Ruebner: Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace

VOL. 43


No. 2
P. 83
Recent Books
Ruebner: Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Reviewed work(s): Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli- Palestinian Peace, by Josh Ruebner. New York: Verso, 2013. 291 pages. Notes to p. 342. Index to p. 354. $26.95 cloth.

Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, has produced a devastating book. Mining deeply into the treasure trove of classified documents released by Wikileaks in 2010 and the “Palestine Papers,” official documents of the Palestinian negotiating team released by Al-Jazeera in 2011, Ruebner demonstrates that the role of the Obama administration regarding Israel-Palestine has been even worse than those paying close attention to public, non-leaked material could have imagined.

Conscious of the risks of writing “instant history,” Ruebner explains his motivation and the urgency for writing this book as deriving “from the fact that US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, especially during the Obama administration, is so morally wrong, so intrinsically opposed to US interests and so inimical to the establishment of a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace as to necessitate an immediate reconsideration. Quite simply put: US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, by underwriting and undergirding Israel’s oppressive policies, makes a just and lasting peace inconceivable” (p. 18).

Early on in Shattered Hopes, Ruebner implicitly addresses the question why anyone should have had any hopes to shatter. Perhaps, he posits, it was Barack Obama’s skin tone and childhood years in a Muslim country that led many to assume that he would recognize that Palestinians are human beings and, as such, entitled to fundamental human rights. In any event, whatever may be in Obama’s heart and mind, Ruebner demonstrates that there was a wealth of public statements and published positions suggesting that the future President Obama was firmly positioned in the “pro-Israel” mainstream and would never permit such a humane recognition to interfere with his personal advancement in a political system in which unconditional allegiance to a foreign country is assumed to be an existential necessity.

The picture which Ruebner paints of Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Mitchell is one of individuals who are not malign or consciously cynical, but rather naïve, clueless, cowardly, and incompetent (although he does not use these words), blinded by the delusion that the current Israeli government wishes to end the occupation and achieve “peace” when, in reality, like all prior Israeli governments, it wishes to end resistance to the occupation and maintain its effective control of all of historical Palestine. Indeed, he writes: “There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Obama’sintentions” (p. 3). However, by the end of the book, readers may well conclude from the weight of the evidence that Ruebner is being prudently generous and charitable in his treatment of the president, the secretary of state, and the special envoy for Middle East peace, and that it would not be unfair to apply the words “malign” and “consciously cynical.”

On the other hand, Ruebner shows no generosity or charity in his treatment of the members of the U.S. Congress, unleashing a veritable tsunami of quotes and votes which paint them (aside from a handful of brave exceptions) as not simply breathtakingly ignorant, but vicious and rabidly racist in their very public efforts to demonstrate their abject subservience to Israel and their denigration and detestation of the Palestinian people.

The book is divided equally into two parts—one on “US Policy, 2009–2011” and one on “Themes of US Policy.” Two sections in the second part stand out—(i) a section, benefiting from leaked documents, on the extraordinary, frenzied American efforts to sabotage the Goldstone Report on the Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza and thereby preserve Israel’s impunity regarding its war crimes and crimes against humanity, and (ii) a section, requiring no non-public documents, on the over-the-top “Who loves Israel more?” theme, which rose to the level of ridicule during the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. The only hints of optimism are to be found in the sections on the progress of the BDS campaign and the evolution of media and popular culture.

It would be difficult for anyone reading this book to avoid concluding (if one had not already done so) that the principal obstacle to ending the occupation and achieving peace with some measure of justice is, as it has been for decades, the U.S. government, and that not even a semi-decent “solution” is conceivable so long as the United States maintains its monopoly stranglehold on the so-called “peace process.”

Ruebner clearly hopes that his book will enlighten Americans and stimulate them to get involved, and accordingly, includes a “Get Involved” page featuring the website address of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation ( It would be marvelous if hundreds of thousands of American “neutrals” were to read this book, be overcome by patriotic humiliation, outrage, and disgust, and resolve to get involved. Unfortunately, it is more likely that the book will be read almost exclusively by people who are already involved and that the evidence which Ruebner has skillfully assembled and recounted may cause them to despair and lose all hope.

John V. Whitbeck, a Paris-based international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel, is the author of The World According to Whitbeck.