that his administration would disavow the policy of the Bush administration and negotiate with adversaries, he stressed "we should not negotiate with Hamas or Hezbollah" unless "they renounce terror, recognise Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements."
On this subject, he continued, "I have a fundamental difference with President Carter and his decision to meet with Hamas."
At another point, he was laudatory: "Justice is the heart of Israel's existence. The journey has been long, And, in the journey ahead, we have a lot of bumps. But America must stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Israel. I believe that all Americans believe that."
He went on: "Israel has done more than just survive. It has thrived as a strong and vibrant democracy. It has provided that promised land for Jews around the world. It has built a thriving economy that's spreading opportunity to Israel's citizens, while enriching the world. And it has developed a rich cultural life and made enormous contributions to science and the arts."
To the seasoned observer, the senator overlooked Israel's aggressive policies in the region, ranging from ethnic cleansing to the blockade of the Gaza Strip which President Carter described as "one of the greatest human rights crimes now existing on Earth."
No wonder Professor Rashid Khalidi, who had hosted the Obamas at dinners at his home when he taught at the University of Chicago several years ago, had this pithy comment about the ambitious senator: "People think he's a saint. He's not. He's a politician."
Dr Khalidi is at present the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, and the director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.
George Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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