Obama’s Israel visit is an insult to the Palestinians

Obama’s visit to Israel endorsed their narrative and was a slap in the face to Palestinians.

Barack Obama
When Obama viewed the Dead Sea Scrolls, "he was in effect looking at stolen property", says author [AP]

President Obama has made some impressive speeches during his brief visit to Israel. He has spoken about the need for a “viable Palestinian state” and shown some empathy with the feelings of a people under occupation. We understand his secretary of state is due to work through the practicalities with both sides after his departure. 

But no amount of rhetoric can disguise the fact that the visit was an insult to the Palestinian people on every count. He laid a wreath at Theodor Herzl’s grave, (needless to say, he did not do the same for Yasser Arafat). He viewed an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum, and had no new plan for resolving the Palestinian plight. 

Herzl was a Jewish Hungarian journalist living in Vienna at the end of the 19th century, with no conceivable connection to Palestine. Nevertheless, it was his vision of an exclusive state for foreign Jews like himself to be built in my homeland that eventually led to the creation of modern Israel in place of Palestine. President Obama’s visit coincided with a time of sad anniversaries for us, Herzl’s victims. 

March 30 is Land Day, marking the collective uprising of Palestinian-Israelis against Israel’s continuous seizure of their land in 1976. On April 9, the Deir Yassin massacre will be remembered. This atrocious event took place in 1948, when Jewish militias killed 190 Palestinian villagers in cold blood, which had led to a mass exodus of terrified Palestinians, and was a vital station on the route to Jewish statehood. The Jewish leader responsible for the massacre, Menachem Begin, said it had been worth a thousand army tanks in the fight against the Palestinians. 

Finally, on May 15, it will be 65 years since Herzl’s original vision of a Jewish state was fulfilled and the mass Palestinian dispossession of 1948 made way for the new state of Israel. Obama’s visit to Herzl’s grave gives a seal of approval to all this. No different was his visit to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are not Israel’s to exhibit. 

Obama talks Palestine with Israeli students

First discovered by a Bedouin shepherd in caves north of the Dead Sea in 1946, more were found over the years to 1952, when archaeologists moved the collection to the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem. After Israel’s occupation of the rest of Palestine in 1967, the scrolls were removed illegally from the Palestine museum by the Israelis and taken to the Israel museum, where Obama saw them. Irrespective of their biblical interest for Jewish scholars, they are part of the wider Palestinian heritage and do not belong to Israel. When Obama viewed them, he was in effect looking at stolen property, and his visit has endorsed that theft. 

But by far the most egregious aspect of his trip is the lack of a plan for restoring a peace process when Israel has the most right-wing government ever in office and includes a pro-settlement party, Jewish Home, in its coalition. An arch-settlement leader, Uri Ariel, is the new housing minister, and Jewish Home has control of the government’s finance committee. Between them, they will fuel the settlement movement with more money and new buildings. Doing nothing at a time like this only advances Israel’s colonisation project on the West Bank, and prolongs Palestinian oppression. 

The outcome of these factors – an expanding Israel and a US impotent to stop it – is an end to a Palestinian state and the two-state solution as envisaged by the Arabs. In this status quo the likeliest way forward will be the Israeli version of the two-state solution: densely populated Palestinian areas of the West Bank become autonomous or get connected to Jordan in a loose confederation, the so-called “Jordanian option“, and Gaza is linked to Egypt. The Jewish Home party openly advocates the annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank to Israel. Numerous articles on these ideas have appeared recently in the Israeli and other press. 

Palestinians, already disillusioned about the chances of a separate state arising, should take heed of these realities. Obama’s visit has shown that no help for their plight will be forthcoming from the US, (or anyone else). They have one last card and they must play it now: to abandon their leaderships both in the West Bank and Gaza and throw their efforts behind a demand for equal rights, including citizenship, under Israeli rule. 

This move, dreaded by Israel’s previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and its past defence minister, Ehud Barak as the preamble to a bi-national state, will put Israel in an impossible position. But it would be the logical result of its policy of land grabs and citizen disenfranchisement. If President Obama’s visit goes some way to stimulating this resolve amongst Palestinians, then it would have had a historic, albeit unintended, purpose, and establish his currently vacuous trip to one that is truly momentous. 

Dr Ghada Karmi is the author of Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine. 

Follow her on Twitter: @ghadakarmi