As Donald Trump heads out to the Middle East, the Israel supporters are in panic mode. They are confused by statements from the U.S. consulate saying that the western wall is not in Israel. They are afraid that Trump will put pressure on Israel over its neverending settlement project. They are concerned that Trump seemed to get along with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and that he has grand ambitions to make a deal between the two sides so he will have a legacy.
Israeli mood soured by Masada speech cancellation, 15 minutes at Yad Vashem, refusal to call Western Wall Israel’s or move embassy to J’m.
The panic reflects the central fact of Israel’s existence: it depends on the United States to protect it in international forums from the consequences of its own actions, and therefore it relies on the Israel lobby (Adelson, Indyk et al) to enforce American government support.
But Trump is a loose cannon. Supporters of the so-called Jewish state worry that on his visit to Bethlehem Trump will see the wall that encloses that legendary city and blurt what any traveler does: This place is a prison. The Palestinians have no rights!
Those of us who envision a more equitable outcome in Israel and Palestine (equal rights) are hoping that Trump does just that, and shakes things up. The only way there will be progress in the Middle East is when Israel ceases to believe that it is completely unaccountable and can act with impunity toward the Palestinian subjects who make up half the population under its control.
On his flight today, Trump should reflect on the American people’s interest in the Middle East, and what Israel is doing to advance or set back our interest.
We have been at war in the Middle East for the last 16 years. In fact, being at war in the Middle East now seems to be an end in itself for the Washington establishment. Maybe that’s true for Israel, which has been at war with its neighborhood for 68 years in one form or another and seems to regard this as the right way to conduct its relationships with its neighbors. “The Arabs don’t want us here, so there will be one war after another till they accept us,” a Jewish friend in Jerusalem once explained to me. When did that vision ever work for anyone?
This is not a vision for American policy. Yes we all have a keen interest in stopping terrorist attacks in the United States carried out by radical Islamists. But why do such people even care about the U.S. to risk or sacrifice their lives to hurt us? Osama bin Laden was clear about this. His number two issue was US support for the oppression of Palestinians. For Khalid Sheikh Mohammed US support for Israel was the main issue. Ditto many of the 9/11 hijackers.
Trump should watch what the FBI agent James Fitzgerald told the 9/11 Commission in 2004 when asked about their motivation:
“I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States,” he said. “They identify with the Palestinian problem, they identify with people who oppose repressive regimes and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States.”
Commission head Lee Hamilton concluded that “a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was vital to America’s long-term relationship with the Islamic world.”
That was more than ten years ago and there has been no settlement.
At this point in President Obama’s presidency he traveled to Cairo and described the Israel-Palestine conflict as the second “major source of tension” between the U.S. and the Muslim world, after violent extremism. Obama spoke of Israeli “occupation” and Palestinian “humiliations”:
the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own…
That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest.
Obama called that speech “A New Beginning.” But he was able to do nothing to follow through on these promises over the next eight years.
And today the United States is even closer to Israel than it was when he started out. We are giving Israel more money than ever before, we are working more closely with its business and military establishment, we share so much intelligence that it is a giant scandal in the eyes of Israel supporters who are given a platform in the New York Times when Trump leaks a secret about ISIS.
But meantime Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians is as bad as ever. It continues to gobble up Palestinian land and force Palestinians off it. The country’s leadership is so rightwing religious-nationalist that it is threatening to annex large portions of the West Bank and pressuring the U.S. to recognize its claims to Jerusalem.
There are now something like 800,000 Jewish colonists on Palestinian land, and apartheid is a nice word for the situation. The Jews can vote, the Palestinians living alongside them can’t. When Palestinian children resist their prison-like conditions and utter absence of opportunity by throwing stones at the colonizing forces, Israel slaughters them.
And calls them terrorists, and demands that we call them terrorists too.
None of this would surprise the State Department experts who warned against the establishment of a Jewish state 70 years ago. They said it would lead to endless unrest in the Middle East.
Though 40 years into Israel’s existence, Palestinian leaders said they would accept it if a Palestinian state was created alongside, and Arab nations also said they would accept that outcome, Israel demolished that solution. Out of pure greed for more land.
The American people’s interest here is clear. Israel is at war with neighbors and subject population because it has chosen the path of militant nationalism. We are enmeshed in Israel’s wars, but we don’t have to be. Donald Trump has a historic opportunity to hit Reset on a suffocatingly-close special relationship.