Having recently pounded and pulverised Gaza in military operations, killing more than 2,100 Palestinians and with no visible progress towards lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip after the ceasefire, Israel is now turning elsewhere to annex more Palestinian territory. This time it is the proposed construction of 2,610 homes in east Jerusalem, part of the continued expansion of Israeli settlements and consequent eviction of more Palestinians. The capacity of the Israeli state to ignore all the relevant UN resolutions and general world opinion that regards Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as illegal is astounding. Israel believes it is a special case over and above international law and conventions. Even its closest ally that underwrites its security and provides all its military and economic aid shows frustration at times with its wayward behaviour and defiance of the Obama administration.
The new tranche of settlement activity in east Jerusalem has drawn sharper criticism from the US than is usually the case. According to Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman of the US state department, “This development (of more Israeli settlements) will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations, and call into question Israel’s commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with Palestinians.”
It is rather surprising that after the collapse of the marathon peace initiative by John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, the US still somehow wants to believe that Israel might have some residual commitment to a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the Palestinian question. It does not. Kerry expressed his despondency and frustration at the time, to the great irritation and anger of the Netanyahu government, when he said that Israel would soon face the choice between “either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish [majority] state.” Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East, recently said, “How will it (Israel) have peace if it is unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupation and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security and dignity?” He added, “It cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. Doing so is not only wrong but a recipe for resentment and recurring instability.” Most of all, President Obama reportedly said that Israel’s decades long occupation of Palestine is simply “unsustainable”.
However, despite the strong reservations of the Obama administration about the efficacy and humanity of Israeli occupation, it still stands by Israel and tries to make excuses for it time and again. It has to stop making excuses and do something concrete to make Israel see some sense over how its obduracy on Palestine is not good for its own security and stability and that it also puts US relations with the Middle East through a state of continuous acrimony, if not crisis. The US, therefore, needs to approach the Palestinian question with great urgency because it alone has the necessary leverage and capacity to make Israel see sense as its chief patron and security guarantor.
As we have seen in the last several decades, this is unlikely to happen any time soon, principally because of the enormous clout of the Zionist lobby in the US. Its chief vehicle is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). A long article titled, ‘Friends of Israel’, by Connie Bruck in a recent issue of the New Yorker, has some interesting information about the AIPAC and its modus operandi in tilting the US political system in Israel’s favour. For this it has a wide network at its disposal. For instance: “AIPAC has more than a hundred thousand members, a network of seventeen regional offices, and a vast pool of donors.” How does it work? Well, an important mechanism is funding the election of its chosen Congress members who are given a clear brief of what they are expected to say and how to vote on issues affecting the state of Israel. As Bruck says in her article, “AIPAC’s hold on Congress has become institutionalised.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to run for Congress without “hearing from AIPAC”. According to Brian Baird, a Congress member, “And they [AIPAC] see us, members of Congress, as basically for sale. So they want us to shut up and play the game.” In their book, The Israeli Lobby and the US Foreign Policy, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt created quite a storm by their searing critique of AIPAC. But, by and large, the US remains steadfast in its support for Israel when it comes to the crunch. As a result, there is no need for Israel to change or adjust its position on the Palestinian question.
Despite solid US support for Israel, there still is a view in Israel and among its supporters in the US that it is precisely the US’s meddling and periodic peace initiatives that are at the core of the problem. It is argued that such initiatives stand in the way of other, less ambitious approaches to the Palestinian issue. In his article, ‘Israel and the US: the delusions of our diplomacy’, Nathan Thrall explores this in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books. He argues that Israel’s supporters have some difference of opinion as to how best Israel’s interests might be served but they all back “the Israeli demand to place severe restrictions on the sovereignty of a future Palestinian state, with limits on Palestinian armament, border control and airspace, as well as the presence in the Palestinian state of international security forces, Israeli early-warning stations, routes for Israeli emergency deployments and a continued presence for some considerable period of Israeli troops.” This, in effect, means institutionalising Israeli occupation and giving it a legal cover with the US promoting its international acceptance.
On the other hand, the US advocacy of a peace process where Palestine might have the attributes of a sovereign state, in Thrall’s view and many other Israeli supporters, is problematic. Because: “It deprives any other third party — whether European or Arab (and religious Zionists and ultra-orthodox Jews) — of a meaningful part in the peace process.” He believes that, “most Israeli voters, and many among the Palestinian elite, are quite at ease with existing conditions”. And his advice to the US government is that it better leave the Palestinian issue alone because “the potential benefits of creating a small, poor and strategically inconsequential Palestinian state are tiny when compared to the costs of heavily pressuring a close ally wielding significant regional and US domestic power.” With views like this seemingly vetoing US policy on the Palestinian issue, it is no wonder that it will remain a festering sore in an already volatile Middle Eastern region.