The fact that the Israel-Palestine conflict grinds on without resolution might appear to be rather strange. For many of the world's conflicts, it is difficult even to conjure up a feasible settlement. In this case, it is not only possible, but there is near universal agreement on its basic contours: a two-state settlement along the internationally recognized (pre-June 1967) borders -- with "minor and mutual modifications," to adopt official U.S. terminology before Washington departed from the international community in the mid-1970s.
Substantial mythology has been created about the entire record, but the basic facts are clear enough and quite well documented.
"Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers.… Gaza's subjection began long before Israel's recent war against it [December 2008]. The Israeli occupation — now largely forgotten or denied by the international community — has devastated Gaza's economy and people, especially since 2006…. After Israel's December  assault, Gaza's already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable. Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel Defense Forces admitted was indefensible.
"Israel's finance ministry has given the Israel Electric Corp. (IEC) approval to purchase larger quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed upon, according to Israeli government sources [which] said the state-owned utility would be able to negotiate for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast of the Palestinian controlled Gaza Strip.
There are some instructive precedents. In 1989, Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans signed a treaty with his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas granting Australia rights to the substantial oil reserves in "the Indonesian Province of East Timor." The Indonesia-Australia Timor Gap Treaty, which offered not a crumb to the people whose oil was being stolen, "is the only legal agreement anywhere in the world that effectively recognises Indonesia's right to rule East Timor," the Australian press reported.
A few years later, Evans became the leading figure in the campaign to introduce the concept "responsibility to protect" -- known as R2P -- into international law. R2P is intended to establish an international obligation to protect populations from grave crimes. Evans is the author of a major book on the subject and was co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which issued what is considered the basic document on R2P.
In an article devoted to this "idealistic effort to establish a new humanitarian principle," the London Economist featured Evans and his "bold but passionate claim on behalf of a three-word expression which (in quite large part thanks to his efforts) now belongs to the language of diplomacy: the 'responsibility to protect.'" The article is accompanied by a picture of Evans with the caption "Evans: a lifelong passion to protect." His hand is pressed to his forehead in despair over the difficulties faced by his idealistic effort. The journal chose not to run a different photo that circulates in Australia, depicting Evans and Alatas exuberantly clasping their hands together as they toast the Timor Gap Treaty that they had just signed.
If Obama were at all serious about opposing settlement expansion, he could easily proceed with concrete measures by, for example, reducing U.S. aid by the amount devoted to this purpose. That would hardly be a radical or courageous move. The Bush I administration did so (reducing loan guarantees), but after the Oslo accord in 1993, President Clinton left calculations to the government of Israel. Unsurprisingly, there was "no change in the expenditures flowing to the settlements," the Israeli press reported. "[Prime Minister] Rabin will continue not to dry out the settlements," the report concludes. "And the Americans? They will understand."
The convention is understandable on the doctrinal principle that though the U.S. government sometimes makes mistakes, its intentions are by definition benign, even noble. In the world of attractive imagery, Washington has always sought desperately to be an honest broker, yearning to advance peace and justice. The doctrine trumps truth, of which there is little hint in the speech or the mainstream coverage of it.
Always even-handed, Obama also had an admonition for the Arab states: they "must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities." Plainly, however, it cannot be a meaningful "beginning" if Obama continues to reject its core principles: implementation of the international consensus. To do so, however, is evidently not Washington's "responsibility" in Obama's vision; no explanation given, no notice taken.
Copyright 2010 Noam Chomsky
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