Working around America: a new strategy on Israel/Palestine

Israel/Palestine
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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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