The Paucity of Hope By Yousef Munayyer
Ibrahim Abu Jayyab, 23, was a big Barack Obama supporter and during the election campaign he spent hours phone-banking for him. However, unlike some of Ibrahim's Palestinian-American counterparts, he was calling from Gaza, dialing internationally to American households, urging votes for Obama.
Today, a year since the election, prospects for "hope and change" coming to the people of Palestine have all but vanished. Despite fifteen years of talk of creating a Palestinian state, Palestinians have seen only increased illegal Israeli colonization of the land that was supposed to be their future state. A devastating assault on Gaza which left over 1,400 people, mostly civilians dead, was the culmination of eight years of failed George W. Bush administration policy. Still, you cannot blame Ibrahim and his fellow Palestinians for being hopeful when Barack Obama first took office.
Things could not seem worse during the Bush administration for the Palestinians, so Obama was an improvement before his first day in office. Many Palestinians felt President Obama would carry out an evenhanded policy for the first time. His lofty and populist rhetoric during the campaign resonated with a people long trying to appeal to a sense of international equality and justice. Despite failed peace efforts and a heinous attack on an already suffocated Gaza, many still remained hopeful.
However, the only real change taking place since Obama's election is Israel's continued illegal geographic expansion in the West Bank and increased defiance of international law. Israel continues unchecked settlement expansion and evicting scores of Palestinians and demolishing their houses in Jerusalem, defying their obligations under the 2003 Road Map for Peace.
Factually, there is little change between the Bush and Obama administrations' approaches to the peace process. Both administrations have failed to enforce Israel's obligations under the Road Map. Furthermore, the Obama administration has adopted the Bush administration's failed and flawed policy of supporting one Palestinian faction against the other, rather than unite them under a common theme of mutual interest.
Despite repeated requests from the Obama administration for Israel to stop colonizing Palestinian land, the colonization continues unabated. Israel's Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has openly defied and publicly ridiculed U.S. policy.
Yesterday, Israel announced the expansion of yet another illegal settlement. The Obama administration's response was a toothless statement expressing "dismay". The failure of successive U.S. administrations to increase political and financial pressure on Israel for violations of international law and U.S. policy has led to a West Bank littered with Israeli settlements and only emboldened the Israeli government to defy us further. Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has put what little domestic legitimacy he had left on the line to participate in fruitless negotiations, said yesterday that Obama is "doing nothing" to advance the peace-process right now.
Today the effect of this, especially at this moment in history, is devastating. Palestinians were at the brink after the attacks on Gaza and the only thing that brought them back from the edge was optimism about the future. The focus now has returned to the pain of Gaza and years of wasted time invested in a process that has only resulted in dispossession of the Palestinian people.
There is a communication gap between the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians when defining the goal of a "peace process". Palestinians, and most of the world, believed the goal was to end the illegal occupation that started in 1967, creating a state in that territory for Palestinians which would ultimately lead to peace in the region. However, Israel's actions continue to defy that goal. The Israeli government's continued apartheid-styled occupation jokingly refers to a "piece process" as it continues to carve up Palestinian land one piece at a time. The world is not laughing.
The United States must immediately define to Israel and the Palestinians clear goals with specific and reasonable time tables enforced with tough political and financial repercussions for any party that fails to follow obligations.
Palestinian youth are unlikely to dedicate time to volunteer for President Obama's re-election and, the way things are going, are unlikely to be living in a free and independent state of Palestine by that time either. The future of the next generation of Palestinians, their ambitions, hopes and desires reflect our policies. So far, these policies have been hopeless.
Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This policy brief may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the Center.