Obama's European tour has a strong human-rights message. At a press conference on Thursday he said of his meeting with Pope Francis, "His Holiness is very interested in the Israel-Palestine issue."
On Wednesday I watched his stemwinder to European youth, laying out the principles that defy the Russian occupation of Crimea. The ideas were stirring. Time and again the president invoked democracy, self-determination, human equality, territorial integrity and dignity -- principles the U.S. has nullified in its policy in Israel and Palestine.
First, he outlines his theme like a constitutional scholar. (Emphasis mine)
"Throughout human history, societies have grappled with fundamental questions of how to organize themselves, the proper relationship between the individual and the state, the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle -- through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution -- that a particular set of ideals began to emerge: The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding. And those ideas eventually inspired a band of colonialists across an ocean, and they wrote them into the founding documents that still guide America today, including the simple truth that all men -- and women -- are created equal.
"But those ideals have also been tested -- here in Europe and around the world. Those ideals have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign. Often, this alternative vision roots itself in the notion that by virtue of race or faith or ethnicity, some are inherently superior to others, and that individual identity must be defined by "us" versus "them," or that national greatness must flow not by what a people stand for, but by what they are against."
But the governed in Gaza and the West Bank have no voice in the government that controls them. And the Jewish state has constituted itself with an unequal definition of citizenship, with Jews having more rights -- in an "older, more traditional view of power."
Notice his thrilling narration of the age of decolonization, unfolding in the Third World and the U.S.:
"...the ideals that came to define our [North Atlantic] alliance also inspired movements across the globe among those very people, ironically, who had too often been denied their full rights by Western powers. After the Second World War, people from Africa to India threw off the yoke of colonialism to secure their independence. In the United States, citizens took freedom rides and endured beatings to put an end to segregation and to secure their civil rights. As the Iron Curtain fell here in Europe, the iron fist of apartheid was unclenched, and Nelson Mandela emerged upright, proud, from prison to lead a multiracial democracy."
But there's apartheid all over the West Bank, and Palestinians in Israel are second-class citizens. Not to mention the growing understanding that Israel is a settler-colonial state in which European immigrants have higher status.
He opposes ethnic cleansing...
"Young people in the audience today, young people like Laura, were born in a place and a time where there is less conflict, more prosperity and more freedom than any time in human history. But that's not because man's darkest impulses have vanished. Even here, in Europe, we've seen ethnic cleansing in the Balkans that shocked the conscience."
But Israel continues to "Judaize" East Jerusalem, the Negev, parts of the Galilee, and Area C, by demolishing Palestinian homes and villages to make way for Jews.
He opposes militarism...
"[W]e are confronted with the belief among some that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way -- that recycled maxim that might somehow makes right."
And states that self-determination is at the basis of western progress...
"So I come here today to insist that we must never take for granted the progress that has been won here in Europe and advanced around the world... And that's what's at stake in Ukraine today. Russia's leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident -- that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future."
And "annexation" is an evil, around the world. Including the Middle East...
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