Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Iran, Israel-Palestine, and deliberate misconceptions in the mainstream

Since before he was elected as President of the United States, the expectations of Barack Obama have been far higher than is realistic from the man at the helm of a world power. True, his status as the first non-white to take the highest office in the land was an important symbol of how far the people of the USA have come, and his skills as an orator are unmatched. However, it is folly to take the attributes granted him by either supporting or opposing commentators seriously. He is, and always was, a traditional dovish "liberal."

As an illustration, it is fair to say that, superficially, there were plenty of differences between Bull Clinton and George bush I. Ultimately, though, all of the "differences" boiled down to tactics and presentation. Both had the same state-corporate interests at heart in their policies. To take just the international stage as an example, Clinton continued the murderous sanctions of Iraq that followed on from the war of the Bush I era. In former Yugoslavia, with a little reordering of the timeline by the media, Clinton set a precedent for "humanitarian war" which Bush II would use as justification for Iraq when the WMD pretext fell apart, and the bombing of a near-defenceless Iraq continued right through the transition between the Clinton and Bush II administrations.

Obama's presidency falls neatly within this remit, no matter how vociferously (and absurdly) his conservative and hawkish opponents may brand him, absurdly, a "socialist" and a "radical." The fact is that though he may differ on tactics and approach from Bush II, the basic preconceptions hold across both administrations.

There was much outrage when he reversed his decision to scrap the military commission system of trying suspected terrorists. According to the New York Times, the decision "could set off more criticism from civil libertarian and liberal groups" worried "that Mr. Obama has not made a sharper break from" the policies of the previous administration. But, as the paper points out, Obama "never rejected the possibility of using" the tribunals "if they could be made fairer," through his attempts to "revamp the procedures to provide more due process to detainees."

Once again, the arguments are purely tactical. Unchallenged by either liberals or conservatives in the US press or political arena was the tacit assumption that "terror suspects" are, by definition, enemies of the United States. That anyone other than official enemies could be terrorists is an uncomfortable reality and thus unthinkable, off the agenda, even to "radical" liberals.

The same elementary political truism can be applied with regard to the Middle East, as can be seen in the outcome of - and reaction to - the President's first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. At the press conference after their meeting, Obama repeated what he "has said from the outset," namely that "Israel’s security is paramount" and that "it is in U.S. national security interests" to "maintain" the position of Israel as "an independent Jewish state," typical rhetoric on both the hawkish and doveish ends of the spectrum.

Following on from this, Obama told of his and Netanyahu's "deepening concern" over "the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran," a theme quickly picked up by the media. The New York Times reported that Obama "expected to know by the end of the year" if Iran was making "a good-faith effort to resolve differences" over its nuclear program. Again, spectral differences are apparent when comparing Obama's willingness to negotiate to Bush II's hot-headed bellicosity, and yet underlying presumptions are identical.

Obama doesn't want "talks [to] become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds" with building nuclear weapons, an unquestionable doctrine. And yet, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly reaffirmed that it has "been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material [for possible military purposes] in Iran." Although, "contrary to the request of the Board of Governors and the Security Council," the Islamic republic "has not suspended its enrichment related activities," Reuters in February quoted IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming in support of news that "Iran is cooperating well with U.N. nuclear inspectors";
The (IAEA) has no reason at all to believe that the estimates of LEU produced in the (Natanz) facility were an intentional error by Iran. They are inherent in the early commissioning phases of such a facility when it is not known in advance how it will perform in practice.

Iran has provided good cooperation on this matter and will be working to improve its future estimates.

No nuclear material could have been removed from the facility without the agency's knowledge since the facility is subject to video surveillance and the nuclear material has been kept under seal.
Of course, such a truth is unspeakable in the mainstream, even at the "radical" liberal end. Also unmentionable is Iran's "right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," as affirmed by the IAEA. No, these villains, in spite of US Intelligence's "high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme," want "to wipe Israel off the map." That this statement was a gross mistranslation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's much less bellicose and more philosophical statement that "the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time" is also stricken from the record.

Likewise, on the issue of Palestine, the oft-repeated demand is that the Palestinians "recognize Israel as a Jewish state." Unmentioned, across nearly all coverage, is Israeli refusal to recognise a Palestinian state. Netanyahu spoke of an "end to conflict" through "compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike," namely "recognition," and allowing "Israel to have the means to defend itself." Compromises by both sides, then, is a thinly-veiled euphemism for Palestinian concessions. Talk of "Israel’s security conditions" and "recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, its permanent legitimacy" abound, but "compromises by Israelis" alike, remain a mere rhetorical device.

If there is to be any genuine movement towards the supposed "common goal" of "peace," then the tradition of US-Israeli rejectionism that has continued into the Obama administration must end. The Israeli vow, for coverage of which one has to turn to the Tehran Times, to "not cooperate with the United Nations inquiry into violations by Israeli troops and Hamas during the December 27-January 18 offensive in Hamas-governed Gaza" is indicative of the contempt with which Tel Aviv views Palestinian "security conditions," whilst the story in the Daily Telegraph that Netanyahu "would not commit Israel to a two-state solution" as it "would undoubtedly become a 'Hamastan'," demonstrates how far Israeli "recognition" of Palestinian "legitimacy" has to go.

And yet, still, mainstream debate over the troubled region speaks of "compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike" as though such only involves acceptance of "Israel’s security conditions" and "recognition of Israel’s legitimacy." The long-held international consensus is of a two-state solution along pre-1967 borders, with "minor and mutual adjustments," as enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 242. As long as the true implications of this resolution remains off the agenda, and blame for rejectionism continues to be spun in the opposite direction to reality, then peace will remain a far-flung dream.