NWA Times, 2 January 2011
Israel needs tough love from the U.S.
Despite major disagreements with some Israeli actions, the U.S. government and most Americans, including me, have supported Israel since its founding in 1949. Israel continues receiving $3 billion annually in mostly military assistance from the U.S., amounting to one-third of all U.S. foreign aid. Furthermore, U.S. diplomatic support has been crucial for Israel, with the U.S. often standing alone with Israel at the United Nations. For example, during 1972-2006 the U.S. vetoed, by its single vote, 42 U.N. Security Council resolutions that were unfavorable to Israel.
But in light of recent events, it's time to question this policy. Is it in America's interest? Is it in the world's interest? Is it even in Israel's interest? I raise this last question because, in light of increasing Israeli obstinacy over their illegal (according to the International Court of Justice) settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel appears to be its own worst enemy. At a White House news conference last March, the well-known author and reporter Helen Thomas asked the President's press secretary "How can the U.S. support Israel when it continues to violate international law?" Sadly, this has become a good question.
For over forty years, Israel's settlements in the occupied territories have been an obstacle to peace. Not only President Obama, but also the nine presidents before him, have opposed settlement construction. The settlements, the checkpoints, the settler-only roads, and the illegal route of Israel's security barrier, make daily life impossible for Palestinians.
These days, it's Israel, more than Palestine, who is holding out on the peace process. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has gone so far as to state unilaterally that Palestinians are ready to end all historic claims, such as the right of return for those displaced from Israeli soil, once they establish their state in the lands Israel has occupied in the 1967 Mideast war. But ironically, when Abbas appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to halt settlement building in order to continue the peace process, the Israeli leader told him his own government would fall if he halted settlement activity because of opposition from settlers and their sympathizers. This represents a sad failure of Israeli democracy.
Ever since the 1967 war, our president and his entire foreign policy establishment have lavished enormous attention on getting a peace agreement. The Palestinian-Israeli stand-off has been terrible for the U.S., stimulating much of the anger that Muslim and other nations have directed against us, and it's been terrible for Palestine and Israel. Despite decades of effort and despite occasional negotiations, there is no peace. In late August this year, following months of U.S. mediation efforts, peace talks finally got going again amid a flurry of expectations and a grudging temporary moratorium on Israeli settlement activity. By late September, the talks had ground to a halt because the moratorium ran out. In October, Netanyahu said Israel's settlement freeze couldn't continue because he wouldn't be able to maintain his center-right political coalition if he allowed it to continue. By November, the U.S. was begging Israel for just a 90-day moratorium on settlements in just the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem, a major zone of contention), offering rewards to Israel for playing along--top end warplanes and diplomatic protection in the U.N. In early December, the U.S. abandoned efforts to persuade Israel to slow settlement activity. As I write these words in mid December (because I'll be away for two weeks), peace efforts are at a stalemate and the U.S. is at a loss about what to do next.
The outlines of a rational peace agreement have been clear for years: Israel must give up its settlements in return for the Palestinians giving up the right of return to their pre-1949 lands in present-day Israel. Jerusalem must be shared, with West and East Jerusalem probably becoming the capitols of Israel and Palestine, respectively. Some larger older Israeli settlements could be retained, by mutual agreement, in return for allowances for some Palestinians to return to their pre-1947 homes.
For the good of all concerned including Israel herself, Israel needs some tough love. There's no reason why we should continue providing $3 billion in aid plus diplomatic cover to a nation that is harming U.S. interests. We need to tell Israel that we can no longer provide either the aid or the cover unless they absolutely end all settlement activity permanently, and come to a reasonable agreement with the Palestinians.