United States government diplomatic, economic, and military support has been critical for Israel to maintain its post-1967 occupations of Gaza, East Jerusalem, and West Bank, and to transform these occupations into a permanent apartheid state.
The role of the U.S. government in facilitating Israeli apartheid, however, will eventually fade for multiple geopolitical reasons, and that development will create opportunities to turn an apartheid state into as an equitable democratic state or two separate states. The sooner United States government for Israeli apartheid ends, the sooner this transformation could occur.
The waning of U.S. government support for Israel may take the form of conditions on military aid or comprehensive government sanctions, even though either development strikes many people as unimaginable. Nevertheless, a December 2016 Brookings public opinion poll reveals that nearly half of the U.S. public supports sanctions on Israel – including a majority of self-identifying Democrats. This increased support for U.S. government sanctions indicates that now is the time for political groups committed to a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict to lead public opinion, not follow or ignore it. They need to become advocates for official U.S. government sanctions on Israel, such as an update to the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. Instead of sanctioning South African apartheid, this updated legislation’s new goal should be to end Israeli apartheid.
While there have previously been short-term, minor sanctions on Israel, like President G.H.W. Bush’s withholding loan guarantees in 1991, and there are several groups calling for partial sanctions, this is not enough. Full sanctions are needed, and its case rests on three principles:
- Despite differences with South Africa, Israel has become an apartheid state, and apartheid is a war crime according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. As a signatory to this statue, the United States is compelled to act against Israeli apartheid.
- Israel, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, uses U.S.-supplied weapons to attack civilians. These actions conflict with the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which limits the use of U.S.–supplied weapons to “legitimate self-defense.” It is also a violation of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits transferring U.S. weapons to any country that has a consistent pattern of human rights violations. Furthermore, the Leahy Law, which prohibits U.S. government assistance to foreign militaries with a record of gross human rights violations, amends both acts. The enforcement of these U.S. government laws would end the sale of U.S. arms to Israel (i.e. partial sanctions), as well as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
- The official call of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement includes government sanctions on Israel. Two years ago we called for the BDS movement to concentrate on sanctions (http://mondoweiss.net/2015/07/government-sanctions-israel). Based on changes in public opinion, now is surely the time for the BDS movement to fulfill its mission statement by forcefully calling for official U.S. government sanctions on Israel.
Emerging Trends: Advocacy of U.S. sanctions on Israel will be aided by many emerging geopolitical trends, several of which we previously described in a Countercurrents article.
- To construct an apartheid state between the Mediterranean and Jordan, Israel must make ever-growing demands on the United States government for additional diplomatic, political, and military support. President Trump’s decision to comply with Israeli government requests to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is a boost to Israeli apartheid, despite worldwide opposition. The enactment of anti-BDS laws and repression of U.S. citizens who criticize Israel are other aspects of U.S. support for Israeli apartheid that also conflicts American democratic traditions.
- The U.S. is a rapidly declining as the hegemonic power in the Middle East because of its losing, costly, endless, unpopular, and counter-productive wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. As a result, the U.S. government will eventually have less capacity and/or willingness to support repressive regimes in the region, including Israel.
- Israel is increasingly aligned with anti-immigrant and neo-fascist personalities and movements in Europe (Viktor Orban of Hungary) and the United States (Steve Bannon, Steven Miller, Robert and Rebekah Mercer) that run counter to the liberal values of most Americans, including most Jewish-Americans. These actions further erode Israel’s standing in U.S. public opinion, making it easier to lobby for government sanctions on Israel.
- Israel has aligned itself with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies to oppose Iran throughout the Middle East, including calls to scrap the Joint Powers Agreement limiting Iranian nuclear weapons. This places Israel in direct opposition to the U.S. foreign policy establishment, undermining an important bi-partisan leg of the Israel lobby. As the Trump Administration attempts to withdraw from this agreement, conflicts among the U.S. foreign policy elites, the Trump administration, and the Israeli government will increase.
- The U.S. government has already withheld military sales to Egypt, and some Members of Congress, like California’s Ted Lieu (CA-33), have called for an end of U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia. These actions both set precedents for U.S. government sanctions against Israel.
- Independent of the United States, anti-occupation and anti-apartheid boycotts of Israel from European countries and the United Nations are growing.
- Continued Israeli public support for Israel’s apartheid project cannot be counted on, as evidenced by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s recent speech to the Knesset calling for an indirect end to Israeli apartheid by granting full citizenship to all Palestinians living in occupied territories.
- The possibility of increased Palestinian opposition to apartheid, such as another Intifada, and/or the possibility of a second and successful Arab Spring, remain unpredictable wild cards.
While some of these trends are beyond our control, we can play a role in advancing others. Especially effective may be calls for U.S. government sanctions on Israel and anti-apartheid political mobilizations by the U.S, Israeli, and Palestinian publics for a viable and just one- or two-state solution.
We should have no illusions about the intensity of Israeli opposition to any campaign to finally implement U.S. government sanctions. And, even when U.S. sanctions are enacted, Israel’s democratic transformation will be lengthy, contested, and could face many setbacks, including new expulsions and atrocities. Furthermore, we must also learn an important lesson from South Africa and address the economic equity issues that have undermined that country’s efforts to end apartheid.
The battle of ideas is at the core of the political struggle for government sanctions on Israel. To that end we must carefully describe how the Israeli occupations have transformed into an apartheid state, how apartheid violates international laws, and how Israeli apartheid could, in turn, be transformed into a democratic state or states.
This intellectual effort must be coupled with political organization since even the most carefully drafted anti-apartheid proposals will become shelf documents unless a well-organized and strategic movement supports them. To succeed that movement needs to be fully aware of both local and global geo-political trends because these, and only these, will create openings for a successful campaign to impose U.S. government sanctions on Israel.
Once sanctions finally take their toll, the chances that either a viable and democratic one- or two-state solution will emerge dramatically increase.