Another presidential election is looming, and supporters of Palestinian rights may be asking themselves what kind of choice they have.
Those who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 in the hopes that he would improve the situation for Palestinians surely had their hopes dashed even before his inauguration, as he sat by silently while Israel launched a high-tech pogrom against the population of Gaza. Meanwhile, Republican candidate Mitt Romney never misses a chance to demonstrate that he plans to be even more craven in his subservience to Israel than the incumbent.
With such a bleak choice between the major party candidates, it is natural that many voters will want to consider making a statement by voting for the Green Party candidate. After all, the Green Party platform has called for a one-state solution, stating “we support a US foreign policy that promotes the creation of one secular, democratic state for Palestinians and Israelis on the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan as the national home of both peoples, with Jerusalem as its capital” (Green Party 2012 Platform).
Its 2008 standard bearer, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, risked her life aboard a “Free Gaza” boat that was rammed by the Israeli Navy when it attempted to reach Gaza with medicine banned under Israel’s ongoing siege. Ralph Nader, the Greens’ candidate in 1996 and 2000, brought up the plight of the Palestinians while he campaigned.
So what about this year? The Greens have nominated Massachusetts physician Jill Stein. Her campaign efforts have focused on getting on the ballot and securing federal matching funds. Her website had absolutely no policy statements on it for many months, and even today it does not have an “issues” section.
Instead, she has a “Green New Deal” tab which leads to you the text of her rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union message. While that rebuttal includes a good deal of economic and environmental policy, it does not include any foreign policy. It was not until May that she issued a statement on United States policy regarding Israel and the Palestinians, which is now buried on page seven of the “Campaign News” section of her website (“US policy to Israel, Palestine must change, says Stein,” 15 May 2012).
Statements warrant careful analysis
While the first two paragraphs of the statement include some blunt criticism of Israeli policies and US support for them, the actual proposals that she makes in the following five paragraphs are rather Zionist. Moreover, the wording is crafted in such a way as to give a leave the casual reader with the impression that she is being tough on Israel, whereas a careful analysis shows that the opposite is the case.
The problems start with paragraph number 3, in which Stein states:
“On taking office, I will put all parties on notice, including the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and the Hamas administration in Gaza that future US support will depend on respect for human rights and compliance with international law. All three administrations will also be held responsible for preventing attacks by non-state actors on civilians or military personnel of any nationality. The parties will be given 60 days to each demonstrate unilateral material progress towards these ends.”
At first glance it would seem as if she is trying to be even-handed, which itself would be an act of charity to the Israelis, seeing as she singled out their “occupation, apartheid, assassination, illegal settlements, blockades, building of nuclear bombs, indefinite detention, collective punishment, and defiance of international law” in the previous paragraph.
But the even-handedness is an illusion. Notice that she says: “All three administrations will also be held responsible for preventing attacks by non-state actors on civilians or military personnel of any nationality” (emphasis added).
The problem here is that Israel is a state, and Palestine is not. Hamas, for instance, would be obligated to refrain from any attack as well as prevent Islamic Jihad and other groups from attacking. Israel, on the other hand, would only have to stop its settlers in the West Bank from attacking their neighbors, but the Israeli army as a state actor would not be prevented from its frequent and vicious attacks.
In fact, there is nothing in this statement calling on the Israeli military to halt its attacks. She could have said “All three administrations will cease attacks on civilians or military personnel of any nationality,” but for some reason she decided only to call for them to prevent attacks by non-state actors.
What constitutes “material progress”?
At the end of paragraph number three Stein says that the parties will have 60 days to show “material progress,” which she explains in paragraph four could constitute “an end to the discriminatory apartheid policies within the state of Israel, the removal of the Separation Wall, a ban on assassination, movement toward denuclearization, the release of all political prisoners and journalists from Israeli and Palestinian prisons, disarmament of non-state militias, and recognition of the right of self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Again, at first glance it would seem as if she is being harder on the Israeli side, because most of the steps she lists only apply to Israel (i.e. only Israel practices apartheid policies, only it has built a wall, only it has engaged in countless assassinations, only it is suspected of possessing nuclear weapons, etc.). However, remember that she is not demanding that all these practices be halted within sixty days, but that “material progress” be shown.
The release of a fraction of the 10,000 or so Palestinians held in Israeli prison could be deemed to constitute material progress. Meanwhile, the only step that applies to the Palestinians is the disarmament of non-state militias, which is virtually impossible. The last time that this was tried it resulted in a Palestinian civil war and the political separation of Gaza from the West Bank. Notice that the Israeli army is not required to disarm, nor are the Jewish settlers who are not organized into militias.
Little departure from current policy
Dr. Stein states that “Failure by any party to demonstrate sufficient material progress will result in the end of US military and economic aid to that party.” The corollary is that if Israel makes “material progress” then it can continue to receive three billion dollars a year in direct military aid, plus all the other indirect aid and hidden perks.
I can’t think why Israel, given its ongoing history of violence against the Palestinians and neighboring countries, should be receiving US military aid under any circumstances. Besides, Israel is a very affluent country due in large part to American taxpayers, and we should not be sending them ever more aid while cutting programs here at home. Furthermore, while Hamas doesn’t exactly have to sweat about the loss of US aid, their inability to disarm militias in Gaza would result in them being subject to sanctions and boycotts implemented by the Stein administration.
So, while Dr. Stein’s rhetorical criticism of Israel is harsh, so long as the US keeps funding the Israeli military occupation, there will be little meaningful change on the ground. Under the proposal Stein put forth, Israel could continue its frequent and devastating attacks and point to Hamas’ inability to stop one group or another from lobbing homemade rockets towards Sderot. No change here.
Of course, given the lock that the two major parties have on the electoral system, any discussion of policy under a Stein administration is purely hypothetical. Still, there would be considerable value in a presidential candidate calling for cutting off foreign aid to Israel and an end to the siege of Gaza in unqualified and unconditional terms, which Stein does not seem prepared to do.
It is possible that she drafted this proposal in haste and simply did not think it through. If that is the case, she should withdraw her policy and draft one that truly promotes the causes of peace and justice.
Titus North is a former professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Pittsburgh. He was the Green Party’s nominee for Mayor of Pittsburgh in 2005 and for US Congress in 2006 and 2008.