Mitt Romney shaking hands with President Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, January 13, 2011. (Photo: Handout/Getty Images)
Mitt Romney thinks that President Obama has been too hard on Israel. Obama is “fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders,” according to Romney, and “has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem.”
Before commenting on these criticisms from Romney, let’s very briefly review Obama’s record, shall we?
On July 23, 2008, Senator Obama was in Sderot, Israel. He professed his “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security” and expressed his support for Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem by declaring “that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel” and that “it is important that we don’t simply slice the city in half.”
He added that the status of Jerusalem was an issue that would need to be resolved through negotiations with the Palestinians, which meant that the city’s status could not be determined through application of international law. Rather, it could only be determined through U.S.-moderated talks between Israel and the Palestinians, until and during which Israel would continue its illegal colonization, and in the event of which, as he had just stated explicitly, Obama would support the Israeli position. He emphasized again his “commitments” to Israel and told his audience, “you don’t have to just look at my words, you can look at my deeds.”
Among his “deeds,” Obama cited his support for Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon (“The Second Lebanon War” in Israel, the First Lebanon War having been Israel’s devastating 1982 invasion) and accompanying assault on Gaza. Obama also sought to assuage Israeli “concerns about me pressuring them into concessions” if he became president in the upcoming U.S. election. He assured his audience that Israel had nothing to fear in that regard. When asked whether he thought “Israel should negotiate with Hamas in Gaza,” Obama replied, “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” His words were subsequently cited by Israeli leaders to justify their violation of a ceasefire with Hamas and commencement of Operation Cast Lead, a full-scale military assault on the civilian population and infrastructure of the Gaza Strip.
While Israel was massacring civilians in Gaza—over 1,300 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, including 110 women and 344 children, and much of the civilian infrastructure deliberately destroyed—president elect Obama refused to comment, with the logic that “There is one president at a time.” Yet this rationale had not caused him to remain silent on any other issue between the time he was elected and the time he replaced George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
Despite Israel’s war crimes in Gaza and other violations of international law, such as its continued illegal colonization of occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, President Obama upon taking office vowed immediately and continuously—even following the financial crisis and during the ongoing “Great Recession”—that there would be no cuts in military aid to Israel, upwards of $3 billion annually.
Israel continued its illegal siege of Gaza—collectively punishing the entire civilian population in violation of international humanitarian law by controlling Gaza’s borders, airspace, and waters, and restricting the movement of goods and people into and out of the Strip, a policy the senior advisor to the prime minister, Dov Weissglas, summarized by saying, “The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die”. Obama, rather than criticizing the policy and calling for an end to the siege, praised Israel for allowing in goods like pasta, cheese, and chocolate.
Obama said the “security” of Israel as “a Jewish state” must be protected and adopted the Israeli position of demanding as an additional precondition for negotiations that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as “a Jewish state”; in other words, that the fifth of the population of Israel that is Arab must concede to being second-class citizens and renounce their internationally-recognized right of return to their homes from which three-quarters of a million Arab Palestinians were ethnically cleansed by the Zionist forces from December 1947 to 1949.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech on June 14, 2009 explicitly rejecting the two-state solution as per the international consensus that there should be a Palestinian state alongside Israel along the pre-June 1967 lines, with minor and mutually agreed revisions to the final border. Obama hailed the speech as a “positive” step and said it showed how “committed” Netanyahu was to a “two-state solution” (not to be confused with the two-state solution as just described) in which Israel would annex major swaths of the West Bank and reject Palestinian sovereignty over their own territory.
A U.N. report from the fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict determined that Israel had committed numerous war crimes during “Operation Cast Lead,” including deliberate targeting of schools, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure, and recommended that Israel and Hamas conduct credible investigations into alleged war crimes and that, lacking such, the matter should be taken up by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The Obama administration vowed to block the report and any attempt to implement its recommendations at the U.N., which was successfully done.
Obama demanded that the Palestinians enter into negotiations with Israel “without preconditions,” meaning while Israel’s illegal colonization of Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, was ongoing.
Obama’s appointed envoys expressed his administration’s explicit rejection of the international consensus on a two-state solution to Palestinian negotiators, including with regard to occupied East Jerusalem. The position of the Obama administration, the Palestinian team was told, was that East Jerusalem and Israel’s settlements were “separate issues.”
On March 24, 2010, the U.S. under the Obama administration was the only country to vote against an uncontroversial U.N. Human Rights Council resolution recalling U.N. Resolution 242 calling on Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied during the June ’67 war and other relevant resolutions, recalling the advisory opinion of the ICJ determining that Israel’s wall and settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal, and reaffirming the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.
When Israel attacked a peaceful humanitarian flotilla attempting to break its illegal siege of Gaza on May 30, 2010, killing eight Turkish and one American activist on board the Mavi Marmara in international waters, the Obama administration defended Israel’s actions and vowed to protect it against censure at the U.N. In the emergency meeting of the Security Council, the U.S. was the only nation that defended the attack, instead criticizing the victims for attempting to break Israel’s illegal blockade. Despite the consensus among the other members of the Council that Israel’s blockade was illegal and its deadly attack a further violation of international law, the Security Council only issued a watered-down statement expressing “regret” for the loss of life due to the U.S. threat of a veto of any resolution that was critical of Israel. In the U.N. Human Rights Council, where the Obama administration couldn’t exercise its veto power, it voted against a resolution condemning the attack and calling on Israel to lift its siege on Gaza.
The Obama administration offered Israel a package of rewards if it would extend a partial “moratorium” on settlement construction in the West Bank in an effort to induce the Palestinians to agree to return to the U.S.-led “peace process.” In return for a 90-day extension of the partial cessation of Israel’s ongoing violations of international law, Obama promised to never again bring up the subject of Israel’s illegal settlements, to continue to use its veto power at the U.N. Security Council to defend Israel’s crimes, to support Israel’s position in any negotiations with the Palestinians, and to move ahead with an arms package deal for 20 F-35s in addition to 20 already contracted to Israel (paid for courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers). When Netanyahu declined the offer, Obama went ahead and rewarded Israel by fulfilling each and every one of these promises anyways.
On February 18, 2011, a completely uncontroversial U.N. Security Council draft resolution condemning Israel for its continued violation of international law with regard to its settlement construction in occupied Palestinian territory failed to pass by a vote of 14 to 1, due to the Obama administration’s use of the veto. The Israeli response was to step up the pace of its illegal colonization.
In May 2011, Obama declared that he shared Netanyahu’s view that Israel would not return to the pre-June ’67 lines, but that Palestinians and the world must recognize “that conditions on the ground have changed” due to Israel’s illegal colonization efforts, and thus that Palestinians would have to accede to Israeli theft and annexation of more of their land. He reiterated in a speech at an AIPAC conference (the American Israel Political Affairs Committee, the pro-Israeli lobby) at the same time that “the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable.” He told his audience, “Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. It’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels…. So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
When the Palestinians, fed up with the U.S.-led so-called “peace process” and the Obama administration’s backing for Israel’s continued illegal settlement construction, announced their intention to seek international recognition of an independent Palestinian state in accordance with the international consensus on a two-state solution at the U.N., the Obama administration threatened to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority. The administration also vowed to veto any resolution recognizing Palestine in the Security Council and to oppose any upgrading of Palestine from observer status to non-member state in the General Assembly. When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine as a member state in October 2011, the Obama administration cut off U.S. funding for the organization.
Now, then, going back to Romney’s criticisms of Obama, what he was really saying, translated into meaningful terms, is that all of these actions by the Obama administration were not supportive enough of Israel, not contrary enough to international law, and not rejectionist enough of the rights of the Palestinian people and the international consensus on a two-state solution.
If his words had any meaning, it was that he was promising that under a Romney administration, the U.S. would send even more of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars to Israel to ensure its “qualitative military edge”; be even more complicit in Israel’s war crimes; defend Israel for war crimes and other violations of international law even more vigorously (although it wouldn’t really be possible for the U.S. to exercise its veto in this regard any more than Obama has done); and otherwise ensure that Israel inflicts even more punishment on the Palestinians for the sin of existing on their own land.
Is this really what Americans want from their next president?
Sadly, the answer seems to be for many Americans to be in the affirmative, which speaks volumes.