Obama may seek legacy for Palestinians: Here’s what he should do

President-elect Donald Trump’s adviser on Israel-Palestine recently stated, “Mr. Trump does not view the settlements as being an obstacle to peace.” This violates established U.S. policy in place since President Carter. The Israeli right wing is celebrating what they believe will be an opportunity to annex the whole West Bank, solidifying their Apartheid state in Palestine.

But President Barack Obama is deliberating on the possibility of taking action to safeguard peace and international law. He knows that settlements are a war crime, and that thousands of Palestinian families are made homeless by Israel’s policy of destroying their homes and kicking them off of their land. If President Obama acts bravely and with principle, he can ensure that his legacy on this issue is that of a transformative, instead of apprehensive, leader.

{mosads}In his 2009 Cairo speech, President Obama said, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” and later demanded a total freeze. However, on his watch, the number of West Bank settlers rose dramatically.

If the administration does not act in the next few weeks, President Obama’s only legacy on Israel’s settlement policy will be his veto – against the votes of 14 other UN Security Council members – of a resolution that condemned Israel’s settlement construction in 2011, in direct contradiction to his values and stated policies.

Furthermore, the $38 billion military aid package the Obama administration recently concluded with Israel – followed by a deluge of insults and broken promises by the Israeli government – sends the message that there is no price to pay for gutting peace and insulting key U.S. principles.

Cognizant of these failures, the Obama administration is said to be seeking a way to end on a positive note. The options on the table are an Obama policy speech presenting parameters for peace, a UN Security Council resolution on the same topic, or even supporting an international resolution condemning settlements.

The elections, however, didn’t turn out as planned. Now, the possibility of presenting a UN resolution seems even more distant, and time is scarce.

So what can Obama do to solidify his legacy and make it a bit more difficult for Trump to seed further chaos and destruction in the region?

First, he can strengthen the strict U.S. policy of differentiating between settlements and Israel proper. Obama has fought off congressional efforts to equate the settlements with Israel, but has so far failed to ensure that businesses and other actors based in settlements do not receive the same tax benefits and recognition as entities based in Israeli proper. President Obama, through abstaining from vetoing any future UN-supported resolution on settlements, could make it legally very difficult, and almost impossible, for any future American administration to treat illegal settlements and their produce as part of Israel.

Second, Obama must rapidly convey to the American public, particularly his centrist and progressive base, a narrative on the Israel-Palestine conflict that powerfully captures the reality and humanity on the ground. Instead of saying the Palestinian people deserve “autonomy,” he must say they deserve freedom. Instead of saying that the settlements are an obstacle to peace, he must say that they are part of a system of segregation and oppression that is anathema to American values.

Finally, he should support those struggling for freedom and peace. They now face relentless attacks, from being outlawed in Palestine and Israel to being defamed across the United States. Obama will not achieve peace before he leaves office, but he can empower the young women and men quietly putting in the hard work to shift the power dynamics of this conflict and pave the way to freedom, justice, and dignity for all. As president and as a former community organizer who has used and agrees with their tactics, he must ensure that they are not silenced.

Fadi Quran is a Policy Analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network and a Senior Campaigner at Avaaz.org.  

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump

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