Will Obama do the right thing by the suffering Palestinians?

By Hameed Abdul Karim

Barack Obama's victory has caused a mixed response from various sources. On the cautious side we have an intellectual giant like Noam Chomsky claiming like all US Presidents, Obama too would be held hostage by the big boys of big business - or the plutocrats - who actually run the nation and by extension the entire world. He believes US Presidents are puppets one and all.

On the emotion side we see a wonderful human being like Rev. Jesse Jackson shedding tears of joy on hearing of Obama's victory in the US presidential elections. And it's hard not to cry with him, believe me you.

Still on the emotional side, we saw people all over the world celebrating Obama's victory. There was singing and dancing in the streets, and the waving of the US flag which is quite in contrast from the burning of the same flag as a token of protest against US foreign policies that we have seen too often on TV. It was like as if Obama had been elected the president of the world!

A protester holds up a picture of Obama during an anti-war rally in front of the U.S. embassy in Seoul on Tuesday. Reuters

One cannot imagine the drastic consequences for the whole world had John McCain become US president. But how is Obama going to handle world conflicts his predecessors have helped fashion? For example, how is he going to address the West Asian conflict that his nation has created and continues to escalate in its blind support for Israel?

Will he have justice on his mind when the time comes for him to put his foot down? Obama must remember he is the product of the struggle for justice leaders like Martin Luther King Jnr and Malik Shabbaz (Malcolm X) struggled for and eventually sacrificed their lives so that the African-Americans in the US might live in dignity. If it were not for those great civic rights leaders Obama may not be where he is today. He should know that.

During an interview on Al-Jazeera TV, Robert Fisk, the world renowned journalist and author, said he noted that the new president-elect hadn't mentioned the word justice even once in his victory speech. Trust Bob Fisk to latch on to that. But then he's made a valid point. Justice is not too much to ask for and Obama knows this more than anybody else.

Obama has predicted that the wall dividing Jews, Christians and Muslims must come tumbling down like the Berlin Wall. Amen. So what's his policy going to be on the 'fence' the Israelis are building allegedly to protect its citizens from suicide bombers? Former US President Jimmy Carter, a member of Obama's Democratic Party, has called this 'fence' an 'apartheid wall' much to the annoyance of Israel and its lobby in the US. The International Court of Justice has ruled this 'apartheid wall' is illegal. So will Obama pressurise Israel to fulfill its international obligations like any civilised nation is expected to?

Sadly, as far as Obama's records are concerned, there are a few minus points with regard to the Palestinian problem. During a visit to the region recently, he had spent a long time in Israel in comparison to the time he spent in Occupied Palestine. The Palestinians have noted this and decided to give him a broad margin knowing very well that he had to pander to the Israelis and its Jewish lobby back home.

While in Israel he visited the 'rocket museum' and had said that he is a true friend of Israel and that Israel's security was sacrosanct. Once again the Palestinians would like to believe he didn't want to jeopardise his White House bid and that's why he said what he said.

To make matters a bit murky he had also told a huge Jewish gathering in New York organised by the Jewish lobby that Jerusalem would be Israel's capital. Not even Bush had said that.

On the plus side, he had told Israel's former and probably future premier Benyamin Netanyahu where he disagreed with him. That's quite a heroic thing to do especially when you consider that this was the same guy who had threatened to set Washington on fire if he thought the US was looking at the West Asian conflict in a bi-partisan manner. So there is hope Obama might adopt an even-handed manner when tackling the Palestinian-Israeli issue. But then if his appointment of Rahm Emmanuel, a rabid pro- Zionist, as White House Chief of Staff is anything to go by then it looks like he's already giving into the dictates of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Winston Churchill had once said that America will do the right thing after it has exhausted all other possibilities. Well, the time is now and Obama must do the right thing by his nation, the Palestinians and by the whole wide world. He has earned for himself a whole lot of goodwill around the world. Consequently he must respond by doing the right things, especially by the Palestinians, and prove Noam Chomsky wrong - for once.

* The writer is the vice president of the Sri Lanka-Palestinian Solidarity Movement.

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