Mentioning the Palestinians: Music for Day One


"Not just an American dream. Also an Irish dream, a European dream, African dream, Israeli dream. And also [long pause] a Palestinian dream."

-- Bono at Inaugural Celebration concert on the Lincoln Memorial Sunday, during U2's performance of "Pride (In the Name of Love)."


"I'd like to dedicate this song to all those who are fighting around the world, and all of those people who are suffering over there in the Gaza Strip. We need more loving and less fighting."

-- Q-Tip before performing "We Fight/We Love" Monday night on Conan.
At a moment when even mentioning the Palestinians is considered outre in consensus entertainment, two of my favorite musicians took high-profile opportunities, during the MLK Weekend run-up before Obama's inauguration, to go off-script and say a few words for the residents of Israel's occupied territories.

Today, the President (and how different it feels to say "the President") phoned both Palestinian and Israeli leaders, a hopeful sign. Anyone who thinks this issue will keep for another eight years should open a newspaper, or read J Street's Henry Siegman, former national director of the American Jewish Congress, writing urgently in The Nation:
The Israel-Palestine conflict has defied US "facilitation" over these many years not because of procedural shortcomings or a paucity of ideas. The terms of a workable agreement--formulated in the so-called Clinton Parameters of December 2000 and elaborated in the Taba discussions that followed in January 2001--are well known and enjoy near-universal support. They call for minor rectifications in the 1949 armistice line (which served as Israel's pre-1967 border) in order to allow Israel to retain a cluster of nearby settlements based on an agreed equal exchange of territory on both sides of the border; a capital for the new Palestinian state in Arab East Jerusalem; a limited return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel in agreed numbers that do not significantly alter Israel's ethnic and religious balance; a nonmilitarized Palestinian state that addresses Israeli security concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty; and a US-led international force that would ensure security and assist with Palestinian nation-building for a transitional period.

What has been missing is the political will to get the parties to act on these parameters--a political and moral failure that has doomed all previous efforts. This failure has not been the result of ignorance but of cowardice--a willful disregard by Israel and successive American administrations, as well as by much of the international community, of certain unchanging fundamentals that underlie this conflict.
Siegman goes on to write:
The four-decade colonial dynamic of the settlement enterprise has resulted in so extensive an expansion of Israel's population into Palestinian territories as to make a Palestinian state impossible. And that, indeed, was its purpose. What is not clear is whether these "facts on the ground" established unilaterally by Israel are still reversible. Their reversibility depends entirely on whether President Obama is prepared to draw on the large political capital the United States has accumulated these past sixty years with its unstinting support of Israel to leave no doubt about his resolve to end the conflict on the basis of the existing international consensus, while at the same time fully supporting--and participating in--the measures that will be necessary to enable Israel to deal with security challenges created by such an accord. However complicated and costly, these measures hold far greater promise of protecting Israel's security within its borders--and at lesser material and moral cost--than the perpetuation of the occupation.
American opinion has turned, for once, slightly against the Israeli leadership, on the issue of its Gaza operation, and the bottom-line international consensus of the Geneva Initiative (more here) is sounding more like sanity to many who might otherwise have been persuaded into pessimism by our "pro-Israel" right (those for whom a "friend" is little besides a ceaseless, uncritical enabler of the suicidal status quo).

There is a cultural opening, in other words, if not a political one. More of us must speak out if President Obama is to seize the opportunity before him.
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