If Obama’s Libyan Intervention “Succeeds”, Will Palestine Be Next?

by James M. Wall

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.

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 cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, pictured right, has worked with international civil rights groups and governments, to urge support for a Palestinian state.

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. For more on the PA plan developed under Fayyad’s direction,  click here for Elizabeth Braw’s Huffington Post interview with the prime minister.

Fayyad’s program was published in 2009 under the optimistic title, “Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.”

At the time, as I wrote in Wall Writings, September 9, 2009, Palestinian Journalist Daoud Kuttub described the plan as “brilliant”.

What impressed Kuttub, as he wrote at the time in Huffington Post, was the fact that:

Palestinians have finally started to act in a different way. Instead of cursing the occupation, the new strategy is aimed at building up the desired Palestinian state. The idea is to force the Israelis to the negotiating table rather than beg them to come. The way to do that is to work for a state as if there were negotiations.

Fayyad’s plan has received strong international support through 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 door armed with their Hasbara (propaganda) weapons of attack, an arsenal which always includes a dash of Holocaust guilt and the ever present threat to play the”anti-semitic” card.

Ramzy Baroud writes that Israel’s Hasbara campaign has backfired. Instead of de-legitimizing a future Palestinian state,

.  .  .   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.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim'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. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty 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.
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8 Responses to If Obama’s Libyan Intervention “Succeeds”, Will Palestine Be Next?

  1. Cotton Fite says:

    I detect a modicum of optimism in you, Jim, that I have not detected before. You imply that given the right conditions Mr. Obama might actually embrace a non-violent civil society Palestinian uprising. After his veto in the U.N. Security Council, I concluded we are forever in Israel’s hip pocket. I dearly hope I am wrong. Whatever … strengthening the BDS movement wherever we can is surely the right direction to go. Who knows when we will have reached the tipping point and we will see Palestinians receive the justice so long delayed and the Israelis saved from themselves.

  2. Fred says:

    Israel has had enormous success in keeping our government supplying it with billions of dollars in military aid year after year, despite it’s illegal and apartheid policies towards the non Jewish population of Palestine. It has also had enormous success as well in muting Christian crticism and action against it’s policies of land theft, house demolitions and apartheid which has been established in the occupied territories. It has done this, as you point out, through using guilt over the holocaust and fears of being labled antisemitic. It must be clearly stated by Christians, that many wrongs never equaled one right, and that Israel’s apartheid and discriminatory policies show that it is Israeli society that now persecutes Christians and Moslems under its rule, and denies equal treatment under the law to those who are not Jewish. Our fear and reluctance as Christians of speaking out and taking necessary action has got to end. Israeli apartheid has become intolerable. Your strong voice for justice Jim, is a blessing to hear.
    Fred

  3. Bill Gepford says:

    Ramzy Baroud states the issue accurately. The occupation is no longer relevant and the sooner the present government of Israel see this the sooner they will be saved from themselves. Wouldn’t it be nice of a coalition of Jews in America and overseas (inlcuding Israel) brought pressure to bear on Israel to change its out-dated propaganda against a legitimate Palestinian state, in the face of the inevitability (looking more so now than a month ago) of progressive Arab societies (including Palestinians) rising up non-violently to claim their rights among the nations of the world? I believe it can happen with an enlightened American administration. Thank you Jim for sharing.

  4. Matt says:

    I know Obama is a fellow Chicagoan, but I think you have too much faith in him, Jim. I can’t see that he’s done anything positive for the interests of Palestinians or even that he wants to do so. He underestimates the intelligence of Palestinians and Americans if he thinks that his cliched sloganeering has advanced peace with justice for Palestinians.

  5. Harris Fawell says:

    The use by the Palestinian civil society of non-violence surely is the onnly way to go to achieve ultimate peace with Israel. Without question Israel’s leaders recognize and fear tangible non-vilolent resistance to their unlawful Isreali occupation of Palentinian lands. Only through non-violence will the UN endorse a Palestinian state and then Israel will be forced by world opinion to finally make a legimate peace with Palestine. And then even Mr. Obama will also concurr in such a peace treaty. Harris Fawell

  6. Patricia Pynchon says:

    Will this really work? I hope you are right. It’s a forceful try, and all must push it (non-jews and Jewish groups for peace. Also, more Christian organizations.)

  7. Joe says:

    Mubarak Awad, considered by many to have planted the seeds of the non-violent movement in Palestine, once told me that during his deportation from the region by Israel in the 1980’s that an Israeli official told him that “We can handle violence. No problem. It’s non-violence that gives us trouble.” I hope that the Palestinian people use non-violence to create a great deal of trouble for Israel.

  8. Awad Paul Sifri says:

    Thanks for your encouraging analysis of progress heading towards the UN proclamation of an independent Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
    You are right that the best way of achieving this objective is for Palestinian civil society to continue diligently building their state, brick by brick, regardless of what Israel might be doing.
    It will be vital for Americans, Europeans, Palestinians and Arabs to explain why establishing an independent Palestinian State is a vital interest of the USA and Europe, as well as Israel and Palestine. Palestinians should enlist even more support of Jewish progressives and youth, Christian groups, and peace & justice groups, as part of the movement that will bring down apartheid and create a Free State of Palestine.

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