What does Ali Abunimah really believe?

Ali Abunimah, a coauthor of numerous articles and monographs with me in the past but whose views have shifted radically in recent years, has become a difficult guy to pin down because he now tailors his statements to appeal to different audiences in different media at different times. He adopts one set of attitudes in interviews with major national publications, another in papers for the Palestine Center, a third in postings on his Electronic Intifada site, and a fourth, and I think most honest posture, in his twitter tweets. Indeed, its not really possible to fully understand what Abunimah’s real thinking is without consulting these tweets in which he has been letting his guard down and allowing those who pay attention to get a close glimpse of his actual agenda, which is decidedly not a pretty picture (not all the tweets referenced below are still archived on the twitter site, but they are all accurate and amply documented).

This is significant because, riding a wave of optimism due to the firm stance adopted by President Obama and his administration regarding the need for a Palestinian state and an end to Israeli settlement activity, Abunimah has today taken positions in the New York Times and the Nation that are quite incompatible with his otherwise stated attitudes and views.

In today’s Times, he is quoted as follows: “’Hillary Clinton’s statement was notable because the language was stronger than we’ve heard in years,’ said Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of ElectronicIntifada, a Web site that analyzes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘And clearer than we’ve heard in years. But the burden of proof is still on them. If it’s just going to be strong statements, that’s not enough.’”

This is the same Hillary Clinton that he recently referred to in a tweet as, “Hillary Clinton, pimp of the Arab regimes.” And the same New York Times that he wrote a few days ago, “might as well be published by the Israeli consulate in New York.” As for Obama, after his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Abunimah denied that there was any change afoot whatsoever, twittering that, “When it comes to Palestine, we get the same old crap from Obama.”

In an article posted on the Nation website today, Abunimah poses as someone who can see some potential hope and benefit in the President’s stance and the direction of US policy, while remaining skeptical, writing that, “Obama has told Netanyahu firmly that Israel must stop building settlements on expropriated Palestinian land in the West Bank, but such words have been uttered by the president’s predecessors. Unless these statements are followed by decisive action — perhaps to limit American subsidies to Israel — there’s no reason to believe the lip service that failed in the past will suddenly be more effective.”

But there is no reason to believe that Abunimah wants it to be more effective, as he has expressed enthusiasm and strong support for the very same Israeli ultra-right that is now the target of pressure on settlements and Palestinian statehood from the President and his administration. After the recent Israeli election, Abunimah gushed that, “I am just so pleased that Netanyahu has placed impossible conditions in front of the ‘two-state solution.’ Go Bibi!” Before the election, his own endorsement was unequivocal: “I hope Avigdor Lieberman wins Israeli election big.”

During the US election campaign, Abunimah tried to sabotage Obama’s chances against both Clinton and subsequently McCain by loudly complaining that when he was a state senator in Illinois, Obama had supposedly expressed more sympathy for the Palestinians than he came to as he aspired to national office. This version of events was disputed by Rashid Khalidi, who knew Obama much better at the time, and was clearly intended to have the dual effects of alienating Arab-American voters by suggesting that Obama had “sold out” to the Israel lobby and Jewish-American voters by suggesting that Obama had “secret” pro-Palestinian sentiments that he was now disguising. By many accounts it was Abunimah who leaked the video of Obama at a Palestinian-American event to the LA Times that the McCain campaign tried to use in a last minute effort to discredit Obama. After Obama became President, Abunimah complained that, “Arab politicians say the most tired, clichéd things about Obama. Some of them still think he isn’t in the pocket of AIPAC!!!” He has also referred to the President as a “bastard” and asked, “Is everyone still enjoying Obama’s ‘hope & change’ massacres in Afghanistan?”

Abunimah has also spent a great deal of effort in recent years attacking and denouncing those who worked to change US policy on issues like the settlements as quislings, collaborators, traitors, neocons and the like. He has defended the most recalcitrant elements in Hamas and encouraged its most obstructionist and counterproductive attitudes, with sentiments like, “’Hamas: We will never recognize the enemy.’ Let’s hope they keep their word.” A March 2009 article by Abunimah and his father Hassan accused Hillary Clinton of “sabotaging” Palestinian reconciliation talks (yes, the same Hillary Clinton who he now tells the Times has impressed him), and urged Hamas not to agree to the conditions of the Middle East Quartet. This is hardly surprising, given that he is opposed to both peace and negotiations, instead endorsing, “Liberation through resistance not ‘peace’ through ‘negotiations.’"

His admiration for Hamas leaders is often gushing: “Nothing better than a live interview on Aljazeera with a top Hamas official. They are always so eloquent and clear.” As for the leadership of the even more extreme Islamic Jihad organization, his enthusiasm seems to go beyond the political. In one of his earlierst and perhaps most unguarded tweets, Abunimah wrote, “I think [Islamic Jihad leader] Ramadan Shallah is super intelligent, eloquent and hot.” Yes, hot.

All those who are hopeful about the current shift in US policy and attitudes towards the occupation and the settlements must know that these have occurred in spite of the best efforts of Abunimah. That he now seeks to adjust his positions, at least in venues such as the New York Times and to some extent the Nation, in the context of a positive shift in political dynamics that he has condemned others for seeking and done his best to thwart should not fool anyone. His long record of online writings, above all his amazing and highly revealing tweets, amply demonstrate what Ali Abunimah really believes.