The message is clear
For Palestinians, so far, the new US president represents no change whatsoever, writes Ramzy Baroud*
When former US president George W Bush departed for his final trip home, that very moment represented an end of a long and unbearable nightmare, one that Bush epitomised until his last day in office.
Americans may decry what we can finally dub as the "Bush legacy", for it brought economic ruin and also pushed the country into avoidable, if not completely preventable, wars, disgracing the collective history of a nation that for long imposed its sense of moral authority on the world.
But the new president is set to change all of that. True, Barack Obama is duly warning of hyped expectations, but frankly he can only blame himself for the eagerness and hope, realistic or otherwise, that has engulfed the US nation, even the world over. During his presidential campaign he made many promises, the gist of which is that an Obama administration would be everything that the Bush administration was not. That was enough for "Obamaniacs" to sing and dance everywhere.
One cannot expect Obama to have a magic solution for everyone's problems. Rather, one must be realistic and simply ask Obama to remedy the problems and conflicts that were introduced or provoked, financed and sustained, by his own country.
Regarding the Middle East, Obama seems to have hit the ground running, or so we are told. Shortly after his inauguration, he appointed former Senator George Mitchell as special envoy to the region. Mitchell "will bring a wealth of experience and credibility to the job", said CNN.
Once again, Obama is clearly attempting to delineate an early policy that differs from that of Bush. The latter was affiliated with the infamous Guantanamo Bay, the "gulag of our times" according to Amnesty International, thus Obama ordered it closed, a year from now albeit. Bush was blamed for his late arrival to the Middle East peace process scene, thus Obama makes it clear that the peace process is a priority for his administration.
But the question is how different will Obama truly be when his administration is done carrying out a few symbolic gestures to appease the ever-eager public?
Naturally a new administration, promising a new era, requires a new language. Although inundated with lofty terminology, the outline of Obama's new administration seems, in some instances, a mirror image of Bush.
These are remarks made by Obama (not Bush), 22 January, and seen as the first major statement by his administration regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: "Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel's security. And we will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats... Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognise Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements. Going forward, the outline for a durable ceasefire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm."
Funny how Obama started his statement with "let me be clear". He cannot possibly be any clearer as he spent endless hours for many months assuring Israel and its supporters while condemning Palestinians without any reservation or remorse. Those who counted on Obama to bring a just peace to the Middle East must've had their hearts broken watching the man charging against Hamas's terror as thousands of Gazans were killed and wounded, including 430 children in three weeks as a result of Israel's barbarous attacks, using mostly US weapons and full, unqualified US backing.
And yet Obama found it fitting to explain that his administration's foreign policy is not only "critical in terms of projecting... America's power, but also America's values and America's ideals." Of course, it was Palestinian trust in those ideals that led them in droves to the polls in January 2006, and subsequently to their starvation and carnage in Gaza. It is no wonder that Palestinians are unimpressed.
Aside from Obama's unparalleled clarity, thus far, on his utter and "unconditional" commitment to Israel, he, along with his officials, continues to borrow similar vague slogans that were used enthusiastically by the Bush administration: national security, national interests, spreading of American ideals, values, and all the rest, etc. Commenting on such sloganeering, Howard Zinn, one of America's most celebrated historians, said: "We have to think about these words and phrases that are thrown at us without giving us a time to think. And... we have to redefine these words, like 'national security'. What is national security?... having military bases all over the world [or] ... having healthcare, having jobs?"
Americans will have four years to determine how Obama and his administration define these tired slogans, ones that also include democracy and "terrorism". (Is the latter an exclusively Arab tendency, never an Israeli one, no matter how many the latter kills?) Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza hardly have time to breathe as tens of thousands remain homeless and destitute. Moreover, they have little hope in and expectations of Obama or even Mitchell, despite his "wealth of experience and credibility".
"Obama won't bring my husband back to life," Leila Khalil, a Gazan woman, whose husband was killed during Israel's bloody offensive, told AFP. "He was martyred and left me with six children to feed on my own."
Obama has also made himself "clear" regarding the fate of Leila's husband, and thousands like him: "For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror."
Luckily, Leila no longer has a TV set to listen to Obama's remarks. It was, along with her home pulverised by Israeli missiles, courtesy of the United States. For Gazans, and most Palestinians, things cannot be any clearer.
* The writer is editor of Palestine Chronicle.com.