What happened to the man of change?
On June 3 Barack Obama claimed the greatest prize the Democratic Party can offer, namely his nomination as its candidate for the presidency. The very next day the salesman of 'change' raced from Minnesota back to Washington and publicly abased himself at the feet of an organisation whose prime mission is to ensure that change unpalatable to the state of Israel will never be pressed by the United States government. the United States government.
The terms of Obama's surrender before the American Israel Public Committee exploded like rhetorical cluster bombs across the Middle East. To Israel and its Arab neighbours it surely signalled that, whoever moves into the White House next January, there will be no swerve from Bush's role as guarantor of Israeli intransigence.
Before he began his drive to the nomination Obama took good care to get the support of influential American Jews in Chicago like the Crown family, associated with the aerospace firm, General Dynamics. Worried about rumours fanned by the Clinton campaign that he was still a secret Muslim, Obama insisted that before the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, a state with a politically significant Jewish vote, his campaign start a Hebrew-language blog in Israel.
So Obama came to this year's AIPAC conference determined to dispel all remaining doubts that he's a Friend of Israel. "We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran," he assured AIPAC. "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon... Everything and I mean everything." He swore he wouldn't talk to the elected representatives of the Palestinians, Hamas. To thunderous applause he declared, "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."
As Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli writer expostulated furiously in the wake of this last sentence, "Along comes Obama and retrieves from the junkyard the outworn slogan 'Undivided Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel for all Eternity'. Since Camp David, all Israeli governments have understood that this mantra constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to any peace process. It has disappeared - quietly, almost secretly - from the arsenal of official slogans.
"No Palestinian, no Arab, no Muslim will make peace with Israel if the Haram-al-Sharif compound (also called the Temple Mount), one of the three holiest places of Islam and the most outstanding symbol of Palestinian nationalism, is not transferred to Palestinian sovereignty. That is one of the core issues of the conflict. On that very issue, the Camp David conference of 2000 broke up."
Obama's foreign policy advisors were tearing their hair out and the next day his campaign issued a clarification. "Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties" as part of "an agreement that they both can live with". All the same, Jerusalem in Obama's eyes must be the capital of Israel.
Although Obama's statements at AIPAC got wide coverage across the Middle East, what was obvious here in the US was the utter absence of comment in the mainstream press. It was evidently taken as a given, unworthy of editorial remark, that a man who might very well be the next president was de-activating the policy of 'change' precisely where it is most needed at the behest of the men the popular TV comedian Jon Stewart edgily derided as "the elders of Zion".
Obama's most egregious talent is the ability to adapt his rhetoric with ominous speed, to allay any suspicion among the powerful that he could rock the boat in a way they might not care for. Earlier in the campaign he was criticised for not wearing the American flag as a lapel pin. At the AIPAC event he wore a double lapel pin, with both the US and Israeli flags.
Is there a 'real Obama' waiting to emerge, once the messy business of pleasing the voters is over? Not really. The making of the 'real' Obama is an ongoing project, and the AIPAC speech an important marker in the evolution of 'change' into immobility.