March 22, 2010
What Israel do we support?
NAZIR KHAJA & FATHER RAYMOND G. HELMICK, S.J. | ARAB NEWS
In the coming weeks the AIPAC convention will come to town in Washington.
This is an annual event that draws the supporters of Israel. It is customary for many congressmen, senators and government officials to join the chorus of US support for Israel. This time the convention comes at a time when a new administration has taken over in Washington and wants to set its policy vis-à-vis the Middle East in a new direction. President Obama showed his hand early when he demanded a freeze on the Israeli settlements. This went unheeded and what is worse that immediately after his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli government embarrassed him by announcing fresh settlements. Adding insult to injury is the recent fiasco of Vice President Joe Baden’s visit – it is as if it is de ja-vu all over!!
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton subsequently has tried to restore some dignity and honor for US by her words, but is that enough? A significant factor that will weigh heavy on the minds of the several congressmen and senators who are listed to attend and speak at the convention are the forthcoming congressional elections. One can almost predict with some confidence that all of the politicians attending the convention will individually and in a chorus repeat the second oath of allegiance – that to Israel. That Israel has virtually slapped the US administration and has made it a joke in the international opinion will hardly be mentioned. Instead there will be a demand for blind economic and military support for Israel, thus rewarding it for its action. Not only this, demands will be made on the Palestinians to get back to the negotiating table without any preconditions or regard for the settlement issue – a further humiliation of defenseless people.
It is not just the fault of current Israeli leaders. There is a culture that has developed in Israel that has justified such human abuses in the interest of restoring an ancient kingdom at whatever cost to the Palestinians. Unfortunately that culture has spread to the US Jewish community that collects private donations to fund Israel’s excesses and influences the US government to ignore Israeli human rights abuses. These Jewish lobbyists then have the US government fund Israel’s illegal actions at $5.8 billion annually
So what happened last week? Joe Biden went to Israel to tell them we still loved them despite any disagreement over their moving more settlers in on the Palestinians. That was all true, including the bit about our disagreeing fundamentally on the expansion of settlements. We are, in fact, looking for peace in that region. Don’t believe it will be fostered by taking away more and more land from the Palestinians, and are being reminded by our top military men that the spectacle of the United States supporting such behavior is endangering our own troops, and interests, all over the Middle Eastern region.
Even before the vice president’s arrival, Defense Minister Barak announced that he had licensed the building of 112 new housing units in East Jerusalem. Pointed as that was, as a notice that the Israeli government would pay no attention to our objection to expanded settlement, Interior Minister Yishai did it one better, greeting Biden’s arrival with the notice of 1,600 such new settler homes.
Tom Friedman, writing in The New York Times, thought Biden should have gone right home in the face of that insult, saying that friends don’t allow friends to drive drunk. Uri Avnery, in Israel, said it was a sign of weakness, when someone spits in your face to pretend it was just rain.
Why the number 1,600? It was not the actual number. MJ Rosenberg points out that the actual number planned is staggeringly much higher: 50,000. Choosing the number 1,600 was instead a gesture: A direct and unsubtle message to the inhabitant of a house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
But the more credible number 50,000 represents a revolution in the fate of the city. Given a modest estimate of three persons to a household, that plan represents the intention to drive Palestinians, on a massive scale, out of Jerusalem. It means still further escalation of the now intolerable demolition of Palestinian homes, with tear gas, clubs, sometimes shootings and the new tactic of declaring any site of protest, however nonviolent, a closed military area. This, as government policy, is of a piece with the rampages of settlers, in Hebron and across the whole face of the West Bank, attacking Palestinians in their homes and villages and in their fields, destroying or robbing their olive trees and other crops, training their own children to attack Palestinian children and old people violently, all done with an impunity that amounts to outright government license.
Considering Israel’s absolute fiscal, military and political dependence on the US, it’s not a matter of “can the US broker peace” but “will the US broker peace”. Readily granted by the United States and its public opinion, a license to do as they like to the Palestinians and take whatever they want, Israel with no accountability for gross human rights violations and transgressions of international law, does all the destructive things attributed to it. It is not the timing of that awesomely deliberate insult to Vice President Biden and his boss that it is the problem. It is the program itself, which can only lead to the brutalization and discrediting of Israeli society and ultimately to its dissolution.
Was Prime Minister Netanyahu blindsided by this development? Possibly by the timing, not at all about the substance, on which he has refused to budge at all. He is a canny PR man, skilled in talking to Americans. He would know better than to bait the government of the United States. The timing, and the calculated sneer embodied in that number 1,600 when the true number was 50,000, can be attributed to Yishai, and has all the fingerprints of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose policy of insult we have seen on many occasions.
The total support of Israel by all US administrations is based on the argument that the interest of Israel and the US are identical; this is oft repeated by the pro-Israeli lobby and the media in US. Now comes the most important general of the US Army Gen. Petraus who says that this is not so. The policy of the present Israeli government is endangering the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet American society supports Israel. That is true of the administration of Barack Obama as it has been of every administration since Israel has existed. It is true of American public opinion, even among those critical of various Israeli actions. It is true of an American Jewish community much of which is in great distress at the recent deterioration of our relations. However, it looks indeed more and more that Israel, beyond lip service to peace, does not want peace if it amounts to giving away land. So they go through the motions of pretending to discuss peace while the US goes though the motion of arranging meetings between the parties and the Arabs pretend to negotiate – the new US initiative, the “proximity talks” is just another act in the Middle East Kabuki Theater.
It would be a relief if everybody should drop the masks!
Will there be peace? A more apt question is: Should there be peace? Or is peace simply surrender? As long as Israel continues to view negotiation as a zero-sum game, with one side winning and the other are losing, there will not be a just and enduring peace.
This does not need to be. Both sides can claim victory within reasonable limits. The 2002 Arab League plan is the best scenario – Israel withdrawing to pre-1967 borders in exchange for full diplomatic recognition. If President Obama has a fresh plan of his own then he must see that US holds the Israeli government accountable making US support contingent on achieving the milestones that are necessary for establishment of peace.
– Fr. Raymond G. Helmick, S.J. is instructor in conflict resolution, Department of Theology, Boston College and author of Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed (London, Pluto Press 2004). Dr. Nazir Khaja is chairman of Islamic Information Service, Los Angeles. Nazir.firstname.lastname@example.org