J. Philip Rosen, one of the principal organizers of the fundraiser for Gov. Romney, regards Palestinian society as “pathological” and President Mahmoud Abbas as “evil.” So it’s little wonder that Gov. Romney made an argument while here for the cultural superiority of Israelis over Palestinians as an explanation for Israel’s greater economic success – the figures for which he dramatically misstated.
Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, responded: “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.” Erekat added, “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.” I concur, though he was overly kind to Israeli officials in claiming that Israelis have not made the same bigoted argument. Tragically, too many have.
It’s alarming that Gov. Romney can think our disconnected Bantustans can be compared meaningfully in any way with Israel’s economy while Israel controls movement in our territory and illegally removes water and other natural resources from our land. Israel’s economy is further enhanced with $3 billion per year in American military aid. Palestinians, meanwhile, would gladly take no economic aid if Israel’s control over our lives and freedom were simply removed. We are looking for no handout, just a measure of control over our lives.
Palestinians were also troubled, though not surprised, by Romney’s effort to gain favor with Evangelical and Jewish voters by backing Israel’s claim that Jerusalem is its capital. But the international community, including the United States, has never recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem and the status of Jerusalem has long been recognized as an issue to be resolved in final status negotiations. Those negotiations have stopped, however, because Palestinians recognized the absurdity of continuing ever-lasting negotiations while Israel settled occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. One cannot be expected to negotiate over a pie while the other side is eating that pie as quickly as possible and using negotiations as a cover for that process.
The larger question here is the utter inability of many politicians in the United States to play an even-handed, fair-minded intermediary role between Israelis and Palestinians. They have decided to come down squarely on Israel’s side. Palestinian freedom counts for nothing beyond an occasional weak endorsement and even then it seems quite possible our “state” will be little more than a series of disconnected Bantustans.
In May 2009, I wrote in the Los Angeles Times that it appeared to me during a February 2009 visit to Washington, DC that the “Obama administration… planned to be in neither the Israelis' nor the Palestinians' pocket. That is all we Palestinians have ever asked.”
Those are now distant days. The Obama Administration has stepped away from asking Prime Minister Netanyahu to end Israel’s domination of Palestinians and is walking away from earlier policies that exerted even the mildest pressure on Israel. Americans are being told that President Obama misjudged the situation rather than that he came under enormous political pressure, buckled, and listened to Congressional voices and AIPAC rather than those who insisted the United States has a role to play in upholding Palestinian rights in the face of an ongoing Israeli land grab.
For Palestinians, the consequences of Israel/Palestine being a domestic American political issue are tragic. Politicians see no electoral advantage in pressing for Palestinian political rights with anything near the determination that Democrats eventually mustered in pressing for the end of apartheid in South Africa.
For a presidential candidate to be able to travel to Israel and not have to confront hard-hitting questions about Israeli domination of Palestinian lives suggests that American politicians will be under no pressure any time soon to explain why they support policies that dispossess, impoverish, and politically marginalize Palestinians and at the same time hurt the American image in the region and worldwide. This is a loss for all those Palestinians and Israelis who believe in peace and justice.
Yet no one should be surprised when dysfunctional American and Israeli politics contribute to overlooking a changing Palestinian reality that moves us from support for two states to support for one state with equal rights for all. I am on that road and tens of thousands of young Palestinians are on it as well. Gov. Romney and President Obama may not yet be aware of changing Palestinian perspectives, but it hasn’t been for lack of alarm bells rung by Palestinians.
Barghouthi, a doctor and member of the Palestinian Parliament, is secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party.