Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Voices Usually Left Unheard

An important reason for reading Al Jazeera English is that, if, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed, the Obama Administration is truly serious about "vigorous engagement" towards peace in the Middle East, then it (and, for that matter, we the electorate) should take the time to listen to those voices that most media sources choose to ignore. Thus, this morning's news from the Middle East on Al Jazeera English begins with the same material that we can find from the other sources:

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has criticised Israel's plans to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem, describing the move as "unhelpful".

In a news conference with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in Ramallah, Clinton said the demolition showed that Israel was not committed to its obligations towards the "road map" peace plan.

"It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem," she said on Wednesday.

However, beyond the formalities of diplomacy, Al Jazeera has a political analyst named Marwan Bishara. His approach to reading between the lines of Clinton's text is likely to differ from interpretations we shall encounter in the American media:

We see an approach by the secretary of state that is completely noncommittal to anything specific [about the demolitions], which previous administrations saw as not only unhelpful, but also as illegal under the fourth Geneva convention.

[Clinton] giving a short lecture on hope but really delivering nothing of substance to give hope, was a bit worrisome I'm sure for lots of her Palestinian listeners.

The road map came out in 2002 under the Bush administration ... that time schedule is over four or five years ago, so the road map has already come to a dead end.

It is peculiar to speak about it [the road map] as if it is something to refer to, rather than referring to international law ... or what [ to do] now after 15 years of peace processes that basically went nowhere ... not only do they have nothing new to say, but they are leaning on something which is passé.

This language is as disconcerting as it is blunt, but its negative tone should not detract from its potential as a reality check. Such a reality check must, of necessity, address the question of who will participate in subsequent conversations about peace in the Middle East. Now that Senator John Kerry is beginning to hint (even if it is ever so quietly) that it would be counterproductive to exclude Hamas from such conversations, we, whose voices the Obama Administration claims it wants to hear, should help Kerry raise his volume. We can do this by gathering and calling attention to data points that can only be found through Al Jazeera. Thus, the Al Jazeera English report includes not only their own analyst but also Hamas representative Osama Hamdan:

There is no change in the United States policy, the signs are not positive. Achieving any kind of peace process or at least a political process in the region [they] need to talk to the main players, mainly in the Palestinian situation.

What she [Clinton] said is not important when you talk about the whole Palestinian issue. Everyone knows that the [Israeli] settlements are being enlarged, they are taking Palestinian land ... she criticised part of this, but she did not talk about achieving a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. She did not talk about the new change in the Palestinian situation after the war in Gaza.

They [the US] are not ready to deal with this reconciliation [between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas]. They are talking about a government without including Hamas.

Sadly, the only American willing to raise his voice against the rejection of the election through which Hamas became the representative of the population of Gaza has been Jimmy Carter; but his remains a voice in the wilderness. This may well be the week in which the promising rhetoric of both Barack Obama and his Secretary of State are put to the test of whether or not there is substance behind the words. Fortunately, we have Al Jazeera English to help us define that test and interpret its results.

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