Tag Archives: Israel/Palestine conflict

Trumped Up Diplomacy in the Middle East

20 May

 

In his first overseas trip since moving into the White House, Donald Trump is leaving behind the frustrations, allegations, rumors, and an increasing sense of implosion that seems to be dooming his presidency during its second hundred days. At the same time, a mixture of curiosity and apprehension awaits this new leader wherever he goes making his visit to the Middle East and Europe momentous occasions for the host governments, wide eyed public, and rapacious media. We need to remember that in this era of popular autocrats and surging right-wing populists, Trump is a ‘hero of our time.’

 

Even if all had gone smoothly for the new president in his home country, there should be expressions of deep concern about his travel itinerary. He visits first the two countries with which the United States has ‘special relationships’ in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel. What has long made them ‘special’ are a series of pre-Trump departures from realist and normative foreign policy orientations by successive American presidencies. These departures were motivated by oil geopolitics, arms sales and strategic alliances, hostility to Iran, and a disguised American sweet spot for foreign royalty. It is has long been obvious that uncritical deference to Israeli priorities has seriously undermined U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, which would have benefitted much more from policies designed to encourage peace and stability by refraining from regime-changing interventions, massive arms sales, and a diplomacy of respect for the politics of national self-determination.

 

Most remarkably, the U.S. Government has for decades winked at the billions of support given by Saudi members of the royal family to Wahabism, that is, to promote fundamentalist Islam, throughout the Muslim world. The first words uttered by Trump on his arrival in Riyadh were that it ‘an honor’ to be visiting.

Then came signed deals adding up to $110 billions in arms sales and the declaration of a common strategic vision, that is, a super-alliance, called an ‘Arab NATO’ in some circles, a dagger aimed at Iran’s heart. Why turn a blind eye toward the Saudi role in fanning the flames of jihadism while ramping up a military threat to relatively passive Iran that reelected Hassan Rouhani as its president, who has consistently championed moderation at home and normalization abroad.

 

How can we explain this? Trump has been critical of most aspects of the foreign policy agenda of his predecessors, but on the promotion of the special relationships he seems intent on doubling down on the most misguided aspects of earlier approaches to the region. The shape of his travel itinerary during his days confirms this impression. In this regard, Trump repudiates Obama’s hesitant, but in the end successful, efforts to bring Iran in from the cold, while trying to please Saudi Arabia by ignoring its extreme denial of human rights to its own people as well as its contributions to anti-Western terrorism.

 

If Trump was truly intent on putting America first, as he insistently asserts, then he could do so very directly and effectively by taking three major steps toward the protection of national interests: first, demand a firm commitment from the Saudi government to cease using private funds and public diplomacy to spread Wahabism beyond its borders. Any credible public statement along these lines would weaken ISIS and other terrorist movements throughout the world far more than cascades of Tomahawk missiles dumped on a Syrian airfield. Such a challenge to Saudi policies also raises the possibility, however remote, of an endgame in the ‘war on terror.’ If such a reset of Saudi relations could be coupled with an indefinite freeze on arms sales to the Gulf countries that would have been even better, sending a signal throughout the region that America will no longer engage with the bloody conflicts that have brought so much suffering and devastation to the Middle East. This might give some belated meaning to ‘America first.’

 

The second step would have been even harder for an American president to take. It would require Trump to tell Mr. Netanyahu that no further military assistance for Israel would be authorized until an unconditional freeze on settlement expansion was in place and enforced, and the blockade of Gaza lifted once and for all.

 

It does not require a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies to appreciate that the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the region and the adoption of effective steps to minimize the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Islam would improve future prospects for this horrendously disrupted political realities, at last reducing tensions and risks of wars. Nor does it require special knowledge to identify the obstacles such actions—the one government that already possesses nuclear weapons and the government that feels threatened by a challenge to its regional preeminence. Saudi Arabia and Israel both regard Iran as enemy number one, although it poses no existential threat to either one, and Israel will not even discuss giving up its nuclear arsenal despite being assured by Washington that its qualitative edge in conventional weaponry relative to its neighbors will be upheld.

 

The special relationships block even the consideration of enlightened initiatives, take them entirely off the table. This contrasts with the American proclivity for coercive diplomacy, which always assertively leaves the military option on the table. Without tension-reducing measures, a few false moves could easily give rise to a major war with Iran, which might bring smiles to leaders in Riyadh and Tel Aviv, but would be disastrous for the societies involved and for the United States, as well as for the region.

 

Given the leverage and militancy of pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States, more realistically pursuing American national interests toward Israel and the Middle East, seems tantamount to issuing invitations to Trump’s beheading, and despite his wildly gyrations of policy and mood, he has shown no disposition whatsoever to take on AIPAC, inc.. Quite the contrary.

 

Of course, I am not so naïve to think that the advocacy of rationality in foreign policy will have the slightest echo in Washington in the course of Trump’s current diplomatic foray into uncharted territories. What I wish to point out is that this kind of foreign policy fantasy, however desirable if it were to be enacted, has become a species of political suicide. Any political leader who moved in more rational directions would be risking his own life, at least politically. The proposals mentioned above tells us what an American president should do if a rational and humane political system was in place and organized in such ways as to allow the pursuit of national interests, the realization of values associated with peace and human rights, and to attain the benefits of just and sustainable Isreali/Palestinian peace arrangements.

 

As long as these dysfunctional special relationships are relied upon to define American national interests in the Middle East, violent extremism and turmoil will persist, the authority of the United Nations and international law will suffer, and the credibility of American regional and global leadership will further erode. And maybe worst of all, the mounting ecological and nuclear challenges of global scope and apocalyptical risk will be remain unattended in what has become the greatest display of species indifference to its own survival throughout human history.

 

Mainstream advice on the Middle East being proffered to the Trump presidency by Beltway sharpshooters takes for granted the geopolitical status quo questioned above. The problems presented by the two special relationships are not even mentioned. Given these perspectives there are three broad kinds of approaches recommended for the region: (1) don’t aim too high, lower expectations, and don’t touch raw nerves in Israel or the Arab world (e.g. moving the American embassy to Jerusalem or telling Israel to dismantle the separation wall, stop expanding settlements, or handle the ongoing hunger strike humanely)[See Aaron David Miller, “From My Twenty Years of Failing at Middle East Peace,” Foreign Policy online, May 19, 2017]; (2) gang up on Iran, which will please both Israel and Saudi Arabia, and will have some positive resonance back in the United States [e.g. Michael Doran, “A Trump Plan for the Middle East,” NY Times, May 19, 2017]; (3) adopt the Israeli hard right view, now pushed within the United States, that the best road to ‘peace’ is to give Israel a green light to exert even greater pressure on the Palestinians to the point of their surrender. [a position repeatedly advocated by Daniel Pipes on the online listserv Middle East Forum and elsewhere, see Pipes, “The Way to Peace: Israeli Victory and Palestinian Defeat,” Commentary, Jan. 2017; Pipes boasts of his work with the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus that wants the U.S. Government to stop talking about ‘the two state solution,’ and support an Israeli shift from managing the status quo to launching a campaign to defeat Palestinians so decisively as to end the conflict.]

 

The first of these approaches is a cautionary warning to Trump the maker of grand deals not to exceed the boundaries of the feasible. The Israel/Palestine conflict is not ripe for resolution, Israel has no incentive or inclination to reach a fair compromise and even if it were, the Palestinians are currently too fragmented and poorly led to provide a reliable negotiating partner. The second geopolitically oriented approach makes matters worse, pushing the sectarian and secular divides in the direction of a regional confrontation, even combat. The third is geopolitically triumphalist, assuming that the Palestinians can be induced to give up their century old struggle, and go the way of other indigenous lost causes that have succumbed to predatory settler movements.

 

As Trump dominates the news by his visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel we should not be tricked into thinking that his ‘achievements’ are hopeful developments. The only true beacons of hope for the peoples of the Middle East are the contrarian affirmations of the Palestinian hunger strike, the Rouhani electoral victory, and the BDS Campaign. The fact that such developments are ignored or condemned by the dominant political forces in the West should at least alert us to gathering storm clouds in that tormented region and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How the United States Government Obstructs Peace for Israel/Palestine

23 Jul

[Prefatory Note: I am posting a foreword written a year ago encouraging readers to engage with this extremely well argued book, Obstacle to Peace by Jeremy Hammond, which advances an important double understanding: the controversial assertion that the United States Government has not only taken Israel’s side in diplomatic negotiation between Israel and Palestine, but has actively opposed all moves toward the establishment of an independent sovereign state for the Palestinian people (meaning that the American endorsement of the two-state mantra as the consensus formula for peace was a deliberate official lie) and secondly, if this obstacle were removed the prospects for peace between these two peoples would greatly improve. Jeremy Hammond’s indispensable book can be ordered from Amazon, having been recently published by Worldview Publications in Cross Village, Michigan. For some the position taken in the book will be controversial as it amounts to a radical rehabilitation of the two-state consensus at a time when many believe that the settlement dynamic has proceeded past the point of reversibility and the Israeli leadership is positioning itself step by step to embrace a Zionist version of a unilaterally imposed one-state solution to the conflict.  Even if this is so, Hammond’s book valuably clarifies the context of past diplomacy, and sets the conditions for any constructive reconstruction of a negotiated and mutually agreed settlement of the conflict in ways that give reasonable hopes of a sustainable peace.]

Foreword to Jeremy R. Hammond’s Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

 

There is a widening public recognition around the world that diplomacy as it has been practiced with respect to resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine has failed despite being a major project of the United States Government for more than two decades. Actually, worse than failure, this stalled diplomacy has allowed Israel, by stealth and defiance, to pursue relentlessly its vision of a greater Israel under the unyielding protective cover of American support. During this period, the Palestinian territorial position has continuously worsened, and the humanitarian ordeal of the Palestinian people has become ever more acute.

An acknowledgement of this unsatisfactory status quo has led European governments belatedly to question their deference to American leadership in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has also persuaded more and more social activists in civil society in this country and elsewhere to rely on nonviolent tactics of solidarity with Palestinian resistance, especially by way of the BDS Campaign that has been gathering momentum in the last year; and it is approaching a tipping point that seems to be making Israeli leaders noticeably nervous. Both of these challenges to the Oslo diplomatic approach are based on the belief that Israel has demonstrated its unwillingness to reach a political compromise with Palestine on the basis of a negotiated settlement even within a biased ‘peace process’ overseen by the US as partisan intermediary. In effect, there will not be solution to the conflict without the exertion of greatly increased international pressures on Israel to scale back its territorial ambitions. Such an outlook reflects the influential view that the time has come to resort to coercive means to induce Israeli leaders and Zionists everywhere to rethink their policy options along more enlightened lines. The implicit goal is that by means of this pressure from without, a “South African solution” will suddenly emerge as a result of an abrupt turnaround in Israeli policy.

Jeremy Hammond offers readers another approach, not incompatible with mounting pressure, and maybe complementary with it. In this meticulously researched, lucidly reasoned, and comprehensively narrated book, Hammond insists that not only has the Oslo style “peace process” turned out to be a bridge to nowhere, but that the United States Government, in criminal complicity with Israel, has actively and deliberately opposed any steps that could result in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Such an assessment poses a frontal challenge to the universally affirmed two-state supposed goal of these negotiations. Even Netanyahu has, at times, given lip service to an endorsement of a Palestinian state—although in the heat of an electoral campaign a few months ago he showed his true hand to the Israeli public by promising that no Palestinian state would come into being as long as he was prime minister. Netanyahu’s flight from hypocrisy was further reinforced by appointing Danny Danon, a longtime extremist opponent of Palestinian statehood, as the next Israeli ambassador to the UN, which can also be interpreted as another slap in Obama’s face. In this regard, it was the White House that did the heavy lifting to keep alive as long as possible the credibility of the flawed Oslo peace promise by insisting that this was the one and only path to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a refusal to adjust to this new Israeli posture, in Washington and at the UN, there is no departure from the consensus that a directly negotiated “two state solution” is the only path to peace, coupled with the totally fatuous tactical priority that what would alone be helpful is to persuade the parties to return to the negotiating table.  Recent American presidents are all on record as devoting their maximum effort to reach these discredited goals and treat all other tactics employed on behalf of the Palestinians as “obstacles” that set back the prospect of ending the conflict. The US Government joins with Israel in condemning all forms of international pressures to alter the status quo of the occupation, including Palestinian initiatives to be acknowledged as a full-fledged state within the UN System (a seemingly uncontroversial sequel to receiving diplomatic recognition as a state by more than 120 members of the UN) or to seek remedies for their grievance by recourse to the International Criminal Court. The United State has helped Israel use the Oslo peace process as a holding operation that gives Tel Aviv the time it needs to undermine once and for all Palestinian expectations of Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian sovereign rights. The whole Israeli idea is to make the accumulation of facts on the ground (that is, the unlawful settlement archipelago, its supportive Jews-only road network, and the unlawful separation wall) into “the new normal” that paves the way for a unilaterally imposed Israeli one-state solution combined with either Palestinian Bantuization or third class citizenship in an enlarged Israel.

It is against this background that Hammond’s book breaks new ground in ways that fundamentally alter our understanding of the conflict and how to resolve it. His abundantly documented major premise is that Israel could not proceed with its plans to take over the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem without the benefits flowing from its “special relationship” with the United States. The perfidious reality that Hammond exposes beyond reasonable doubt is that the United States has been an essential collaborator in a grotesque double deception: falsely pretending to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state while doing everything within its power to ensure that Israel has the time it needs to make such an outcome a practical impossibility. This American role has included the geopolitical awkwardness of often standing alone in shielding Israel from all forms of UN censure for its flagrant violations of international law, which has included mounting evidence of an array of crimes against humanity.

As Hammond convincingly explains, the structures of government in the United States have been subverted to the extent that it is implausible to expect any alteration of this pattern of American unconditional support for Israel, at least in relation to the Palestinians, to come from within the government. Hammond also portrays the mainstream media as complementing this partisan governmental role, indicting particularly the New York Times as guilty of one-sided journalism that portrays the conflict in a manner that mostly accords with Israeli propaganda and sustains the malicious myth that the US is doing everything possible to achieve a solution in the face of stubborn Palestinian rejectionism. In this regard, Hammond informs readers in his preface that Obstacle to Peace is explicitly written to wake up the American people to these overriding realities with the intention of providing the tools needed by the public to challenge the special relationship on behalf of justice and the national interests and values of the American republic. Without making the argument overtly, Hammond is providing the public with the sorts of understanding denied to it by a coopted media. What Hammond does for the reader is to show in painstaking detail and on the basis of an impressive accumulation of evidence what an objective account of Israeli-Palestinian relations looks like, including by correcting the gross misreporting of the interactions in Gaza that have led to a series of wars waged by the totally dominant armed forces of Israel against the completely vulnerable civilian population of Gaza. In an illuminating sense, if the media was properly doing its job of objective reporting, Hammond’s book would be almost superfluous. Hammond’s democratic major premise is that if Americans know the truth about Israeli-Palestinian relations, there will result a mobilization of opposition that produces a new political climate in which elected leaders will be forced to heed the will of the people and do the right thing.

In a fundamental respect, Hammond is hopeful as well as brave, as he seems firmly convinced that Israel could not continue with its unjust and criminal policies if it truly loses the United States as its principal enabler. It is in this primary sense, as conveyed by book’s title, that the United States is the obstacle to peace; but if this obstacle could be removed, then the shift in the power balance would force Israel to face the new realities and presumably allow the Palestinians to obtain their fully sovereign state and, with it, reasonable prospects for a sustainable peace.  It needs to be appreciated that Hammond is writing as someone with a radical faith in the power of a properly informed citizenry to transform for the better the policies of the American republic, both with respect to the government and the media linkages that connect state and society with respect to the agenda of public policy.

In my view, Obstacle to Peace is the book we have long needed, utterly indispensable for a correct understanding of why the conflict has not been resolved up to this point, and further, why the path chosen makes a just and sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine a “mission impossible.”  Hammond goes further than this devastating exposure of past policy failures by offering guidelines for what he sensibly believes is the only viable way forward. Only the future will determine whether a grassroots movement can induce a repudiation of the dysfunctional special relationship, and if this should happen, whether it then leads Israel to act rationally to uphold its own security by finally agreeing to the formation of a Palestinian state. In Hammond’s view, ending the occupation and securing Palestinian statehood is the immediate goal of a reconstructed diplomacy, but not necessarily the end point of conflict resolution. He defers consideration of whether a unified secular state is the best overall solution until the Palestinians as a state are able to negotiate on the basis of equality with Israel, and then to be in a position to rely on diplomacy to finally fulfill their right of return, which has been deferred far too long.

In the end, Hammond’s extremely instructive book provides a fact-based overall account of the major facets of this complex relationship between Israel and Palestine and can be read as a plea to Americans to reclaim historical agency and act as citizens, not subjects. This plea is not primarily about the improper use of taxpayer revenues, but is concerned with activating the soul of American democracy in such a way that enables the country once more to act as a benevolent force in the world and, most concretely, to create the conditions that would bring peace with justice to the Palestinian people. 

With the greatest admiration for Hammond’s achievement in this book, I would point out finally that Obstacle to Peace is about more than the Israel-Palestine relationship and can be read beneficially with these larger concerns in mind. It is, above all, about the destruction of trust in the relationship between government and citizens, and about the disastrous failures of the media to serve as the vigilant guardian of truth and fact in carrying out its journalistic duties in a manner that befits a free society. Israel-Palestine is a powerfully reasoned and fully evidenced case study and critique of the systemic malady of contemporary American democracy that threatens the wellbeing of the country as never before.

Richard Falk

Yalikavak, Turkey

August 2015 

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