Working around America: a new strategy on Israel/Palestine

Israel/Palestine
on 14 Comments

Last Friday’s vote in the UN in which the US refused to follow the other 14 members of the Security Council in condemning Israel’s ongoing settlement project – including, it should be noted, such traditionally pro-Israel stalwarts as Britain, France and even Germany and India (for whom Israel is the #2 supplier of arms, as it is with China) – revealed what international isolation into which the US has fallen. Without being pollyannish over the human rights records of the other members of the Security Council, human rights does, nevertheless, motivate the foreign policy of many countries of the world, if only because to be seen respecting human rights has become a standard of national legitimacy. Israel’s blatant violations of international law threaten the consensus upon which the international order rests, even if it is upheld in the breech. 

The Security Council vote show that this is not true for the United States, whose perceived cultural and legal exceptionalism rests upon a rapidly eroding economic and military hegemony. The very message of the American vote – that we do not see ourselves subject to international law and human rights; we set the policies and rules, not the UN or international courts – sends a chill down the spine of people everywhere, especially those, such as the peoples uprising in the Middle East or those in Burma, the Congo, China and in American prisons, who cannot revolt yet hold out hope that struggles for human rights will eventually each them. 

The American vote sent yet another, more concrete message: the United States simply cannot deliver on a just peace in Israel/Palestine. Assuming that Obama, Gates, perhaps Clinton and certainly Petraeus “get it,” that they understand that Israel’s occupation is unsustainable and only isolates the US in the international community, then how does one account for the American vote? The explanation given, that turning to the UN will somehow “undermine” a non-existent “peace process,” is laughable and persuaded no one. The answer, of course, is Congress. Structurally, not because of policy or will (though contempt for international law plays its role), the American Administration cannot resolve the conflict because the overwhelming majority of Congress, in both houses and both parties, feel they must be unwaveringly and uncritically “pro-Israel” if they are to be re-elected (even though this is patently mistaken; only 7 percent of Jews polled after the 2010 elections identified Israel as a decisive issue in their vote). 

Unlike other foreign policy issues, Israel has become a domestic American issue. A candidate for office, even in a state such as Nevada, Iowa or Maine with few Jews or Christian fundamentalists, must often stake out a more “pro-Israeli” position than his or her opponent before getting on to even local issues. The strategic funding and political support (or the threat of withdrawing them) of candidates in both parties by AIPAC and the clout of the Christian Right in the Republican Party is matched by the influence of Pentagon defense contractors, who keep members of Congress in line by arguing that any cut in the billions given to Israel and, by extension, to the other countries in the region (totaling some $125 billion over the next decade), will cost jobs in their states and districts. Indeed, Susan Rice’s vote in the Security Council cannot be explained in any way except as a capitulation of vital American interests to “pro-Israel” forces and manufactured perceptions on the part of the Administration and Congress alike.

Faced with the spectacle of an almost totally isolated US, why should any of us cling to the American default strategy of the past 44 years, whereby the United States is seen as the sole and ultimate arbitrator of the conflict? And in particular, why should the Palestinians? If the US cannot actually deliver on a just peace for structural reasons, and yet insists on an absolute monopoly over any “peace process,” the time is long overdue to develop a “working around America” strategy. Let’s look at the world beyond the US: 

· At least ten countries in Europe seem to be moving towards unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state within the ‘49/’67 borders; Cyprus did so a couple weeks ago. In fact, public opinion favoring the Palestinians is far in advance of the foot-dragging governments. Efforts to mobilize public opinion there should be redoubled, although much work needs to be done in the extremely conservative pro-American/pro-Israel states of Eastern Europe, which, Slovenia aside, hold the rest of the EU back on this issue.

· Most Latin American countries have already recognized a Palestinian state within recognized borders, although they have also accepted Israel as become the first non-Latin American country to sign a trade agreement with Mercosur, the region’s emerging common market. Given strong sympathies of Latin American peoples towards the Palestinians, vigorous campaigns calling for stronger government actions and BDS are called for. 

· Turkey has become a lead player against the Occupation in the Middle East and internationally, while the fundamental changes sweeping the Arab world signal a fundamental shift in relations to Israel and the US – and perhaps a more critical and active role for the Arab League and the possibilities of mobilizing the wider Muslim world. Here, ironically, pressure has to be put on the Palestinian Authority to be more pro-active. It deserves credit for bringing the anti-settlement resolution before the Security Council despite strong US pressures, but Abbas’s refusal to bring a Palestinian declaration of independence within recognized borders before the UN in the end neutralizes the recognition accorded the Palestinians by Latin American and other countries. 

· South Africa, recently made a member of the BRIC group of countries, is capable of taking a more active role on this issue given its expressed support for the Palestinian cause, and could play a leading role in mobilizing other African states. 

· Russia recently reaffirmed its recognition of a Palestinian state, although it does not seem eager to confront the US in an American “sphere of influence.” China and India have yet to play a major role – in part because Israel is the #2 arms supplier to both countries. But certainly in India and other countries of Asia much more could be done to mobilize both the peoples and their governments.

The UN vote demonstrates the great potential in organizing beyond the US, although it remains to be seen whether the PA is capable of pushing its case beyond the confines of American patronage, or having the courage to do so. Until now it has failed to mobilize and harness its greatest ally – us, the peoples of the world, the international civil society. Still, with or without the PA, the grassroots should pursue the next phase of the struggle: refocusing our efforts on a “working around America” strategy. Eventually the US will have to realize that its growing isolation is simply too great a price to pay for supporting an unsustainable occupation, or it will be left in the dust.

(Jeff Halper is the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at [email protected])

About Jeff Halper

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at [email protected]

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14 Responses

  1. RoHa
    February 25, 2011, 12:53 am

    But won’t the Americans sulk if they are not at the centre of everything?

  2. Nevada Ned
    February 25, 2011, 2:21 am

    Dear Jeff Halper:

    Yes, you’re right that only 7% of American Jews think that Israel is a decisive issue.
    But consider that 7% can be mobilized to raise a lot of money for candidates that support Israel no matter what,
    and for that 7%, support for Israel is a bottom line issue, trumping all other issues,
    and because the supporters of Palestinian rights have nowhere near the clout and connections,
    then hardly any US politicians will openly oppose Israeli policies.
    Walt and Mearsheimer really were onto something in their book on the Israel lobby.

    In addition, the US ruling class and the Israeli ruling class seem to think that the interests of the two countries are parallel, at least in the long run and for the most part. (There are exceptions: Jonathan Pollard, for example. Or the 1956 Suez crisis)
    Both countries want to see the Arab world divided, backward, and weak. Both countries are opposed to Arab nationalism. Both the US and Iraeli ruling classes have supported the Shah of Iran, Mubarak in Egypt, Somoza in Nicaragua, and many others.
    The US has two reasons for supporting Israel: the political power of the Israel lobby, and also big-power politics in which Israel is seen as a US ally. It can be hard to disentangle these two factors, and assign these factors their appropriate weight. It certainly doesn’t have to be an either/or (Either it’s the Israel lobby, or Israel as strategic ally). It’s both.

    • Citizen
      February 25, 2011, 7:27 am

      Obama’s being hard pressed to pardon Pollard. Look who Clinton pardoned as he was departing the WH. Our military establishment and trade directives are now deeply enmeshed with Israel’s; our congress has enmeshed us with Israel in so many ways with a myriad of buried but operating active legislation inserts (with nothing indicating so by the name of any of the legislation) if Americans ever found out the full extent of it they’d be appalled, and very, very angry. None of this has ever been covered by the MSM.

  3. Ellen
    February 25, 2011, 3:55 am

    “Eventually the US will have to realize that its growing isolation is simply too great a price to pay for supporting an unsustainable occupation, or it will be left in the dust.”

    The realization is upon us, but will not change anything. The US Congress (as it is one that is purchased) is filled with the sock puppets of ideologues. And as such are not capable of realizing consequences.

    The US will be swirled in dust in about 10 years, with no influence, no credibility.

    It will be just the US and Israel narcissisticly sulking and talking about the good old days and how everyone “hates” us.

  4. Avi
    February 25, 2011, 4:04 am

    A sizable majority of colonists hold the rank of officer or higher in the Israeli army. Coupled with the fact that there are more than 500,000 colonists in the occupied territories — including East Jerusalem — it will be near impossible to remove the colonies and their residents. The Israeli government will prefer continued apartheid over a civil war, or at the very least, internal instability.

    In addition, the so-called two-state solution — one that adheres to 1967 borders — is not achievable (It never really was) as Israelis will go to war to maintain their control over the water resources of the occupied West Bank. Israelis will need to change their water consumption habits. And that is a change that which Israelis will not accept as they are confident that force, especially military might, can solve anything.

    Israeli society might consider a compromise on such natural resources only — and only if — the EU or the US provide them with an incredible incentive, one that is several times greater that the military and economic aid Israel has been receiving since 1979 when a peace treaty was signed with Egypt.

    In conclusion, absent a paradigm shift in Israeli society’s thinking there will be no such resolution. Anyone who holds onto the illusion that Israeli society will not go to war and fight tooth and nail before realizing the error of its ways is not being realistic.

    Worse still, whereas Israeli society — and the facts on the ground — could have facilitated a just solution along the Green Line twenty years ago, today’s society and political climate are prohibitive of such changes.

    So, to reiterate, holding onto the so-called two-state solution at this juncture is futile.

    It’s time to move on.

    • Citizen
      February 25, 2011, 7:44 am

      At last the fact that the 2ss is nearly dead has prompted a frenzied response from the formerly blind, behind closed doors.

      The PTB in this area (in US & Israel) of concern are even now jointly preparing to push their new plan for peace, which will be heralded as a momentous switch because the
      notion that the US is so neutral and keen on respecting the soverignty of the state of Israel that it won’t interfere in the negotiations in any way, not even as to the settlements it now characterizes as “illegitimate,” will be replaced with the notion that Obama really is a leader, because, here’s his very own plan, drawn up and now to be offered to the competing peace negotiators. The plan itself will of course be drawn up, typed up, and put in Obama’s hand to deliver as the price for most surely retaining his current office for 4 more years. This “Obama Plan” will include, inter alia, the 2-state solution; a demilitarized rump Palestinian state; an international force in the area to enforce it, led by the USA & with an Israeli “presence” in said force. Plus oodles of US tax dollars beyond the usual huge foreign aid to Israel. The land swap % ratio will be premised on “judicial notice” that Israel has a most reasonable right to insist on retention of the largest number of Jews as possible on earth or in heaven. Jerusalem will be suject to a special arrangement suitable for that unique holy place.

    • Danaa
      February 25, 2011, 11:20 am

      Avi,
      Contrast your point (which I agree with) with the Polyannish pieces appearing lately throughout the lands-of-the-civilized, heralding the mythic resurgence of the left in Israel. Examples are this trop (or i it a prop?) by Bradley Burston:

      link to haaretz.com

      And then there’s always Avihai’s latest lamentation of the Olmert-Abbas deal that was not to be (we were so close, so very close…..if only)…

      Sometimes i think the problem is that all the liberal zionists are talking strictly among themselves. Who cares about the israel that is, and what it is becoming? After all, if you dream it, anything can be……

  5. annie
    February 25, 2011, 6:52 am

    this is a vital article jeff halper.i hope everyone reads it for multiple reasons.

    even in a state such as Nevada, Iowa or Maine with few Jews or Christian fundamentalists, must often stake out a more “pro-Israeli” position than his or her opponent before getting on to even local issues. The strategic funding and political support (or the threat of withdrawing them) of candidates in both parties by AIPAC and the clout of the Christian Right in the Republican Party is matched by the influence of Pentagon defense contractors, who keep members of Congress in line by arguing that any cut in the billions given to Israel and, by extension, to the other countries in the region (totaling some $125 billion over the next decade), will cost jobs in their states and districts. Indeed, Susan Rice’s vote in the Security Council cannot be explained in any way except as a capitulation of vital American interests to “pro-Israel” forces and manufactured perceptions on the part of the Administration and Congress alike.

  6. Citizen
    February 25, 2011, 6:57 am

    RE: “… the American Administration cannot resolve the conflict because the overwhelming majority of Congress, in both houses and both parties, feel they must be unwaveringly and uncritically “pro-Israel” if they are to be re-elected (even though this is patently mistaken; only 7 percent of Jews polled after the 2010 elections identified Israel as a decisive issue in their vote).

    But what is true is that one type of Jew, the zionist Israel Firsters make the big campaign donations, either personally, or by significantly funding the zionist establishment Jewish organizations–to whomever will support their agenda, party be damned, and at least 40% of all donations to the Democrats are Jewish, and 25% of all donations to the Republicans. You think Mooser’s vote counts?

    • Citizen
      February 25, 2011, 7:18 am

      Ooops, I see I should have read Jeff’s article all the way through; he does point directly at what I’ve said, and points as well to another key partnering domestic factor:

      “The strategic funding and political support (or the threat of withdrawing them) of candidates in both parties by AIPAC and the clout of the Christian Right in the Republican Party is matched by the influence of Pentagon defense contractors, who keep members of Congress in line by arguing that any cut in the billions given to Israel and, by extension, to the other countries in the region (totaling some $125 billion over the next decade), will cost jobs in their states and districts.”

      The air force base near me will be losing about 300 jobs, mostly local independent contractors, as a result of military cut-backs (which are generally really tiny as compared to where else congress is already cutting back).

  7. pabelmont
    February 25, 2011, 7:32 am

    Jeff, I have long and tiresomely argued that the road to peace requires concerted action by the international community (probably, sadly, w/o and against the wishes of the USA).

    If the international community is to put sufficient pressure on Israel to force Israel to remove the settlers, dismantle the settlements and wall, and lift the siege of Gaza, then individual nations will need to threaten to (or actually) diminish or cut-off trade with Israel. (Mere “recognition” of Palestine, though welcome, is not enough. It is mere words, like most UNGA votes. Israel does not attend to mere words.) This will be very difficult, since, as you note: “India (for whom Israel is the #2 supplier of arms, as it is with China)”, Israel’s exports are in high demand, especially arms, and countries that buy Israeli arms will also need to buy spare parts. (That’s the same game the USA plays as a coercive tool.) Nations may “talk the talk” of human rights more and more these days, but will they “walk the walk” when it comes to applying effective pressure to Israel, cutting off existing trade relations with Israel, and flouting the USA? This is dangerous, high-cost stuff for any nation if it is done on an individual-state basis.

    If the nations are to act, they will need to act together. On this, if they do not hang together, they are likely to hang separately.

    So what’s needed is a diplomatic strategy to determine a near-universal international action to coerce Israeli compliance to international law (or to coerce and end to the occupation, with proper sharing of WATER); and then a mechanism for co-ordinating this very-multi-nation action.

    Will it be easier (or occur sooner) than international action on global warming?

    • Citizen
      February 26, 2011, 6:34 am

      Israel sells arms to China and India, arms it has reverse-engineered to make them just a tad different than the arms they got free from US taxpayers. A portion of US aid to israel is allowed for such Israeli self-development–something not part of any other aid or arms deal we have with any other nation. Cute, eh?

  8. Antidote
    February 25, 2011, 2:25 pm

    “Susan Rice’s vote in the Security Council cannot be explained in any way except as a capitulation of vital American interests to “pro-Israel” forces and manufactured perceptions on the part of the Administration and Congress alike.”

    I disagree, without denying the influence of those ‘forces’. Had the US voted yes, the result would likely have been the full exposure of the fact that the US has no leverage over decisions that have to be made by the Israeli government and public. Netanyahu would just have spat in Obama’s face again. The US veto, in contrast, exposed the UN as a dysfunctional tool for enforcing standards of international law, without bringing the US into collision course with Israel.

    The US has bailed out Israel every single year over the past decade at the UNSC. The result of this nevertheless historic vote will be that all those who have argued for years for a reform of the UNSC, and the special powers of the 5 permanent members, will gain support. That may well be a move in the right direction, and possibly one that Obama welcomes.

    • Citizen
      February 26, 2011, 6:40 am

      Yep. Maybe, e.g., replace France and England with India and Brazil? Or add them to the SC? Get rid of the SC? Use some new criteria? What’s the criteria now for the revolving chairs on the SC? Maybe tweak that too? Why should get a veto, and why? Will we have to wait for the end of WW3 to change who gets the veto? Likely.

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