Israel-Palestine – what is the U.S. national interest?
By Ralph Nader
Israeli elections are coming up in January so it is Palestinian hunting season again. Israeli cynics call it a time “for mowing the grass.”
Out comes the well-worn playbook by Israel’s militaristic government that has worked to silence Israeli politicians and citizens who want a two-state solution. This is an opportunity to use and test advanced weaponry from the U.S., compliments of U.S. taxpayers, and squelch ongoing peace efforts, small and large, by Palestinians, Israelis and international peace advocates.
The playbook’s first chapter is provocation to upset a tense but workable truce with Hamas, the elected government of Gaza. Hamas was encouraged at its creation years ago by both Israeli and U.S. backers to counter the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Bit of a blowback there.
Israeli government leaders are expert provocateurs when they wish to seize land, water or prisoners and upset any movement toward a peace that would create a viable Palestinian state back to the 1967 borders, which includes East Jerusalem. When Israel came into being in 1948, it soon broke a UN truce and doubled its territory by taking the large area known as the Negev desert, whose refugees ended up in the Gaza Strip. Now 1.6 million encircled and impoverished humans, blockaded and under siege by Israel, try to survive in an open-air prison little more than twice the size of the District of Columbia.
Israel’s strategy of breaking cease-fires and truces over the years has been documented by Princeton University history professor emeritus, Arno J. Mayer, in his scholarly book Plowshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel (Verso, 2008).
In late 2008, Israel broke a months-long truce with Hamas with an attack that took half a dozen lives. Modern Israeli missiles and crude Hamas rockets started flying to and fro. Then Israel invaded the Gaza strip with soldiers to add to its previous incursions – 24/7 electronic and satellite surveillance, omnipresent spies, flyovers, and data mining (down to specific details on each extended family and neighborhood). With their avowed pinpoint bombing, the Israelis destroyed homes, schools, clinics, police stations, clusters of people at bus stops, farms, UN facilities and even hit the American International School – all with the blessing of President-elect Barack Obama.
Observers marvel at the precise knowledge by Israel of who was in what car traveling where in Gaza, before being vaporized. Yet somehow, the second-most modern military in the world could not detect and stop those garages assembling the rockets or the sites firing the crude missiles, which were the rationale for the Israeli invasion.
When the Gaza invasion-massacre ended, there were more than 1400 Palestinian fatalities, including around 300 children, and many thousands of injuries, a population surrounded by destruction and deprived by this illegal blockade-siege of medicines, food, water, electricity and the other necessities of life.
One large extended family in several adjoining homes was ordered by Israeli soldiers to congregate in the largest of the homes. Then the Israelis blew it up. This Samouni family lost about 30 of its members, or more than double the entire fatality toll in Israel, including those soldiers lost from friendly fire.
The current hostilities started in two stages. The first was a back-and-forth that saw an emerging truce broken decisively on November 14 when Israel pridefully blew up a car containing Hamas military chief, Ahmad al-Jabari who actually was leading the negotiations via Egypt with Israel for a longer-range truce.
Back to Israel’s playbook, chapter two can be called the instant, mandatory resolutions by the puppet show in Congress and the automatic one-sided mantra by the White House. “Israel has a right to defend itself,” said President Obama, from the occupied, besieged, defenseless Palestinians, whose lands, water, homes, businesses and freedom of movement are being taken relentlessly by the raiding Israeli government that is not content with possessing 78 percent of traditional Palestine.
More than 1500 Israeli reserve combat officers and soldiers signed a declaration refusing, in their words, “to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.” The founder of Israel, David ben Gurion, candidly declared it “their (Palestine’s) land and we took it.”
So Palestinians do not have a right to try to defend themselves against their cruel, powerful occupiers. Israel is violating several UN resolutions along with international law, according to many experts including Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories. But the U.S. gives Israel its unwavering UN veto cover.
Finally, chapter three of the playbook is to make sure that the Israeli government advocates dominate the U.S. media – the talk shows, the news slants, and the opinion columnists. This is becoming less easy in an internet age. Which might explain that, along with homes, water wells, rescue teams, an ambulance, and other civilian installations, the Israeli air force already has bombed the office building housing Palestinian television studios and hosting media from the western world, including Fox TV. That is one indelicate way to tell these western journalists to get out of Gaza so that the truth about the immense civilian suffering and war crimes can no longer be told by them.
Still, the heroic Israeli progressives and peace advocates would not be silenced, in spite of some Hamas rockets nearing Tel Aviv. A few hundred of them demonstrated in this city, charging the Netanyahu government with provoking the fighting in Gaza to divert attention from conditions of social and economic injustices and civil liberty suppression in their country.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved peacefully, without violence. During quieter times, more than half the Israelis supported a two-state solution. A few years ago, 61 percent of Israelis, polled by a prominent university there, favored negotiations with Hamas. A majority of Jewish-Americans, though unorganized, favor a two-state solution.
In 2002, the Arab League unanimously (22 countries) presented with great fanfare an across-the-board peace treaty with the stipulation that Israel would adhere to UN Resolutions and allow a viable Palestinian state. Again and again, sometimes in full-page ads in U.S. newspapers, this offer was repeated only to receive scoffing and abrupt dismissal by the Israeli government. So, predictably, Washington did nothing.
So what is the alternative? A one-state solution with both Palestinians and Israelis having equal rights? Noura Erakat, who teaches at Georgetown University, framed the dilemma back in August whenshe quoted former prime minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak, saying, after leaving his former post, “If, and as long as between the Jordan (River) and the (Mediterranean) Sea there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or nondemocratic…. If the Palestinians vote in elections it is a binational state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state.” His rival, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the same thing.
Awareness of this pathway is leading some extremist Israeli politicians who call Palestinians “vermin” and “rats” to think about the day when they can, with suitable provocations, drive the Palestinians into the desert.