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Trump administration using unjust US law to pressure Palestinians

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Imagine that you are a victim of a violent crime or theft but are forbidden from reporting it because Congress has passed a law that not only prohibits you from reporting the crime, but threatens punishment if you dare to do it. This is the situation in which the Palestinians find themselves today.

The Palestinians have been told that the U.S. government is on the verge of decertifying their right to maintain an office in Washington because they had the audacity to complain to the International Criminal Court (ICC) about Israel’s land theft and settlement activity in the occupied territories.

(Image: Carlos Latuff)

The story behind this nightmarish situation began in 1987 when Congress passed a law prohibiting the Palestine Liberation Organization from operating an office in the United States. This legislation which was pushed by AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, was designed to ensure that the Palestinians would have no presence or voice in either Washington or at the United Nations. It was an effort to put into law a secret commitment Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had made to the Israelis a decade earlier that the US would not recognize or dialogue with the PLO. The Israelis had insisted on this “no-talk” policy for the simple reason described by Israeli Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin: “Whoever agrees to talk to the PLO means he accepts in principle the creation of a Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan, and this we can never accept”.

In 1993, after Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, in which both sides recognized each other’s national rights, Congress met to reassess their 1987 legislation. Instead of doing the right thing and simply canceling it, once again pressed by AIPAC, Congress chose to keep the law in place. The one concession found in new bill gave the President the right to waive the anti-Palestinian provision every six months on the condition that the State Department could certify to Congress that the Palestinians were adhering to the provisions of the Oslo Accords.

This legislation, termed the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act (MEPFA) imposed a series of requirements on the Palestinians. Among them were: renouncing the Arab boycott, nullifying the PLO Charter, not opening offices in Jerusalem, ending terrorism, and taking no steps to change the status of Jerusalem, West Bank, or Gaza pending the outcome of negotiations with the Israelis.

Because Congress chose to only impose these conditions on U.S. aid to the Palestinians and their right to operate an office in the U.S. aid, while placing no such requirements on Israel’s adherence to the terms of Oslo, it was clear from the very beginning of the so-called “Oslo process” that the U.S. could not play the role of “honest broker” in the search for peace.

Every six months, Israel’s lobby would raise issue with Palestinian compliance, documenting alleged Palestinian infractions and then protesting when the State Department would certify them. All the while, Israel, operating with complete impunity, continued: expanding Jewish-only settlements, roads, and infrastructure in the West Bank and what they called “Greater Jerusalem” creating new “facts on the ground”; imposing new humiliating conditions on Palestinian life in the occupied lands; and repeatedly violating their obligations under Oslo and the follow-up Cairo and Paris Economic Accords.

While Israel had recourse to go to the U.S. Congress to complain about allegations of Palestinian non-compliance, the Palestinians could not. Their only recourse was to bring their case to the United Nations where the U.S. would, in the end, veto any and all resolutions critical of Israel.

In this context, I have always found it irritatingly disingenuous when the Israeli side expresses its contempt for what they call the UN’s “automatic majority” for the Palestinians, while refusing to acknowledge the “automatic majority” Israel has in the U.S. Congress.

Over the next two decades, the terms of the MEPFA were modified to include a suspension US aid for the Palestinians and decertification of their right to operate in the U.S. if the Palestinians were join any international body with the equivalent status of a “member state”; or if they were to receive full member state recognition at the UN; and, more recently, if they were to bring a case against Israel’s violations of international law before the International Criminal Court.

When, this fall, Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations General Assembly he spoke these words:

“We have also called on the International Criminal Court, as is our right, to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials”.

Abbas specifically cited Israeli settlement activity as the crime, in question.

Israel’s settlement policy is, in fact, in violation of international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from both moving its population into “territories occupied in time of war” and dispossessing the occupied population of their land and properties. Every member nation of the UN, except Israel, has held that the Conventions apply to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Even the U.S., despite repeated efforts to dumb down the language it uses to describe settlement activity – from obstacle to peace, to unhelpful, to illegitimate, etc – has never erased from the books a Carter-era legal opinion on settlement illegality.

In the 50 years of its occupation, Israel has built settlements for over 650,000 of its citizens in the West Bank and around Jerusalem deliberately changing the demographic character of the territories. They have also built a Wall well inside the West Bank separating Palestinians from their land. And in order to facilitate this colonial venture they have seized Palestinian property dispossessing the people of the occupied territories – again in violation of the law.

Since the U.S., despite periodic hollow protests, has never shown willingness to act to stop this theft and illegal dispossession, and since Congress has, of late, been writing legislation using language that has the clear intent of legitimizing Israel’s conquest and colonization, the Palestinians’ only recourse has been to take the matter to the ICC.

That they have dared to use this non-violent legal challenge to Israel’s law-breaking has caused the current crisis that may result in closing the Palestinian office in Washington and making it illegal for them to operate in the U.S.

The State Department and Congress say that they are simply following the law. But the law, in question, is an unjust law that punishes the victim while allowing the victimizer to continue its crimes. The law ought to be changed, but since Congress will not behave in a balanced manner, the Palestinians should proceed full speed ahead with their complaint to the ICC.

This article was originally published by HuffPost on November 25, 2017. 

James Zogby

James Zogby tweets at @jjz1600 and is the author of Arab Voices and the founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.–based organization which serves as a political and policy research arm of the Arab-American community.

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21 Responses

  1. Boomer on November 28, 2017, 10:24 am

    Politico has an interesting story about Trump’s first trip to Russia, and some aspects of KGB history and techniques to cultivate foreign contacts. I wonder if any other countries do similar things with Americans?

    • annie on November 28, 2017, 11:50 am

      I wonder if any other countries do similar things with Americans?

      for real? i couldn’t find anything in the article that didn’t sound like routine spy recruitment any country w/an intel agency would not apply.

      ie, the article sites a book called Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions: Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign Operations 1975–1985. co authored by Oleg Gordievsky. oleg was a soviet/british double agent. here’s his wiki page:

      During his Danish posting [as a soviet foreign service agent], Gordievsky became disenchanted with his work in the KGB, particularly after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.[2] This had been noticed by the Danish Security Intelligence Service which resulted in extensive efforts to see if Gordievsky could be recruited. When Danish Intelligence were convinced an approach could be made, they contacted MI6. DSIS felt they needed a partner among the big intelligence agencies due to the relatively small size of the DSIS to make the operation successful, and chose the British.[3] MI6 via DSIS, subsequently made contact with him.

      The value of MI6’s recruitment of such a highly placed and valuable intelligence asset increased dramatically when, in 1982, Gordievsky was assigned to the Soviet embassy in London as the KGB resident-designate (“rezident”), responsible for Soviet intelligence gathering and espionage in the UK.

      so there’s an example of 2 other countries trying to recruit spies, denmark and the UK. the article has lots of spicy juicy info, but most of it is routine. ie, what ambassador for any country would not be interested in making contact with a country’s business elite? and what country cultivates foreign contacts with “full support and approval” of their intel agency?:

      Dubinin’s other daughter, Irina, said that her late father—he died in 2013—was on a mission as ambassador. This was, she said, to make contact with America’s business elite. For sure, Gorbachev’s Politburo was interested in understanding capitalism. But Dubinin’s invitation to Trump to visit Moscow looks like a classic cultivation exercise, which would have had the KGB’s full support and approval.

      and this: “There were many ambitious real estate developers in the United States—why had Moscow picked Trump?”

      for name brand recognition, i can’t think of a more famous US “ambitious real estate developer”. the question would not be why moscow picked trump, it is why they wouldn’t. the same article could be written about trump and saudi arabia or trump and france. it’s all a bunch of hot air and offers no information whatsoever trump was an agent of russia. it’s all a bunch of speculative nonsense:

      Soviet spy agencies were always interested in cultivating “young ambitious people,” he said—an upwardly mobile businessman, a scientist, a “guy with a future.”

      guess what? US spy agencies, as well as any spy agency in the world, are always interested in cultivating “young ambitious people,” — upwardly mobile businessmen, a scientist, a “guy with a future.” aren’t they?

      does the cia do this? mossad? saudia arabia, denmark, the UK? i mean, what country doesn’t or wouldn’t have dossiers on elite citizens of foreign countries they see as potential assets?

      whereas, the info in james zogby’s article, by a long shot, is way more nefarious and unusual than anything in that clickbait politico article.

      • Donald on November 28, 2017, 12:46 pm

        Good points. Personally, I am guessing there is something to Russiagate, but it is mostly stuff that we wouldn’t bat an eye at if the US or an ally did it, and I don’t mean just the mainstream, but even lefties. The US pulls so much crap on so many levels that something as minor as what the Russians are accused of doing would be way way down on the list of anything we would care about. We are helping the Saudis create the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis in Yemen and virtually all the pundits in the MSM ignore this in favor of russiagate.

      • annie on November 28, 2017, 1:03 pm

        i am just sooo sick of russiagate. i mean, the guy is a total dufus, did you see this?

        this person, is so out of control, his value as an “agent” would be practically worthless. so what if on this trip to russia with his first wife, he did sleep with a prostitute? i mean, so what?? i just can’t see this as anything that would compel trump to act any particular way. i mean, don’t we have enough on our plates w/this guy? who’s idea is it to have all of our media so obsessed with russia?? is it how we leverage ourselves over our failure in syria? is it how dems plan on compelling people to vote for their candidate in the next election? or is it supposed to be the new dominant theme like monica was or whitewater? because we have so many other things the msm could be going nuts over.

        my hunch is that all of this could be the coverup of the dem party’s utter failure, the real reason why trump is in office, and it’s very very simple. dems forced and unpopular, and in many ways despised, candidate on the american people. but they want it to be remembered as manipulated by russia. like it going down in history as memorable as bush&gore landing in the supreme court or something. but it’s just not fair to the country to drag us through this crap. and the hypocrisy of it considering all the color revolutions we’ve engaged in all over the friggin world. i can’t imagine there’s anything or any way russia impacted our election that comes even close to the stuff the US/cia does all over the world. why don’t they explain the worst thing trump could do to us if he was a russian agent. seriously, the guy in that tweet? what kind of asset would he be anyway? you think he can take orders? think again.

      • Boomer on November 28, 2017, 1:03 pm

        Annie, you are correct, of course. My question was rhetorical. Sorry I wasn’t clear. I simply wonder to what extent the “automatic majority” Israel enjoys in Congress gets an assist from such techniques.

      • annie on November 28, 2017, 1:12 pm

        boomer, considering it’s a requirement for junior congressional reps to make the required trip to israel early in their careers i’d imagine there are dossiers on each one and every of them. and israel fawning politicians like lindsey graham, oh they’ve likely got very thick dossiers because of techniques like this.

      • Mooser on November 29, 2017, 2:30 pm

        “I wonder if any other countries do similar things with Americans?”

        Of course they do, and I think Americans are required to report them.

      • Donald on November 29, 2017, 5:19 pm

        The irony ( or one of them) is that Trump and the people around him are itching to get into a war with Iran, and they also want to keep US forces inside Syria where they have no right to be. It doesn’t make any sense that this is something Putin wants. If anything, Trump is under the influence of the Saudis and the Israelis and Americans who all want the US to take out Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.

  2. JWalters on November 28, 2017, 7:57 pm

    Not only are the Israelis getting the US Congress to outlaw free speech for Palestinians, they are working on the US Congress to outlaw free speech for Americans (BDS). Has Congress no shame?

    • James Canning on November 29, 2017, 1:14 pm

      Yes, the US Congress at the behest of the ISRAEL LOBBY is apparently willing to suppress free speech in the US.

  3. JLewisDickerson on November 28, 2017, 8:44 pm

    The U.S. Congress is a major “obstacle to peace” in the Middle East.

  4. JosephA on November 28, 2017, 10:22 pm

    Mr. Zogby,

    Thank you very much for this summary of the situation: it’s origins, functions, and substance. Your logical conclusion is the best and most just: the Palestinians must take their case to any impartial body that will listen. These Israeli war crimes are in humane, and they must cease.

  5. Misterioso on November 29, 2017, 10:23 am

    Excellent read:

    “Where is Zionism Taking Us? – An Analysis” (27 November 2017) by Professor Lawrence Davidson


    “Part I – The Inevitable Apartheid Nation”

    “We know where Zionism has taken Israel. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 led the way. In that imperial and colonial document, the British promised the World Zionist Organization a Jewish ‘National Home’ in Palestine. They did so, as Edward Said put it, in ‘flat disregard of both the presence and wishes of the native majority residents in that territory.’”

    “You cannot introduce one people, in this case a large number of Europeans who happen to be Jewish, into a territory populated by hundreds of thousands of non-Europeans, without negative consequences. And, if the incoming Europeans have the goal of creating a state exclusively for their group alone, those consequences are going to be dire indeed. Surrounded by ‘the other,’ the only way you can achieve your exclusive state is through discriminatory practices and laws ultimately producing an apartheid nation. And that is what happened.

    “While this has meant, and continues to mean, segregation, ethnic cleansing and Bantustans for the Palestinians, for the Jews it means that their religion is tied to a racist political ideology. There is no instance of Israeli prejudice exercised against the Palestinians, no act of violence committed against them, that does not simultaneously dishonor and debase the Jewish religion and people.

    “Part II – Worldwide Consequences”

    “How about the rest of world? The consequences of Zionism are threatening both security and equality everywhere. Here is how this is happening:”

  6. Misterioso on November 29, 2017, 12:25 pm

    Just released video: 4 minutes, 32 seconds.

    “Palestine 101: Not That Complicated.”

    “Many people are held back from taking a stand on the issue of Palestine/Israel by the common misconception that it is ‘complicated.’ Here, we explain the steady continuation of the more than 100 year old settler colonial project that is Zionism. Palestine 101: Not That Complicated can help folks both familiar and unfamiliar with the issue understand the ongoing process of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and the legacy of Palestinian resistance to the colonization of their homeland.”

  7. inbound39 on November 29, 2017, 12:30 pm

    What amuses me is by passing and using that law against the Palestinians, the American Government is made fools by Israel again. American Policy views settlements as illegal and therefore a war crime. The Palestinians were following US Policy and get their office closed……I shake my head.

  8. klm90046 on November 29, 2017, 1:11 pm

    The United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the United States Congress–these are all hogwash, eyewash and mouthwash.

    While I have great respect for people like James Zogby for their integrity and erudition, I do not see how their prescriptions can work toward the Palestinians getting their land back. This problem will move toward resolution when Palestinians find their George Washington who will energize them, motivate them, arm them, train them and then lead them through a war of independence. It’s the only way a sovereign Palestine can emerge.

    Somebody prove me wrong–please.

    • Mooser on November 29, 2017, 2:28 pm

      “This problem will move toward resolution when Palestinians find their George Washington”

      Well, in a manner of speaking, one might say the Palestinians have already met George Washington, and his name was Ben Gurion.

      • gamal on November 29, 2017, 6:45 pm

        ” in a manner of speaking”

        you remember when Saul Bellow said “You must show me the Zulu Tolstoy”, no i don’t get that either, i don’t, why must i do anything, when i don’t want too, why must i.

        look some threads are too long Donald replied, to my attempt to embrace him, i know it, but i can’t find it in that thread so here, American Donald:

        briefly who do i mean by “us”, why “them” the “other” who else, you think my personal “us” couldn’t stand scrutiny, or me,

        you don’t see why you feel everyone is having a go at you? because you are not fair to yourself Donald, just one little piece of courage and you can be free.

        I am the them that is also us, whatever is the lowest category of man, that i seize, not out of humility, but for freedom from complicity and for freedom itself….

        as for me I am so free of morals that I can act appropriately in any situation, with out either gain or loss, because I never had anything in the first place that I didn’t owe to my sacred, more precious than gods, brothers and sisters…

        why you so angry when you are one of us, why won’t you talk to don’t think we know shit and need some (forgive me) flat headed American simpleon to tell us about a struggle that we were born into, talk to us Donald, we can help, we solved being inferior long ago, we solved being reprehensible just the other day, we embrace our fate down here, my Us are your brothers and sisters, stop preaching when you need to study to understand us, that was all i meant, i am rude and like to fight,

        whats wrong with that.

        I gave up my whole life on a little point of principle, being insignificant, it was only a little thing but i declined to abandon a derided and put upon individual, i knew the cost, after my wife, their mother, after her accidental death my children will never forgive me for the ensuing disorder, and i ultimately lost everything, that’s how it is, but I am unconflicted don’t want to suck satans dick whatever the benefits, in the end there is no part i am willing to sell to engage in oppression that i can avoid, a good deal I can’t so tough life here then fire, that’s the deal, better cultivate a sense of courage but instead you react so angrily when old men are trying to offer you friendship, fucking Americans you way too aggressive.

        can you imagine Donald the nightmare of trying to rule me, or any of you “i know about this kind of thang” American jerks, that is not going to happen, reform me? you couldn’t find me on any map or gps,

        why don’t you want to be our friend, you don’t get we like you, but sorry, you are crazy..

        you see i am man can let his feelings out, feminine enough to generate a warm welcoming environment.

      • Mooser on November 30, 2017, 6:01 pm

        “talk to us Donald, we can help, we solved being inferior long ago,”

        Donald really should take your suggestion, “gamal”. It might help him deal with stuff like this, from “Boris”:

        “It is not the family history or land deeds. The point is that the Jewish nation state had existed in that area, while Donald’s ancestors lived with their Johnsons in the forest.” “Boris”

        Donald’s gonna need a lot of empathy and advice to get over that.

      • Eric on November 30, 2017, 6:56 pm

        Ben Gurion was not George Washington. More like George Custer.

  9. James Canning on November 29, 2017, 1:12 pm

    Will Trump reward Israel for its sustained program of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank?

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