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Said Arikat

US will sanction Israeli war crimes; Palestinians shouldn’t

Young Americans no longer hold the US-Israeli relationship as sacrosanct (AFP)

Date of publication: 6 February, 2015

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Comment: Palestinians must still prepare for the long-haul. A chaotic Middle East means there will be no change, no matter the personal feelings of their leaders towards each other, in the US-Israeli relationship.

No matter how you size it, it has been a bad couple of weeks for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer.

For Netanyahu, his decision to accept Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a Congressional joint session without consulting with either the White House or Congressional Democrats – a fiasco that just won’t go away – has brought him scorn from across the American political spectrum and the press who find his flagrant insolence distasteful.

Centrist Jewish American Organizations like Americans for Peace Now and J-Street, who advocate a two-state solution for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and support a negotiated deal on Iran's nuclear programme, have publicly protested the March speech, just two weeks before the Israeli elections on March 17.

J-Street took the initiative of sending two mass emails promoting a letter from Democrat legislators Steve Cohen and Keith Ellison (the first Muslim member of Congress) asking House Speaker Boehner to reschedule the speech until after the Israeli elections. Commenting on the letter, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street said that, "[m]omentum is on our side - and it’s growing making clear Netanyahu’s speech shouldn’t go forward as planned".

For Netanyahu's audacious Ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, the past few days have been even worse. Jewish Democrats on Capitol Hill met with Dermer following reports that Vice President Joe Biden, president of the US Senate, and other leading Democrats may skip Netanyahu’s address to Congress next month amid growing tension between the Israeli Prime Minister and the White House.

The seven representatives, Jerry Nadler, Nita Lowey and Steve Israel; Jan Schakowsky of Illinois; Sander Levin of Michigan; and Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, met with Dermer for about an hour in Israel’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building.

"I organized the meeting with Ambassador Dermer, and I invited key Congressional Democratic supporters of Israel to attend," one of them, Steve Israel said. "There were a wide range of views that were discussed, but one thing we all agreed on emphatically is that Israel should never be used as a political football."

It is also rumoured that the legislators, who all consider themselves champions for Israel right or wrong, and who to the best of my memory, never loudly expressed any disapproval of Israel's brutality of the Palestinians under occupation, or the proliferation of settlements in the occupied West Bank, have also expressed their displeasure with Dermer's impudent and undiplomatic attitude.

Furthermore, the Israeli ambassador – about whom the White House suggested as early as 2011 that he "could stand some reflection" – has apparently been told that he will no longer meet Obama or Biden outside protocol encounters. It is an open secret in Washington that Dermer, known for being an arrogant Netanyahu campaign machinist, is short on diplomacy and long in blatant meddling on the side of the Republican Party and incurred serious White House wrath after he masterminded Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign trip to Jerusalem in 2012.

Word is that the White House was angered when Netanyahu appointed Dermer, who also worked as an aide to former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich) his ambassador to the United States. 

Whether or not the White House succeeds in forcing its client state Israel to recall Dermer, however, and whether or not Netanyahu's speech before Congress is postponed until after the Israeli elections or cancelled altogether, no one should think such an outcome marks any kind of end to America's total protection of Israel.

Even if rumours suggest Obama has decided never again to meet Netanyahu, the US will continue to sanction any and all Israeli transgressions of the most basic of international laws and standards. 

Moreover, and whatever his personal feelings, Obama knows that, one, Netanyahu is likely to win the elections in March, and two, even if he doesn't, business will continue as usual. After all, Obama has been snubbed, lectured to and flat-out campaigned against by Netanyahu and his country ever since he assumed the presidency. Nevertheless, he has continued US policy of tilting the diplomatic playing field against the Palestinians, in the process undermining his own promises to achieve a state for the Palestinians. He has expanded America’s military aid to Israel and, during Israel’s brutal onslaught on Gaza last summer, he hastened to re-supply Israel with ammunition from the US military’s own stockpiles during last summer’s war on Gaza in ways no predecessor had done before.

Aaron Miller, who heads the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and was member of the American team to Palestinian-Israeli negotiations under former President Bill Clinton, articulates this point best. In an article published in Politico earlier this week, Miller says, "Whether Netanyahu ultimately does come or not, the United States will continue to take it. And for reasons of politics, policy and shared values, Washington will continue to accord Israel tremendous leeway in this Administration and in the years ahead regardless of opposition to some of its policies."

He explains: "The Middle East is melting down at a rate nobody could ever have predicted. And despite the risks this turbulence may pose to Israel’s own Israeli security interests, the Middle East muddle is good for the US-Israeli relationship."

He adds: " The behaviour of various Arab actors — ISIL, Assad, Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, even Egypt — reinforces the value affinity that binds Israel and the United States and to a great extent puts them together in the same trench."


Miller also emphasizes that "rightly or wrongly" most Americans perceive Israelis to be "modern, Western, democratic, pluralistic and respectful of the freedoms they value too. And pro-Israeli organizations are able to marshal those sentiments." He points out that US presidents since Richard Nixon have “wrestled with Israeli Prime Ministers (Rabin; Begin; Shamir; Netanyahu; Sharon) before and managed to cooperate and achieve significant successes in matters of peace and war. America will have no choice but to do so again, however difficult its Israeli partner may prove to be."

So what should all this mean to the Palestinians? To begin with, let me say that while I generally agree with Miller's deductions, I believe that things are far more nuanced in how younger Americans, including younger Jewish Americans, perceive Israel, or the Palestinian cause. They are less likely to lump together the Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS), Hamas, and the Palestinian struggle for freedom and an end to occupation than Miller is inclined to. They are far more discerning, and able to sort-out on their own through social media and other means, that Israel, its impudent prime minister and his ambassador are becoming a liability, increasingly intrusive, and embarrassingly, more difficult to defend.

Even on Iran, younger Americans, by a large majority, want to reach a negotiated resolution to Tehran's nuclear ambitions rather than increase tensions, impose sanctions or worse, go to war. They are much less inclined to keep giving Israel a pass as Miller would have us believe. This shift can clearly be seen on campuses all across the country, (including the one in which I teach), especially as Israel moves farther to the right, becomes less tolerant, and continues its record of violating of Palestinian rights.

Second, for over sixty years, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality and self-determination through methodical ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination and military occupation. It has done so by sticking to a long-term strategy dedicated to decimating Palestinians and all their points of reference. Despite repeated condemnation of Israeli policies by the UN, other international bodies, and preeminent human rights organizations, it has eluded accountability under US patronage which allowed it to commit a long list of war crimes against the Palestinians with total impunity.

So, the Palestinians must also be prepared for the long haul. That means building upon the elemental justice of their cause to undo the Israeli apartheid system, decades in the making, one layer at a time. They must focus their energies on the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and respects Palestinian rights. This campaign is just beginning to yield results.

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