Yesterday we saw two glaring double standards in the American official discourse when it comes to Israel and other countries.
First, in yesterday’s New York Times, longtime Israel advocate Dennis Ross called on all those who are pushing for a Palestinian state to offer Israel certain assurances, among them “a resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue that allows Israel to retain its Jewish character.”
Can you imagine the New York Times running an article saying that the U.S. has to be allowed to retain its white character in the face of rising numbers of Hispanics and Asian immigrants? No, you can’t. It goes against a modern liberal understanding of how societies are composed to say such a thing. Or retain the U.S.’s Christian character? Hogwash.
Now here is more hypocrisy flowing from the same official ideology, support for Israel. At yesterday’s State Department briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki warned that the Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court could result in a reduction of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority. The New York Times echoes this threat today: “Washington… is expected to cut $400 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority if the International Criminal Court bid is not reversed.”
But as reporters suggested in their questions, the Israelis have been building settlements in the occupied territories for nearly 50 years and we haven’t threatened to reduce their assistance. Psaki tried to dodge the double standard question by saying it was up to Congress to reduce assistance.
Annie Robbins points out that Psaki is saying that the Obama administration has no choice in the matter because Congress passed legislation stating that the money must be cut off. Just as it was not Obama’s choice to sanction Iran; no, that would only make things worse, Obama said. But Congress ordered sanctions. This is the same reason that the Supreme Court is now considering that passport case where an American wants his birthplace to be Jerusalem, Israel. The State Department refuses to allow such a designation, but Congress wants it. The lobby has no problem when the president is on its side, but as soon as executive power goes against it, it goes to Congress.
Here are excerpts of the State briefing:
MS. PSAKI: Let me just repeat that we’re deeply troubled by the Palestinian action regarding the ICC….
Now, as you noted, and as I think my colleague said last week, obviously there could be implications on assistance. There are a range of ways that could take place. Congress has a great deal of power in that regard, and that has been historically true. They are obviously watching closely what happens. I’m not going to get ahead of any action they may take. As you know, the Secretary of State also has a range of authorities, but I don’t have anything to preview for all of you today….
QUESTION: Could continued Israeli settlement activity, which you say is a unilateral act and which you don’t like, also have implications for U.S. assistance to Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, these actions are actions that would be taken by Congress, so I suggest you direct your question to them.
QUESTION: No, I mean, you were just very careful in answering Matt’s questions to not take a position on whether or not you would act vis-a-vis assistance to the Palestinians only if required to do so by law, i.e. by Congress. You’ve clearly, in your previous answers – and you also pointed out that the Secretary of State has some authority and jurisdiction and flexibility here…
MS. PSAKI: we constantly review our assistance; I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of that assistance. We clearly do see a benefit in the U.S. assistance that we do provide and have provided to the Palestinian Authority. It’s played a valuable role in promoting stability and prosperity, not just for Palestinians but for the region.
QUESTION: Well, I guess the fundamental question is: Why, if it is not solely related to congressional action, to the legal framework within which you operate, if it is perhaps also a function of the Administration’s authority and policy decisions on their own, why shouldn’t unilateral Israeli actions also potentially be subject to diminution in U.S. assistance?…
MS. PSAKI: Overall, as you know, funding goes through Congress. They make decisions about what funding they will move forward on and not. That is the case here as well. So what I’m implying there, and you all know, is they are also watching and will make decisions accordingly. There are steps, depending on what it is, that the Secretary of State can take. But overall, the first step would be Congress….
QUESTION: But there is a question of whether or not there’s a double standard vis-a-vis the treatment of unilateral actions by either of the two parties to this dispute.
MS. PSAKI: But we’re talking about what’s legally required in a congressional bill as it relates to the Palestinian funding.
QUESTION: And Congress can apply whatever conditions it wishes or does not wish to, to either side, and there are no conditions that I’m aware of imposed on the state of Israel. So I get that. What I still don’t understand, though, is why you are not able to state categorically – if what you’re saying is right, that all you’re talking about here is congressional action – why you won’t say, “Look, we’ll do whatever the law obliges us to, but that’s it. We’re not looking at other things with regard to the money.”
MS. PSAKI: Because, Arshad, I’m not going to preview or discuss internal discussions. I conveyed to you what our focus is on, and beyond that I don’t have anything further to add.
The briefing offered no update on the State Department concern over that settler attack on an American official convoy to view a Palestinian village in the West Bank. “We’re still working with Israeli authorities on their investigation,” Psaki said.
Update: An earlier version of this piece said there had never been any consequences from the US government for Israeli settlement building. More than two decades ago, US presidents did threaten.