Is Obama really going to get tough with Israel?

It is late in Obama’s term for him to be considering minimal actions against Israel and to expect them to have any real impact on its rogue behavior.

Pete Souza The White House

Since Benjamin Netanyahu’s convincing re-election victory last week, the talk of a deepening breach between the US and Israel has escalated.

But we should be highly skeptical that the administration of US President Barack Obama will take any serious steps that benefit Palestinian rights.

The perception of a growing rift has been fed first and foremost by the White House itself. In the wake of Netanyahu’s win, Obama’s spokesperson slammed the Israeli prime minister’s “divisive rhetoric” for railing that Palestinian citizens of Israel were going out to vote “in droves.”

Obama himself reiterated this criticism in an interview with The Huffington Post.

“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions,” the president said. “That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly.”

Even in ostensibly criticizing Israel, Obama manages to heap undue praise on it. Of course Israeli “democracy” has nothing to do with equality: it is an ethnocracy founded on ethnic cleansing and the relentless subjugation of the remaining non-Jewish population.

No Palestinian state

But what has most disturbed the US administration is Netanyahu’s avowal during the last days of the election campaign that he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state on his watch.

“We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” Obama said.

“We continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic,” he added.

Asked more specifically what he might do, Obama detailed what he wouldn’t do – exact any price in terms of the US military aid without which Israel could not continue to occupy, colonize and massacre Palestinians with impunity:

“We’re gonna make sure, regardless of disagreements we have on policy that our military and intelligence cooperation to keep the Israeli people safe continues, and that cooperation also helps the American people stay safe,” the president said.

Trial balloons

While Obama has remained circumspect, his administration has sent up trial balloons through David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist closely allied with the US administration.

Ignatius reports that the White House is “privately weighing” the following “pressure tactics”:

  • Drafting a new UN Security Council resolution outlining the framework for a Palestinian state. Such a resolution might summarize the parameters that emerged during Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations with Israelis and Palestinians that collapsed last year.

  • Deterring Netanyahu’s plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, perhaps through warnings in a planned report to Congress on loan guarantees to Israel. President George H.W. Bush briefly cut off loan guarantees in 1991 to protest settlements, creating a political uproar but no lasting success in halting settlements.

  • Altering current US policy that opposes Palestinian efforts to take complaints against Israel to the International Criminal Court. Similarly, the United States might relax its pressure against European allies that are advocating sanctions against Israel.

  • Weighing future vetoes of UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli settlements or other activity. In the past, the United States’ use of the veto to support Israeli positions has been all but automatic.

A UN resolution?

The first of these – a UN resolution – would cause excitement among those who may be impressed by the rare spectacle of a US president allowing the passage of a resolution even mildly critical of Israel.

But any resolution likely to be approved by Obama would have as its first and foremost goal rescuing and legislating the so-called “two-state solution” and Israel’s status as a “Jewish and democratic state.”

I do not oppose a UN resolution in principle, but I oppose one that would – like the one put forward by the Palestinian Authority last December – undermine fundamental Palestinian rights.

As I wrote at the time of the failed December resolution:

I evaluate any steps related to Palestine through a simple and consistent lens: does this measure take us closer to the fulfillment of Palestinian rights, all Palestinian rights?

These rights are set out most succinctly in the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS): an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land during and since 1967; an end to Israel’s institutionalized racism against Palestinians in present-day Israel (the areas on which Israel was established in 1948); and the return of Palestinian refugees to their land and homes.

Obama’s commitment to securing a “Jewish and democratic” Israel is wholly incompatible with Palestinian refugee rights and full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

(Also read Joseph Massad’s important article from December: “Recognizing Palestine, BDS and the survival of Israel.”)

Too little, too late

With respect to the possible administration steps he outlines, Ignatius claims: “Adoption of any of these measures would open a wide and potentially destabilizing breach between the two allies, and the administration’s consideration of them now is probably partly tactical.”

In other words, these are mostly empty threats. But more than that all of them are minimal and mild. As noted, there’s nothing here about using the billions that the US gives to Israel every year as leverage – the no-strings-attached aid would presumably continue.

In the year 2015, who could possibly be impressed by the possibility of mere “warnings in a planned report to Congress on loan guarantees to Israel?”

The more promising possibility is that Obama could lessen his staunch opposition to Palestinians bringing Israeli war criminals to justice at the International Criminal Court. But again, if Obama were serious, the first step he would take is to halt the supplies of weapons that are used to occupy and murder Palestinians.

We must not forget that at the height of Israel’s massacre in Gaza last summer, the Obama administration opened its weapons stores to the Israeli military, resupplying it with bombs and grenades of the kind that were causing indiscriminate casualties among Palestinian civilians.

No UN resolutions are needed for that. Obama has executive authority to act. Moreover, a real sign of seriousness would be if the Obama administration were to open an investigation into Israel’s use of US weapons to commit human rights crimes.

The State Department has a mandate to do this under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act but has refused to fulfill it.

It is late in Obama’s term for him to be considering minimal actions against Israel and to expect them to have any real impact on its rogue behavior.

Obama must know that even if he took all the measures being floated they would generate much political heat and backlash while doing little to bring about a “two-state solution” on his watch. But that backlash could further jeopardize his chances of getting a potential deal with Iran through Congress. So expect him to do little or nothing.

To be sure, as I and others have argued, Netanyahu’s re-election presents an important opportunity for Palestinians as it widens the cracks between Israel and the rest of the world.

But we must keep pushing for all rights for all Palestinians – through boycott, divestment and sanctions – and not allow this moment to be coopted by efforts to rescue – even if only on paper – the segregationist “two-state solution.”

Tags

Comments

picture

Ali, I share your skepticism. At the same, Israel has been a burden for some time, a basketcase on welfare. No offense to the millions of Americans and Canadians living on welfare while Zionist gluttons and agents of mayhem feed on the national wealth. In fact, Netanyahu's speech was only the last straw.

Israel's assassination of an Iranian general and Lebanese military planners inside Syrian territory was the real trigger. It signaled that Israel--whose military would not last a week against Iran, given that Lebanon's resistance movement alone could probably bring it to its knees--was more willing than expected to draw the United States into war against Iran. Mossad operatives tried to associate the US with information releases suggesting CIA collaboration in the assassinations.

This is not the behavior of a friend, even in a band of thieves, where one thief can spill the beans on another and pretty soon all the thieves are at each others' throats and off to jail.

If mayhem provided new opportunities for US machinations, Syria, Iraq, Libya, etc., have broken US Middle East policy. Worse, Israel has turned itself into a mortal threat to the US, a national security risk so great it has drawn attention, we are slowly finding out, to the ringleaders in Washington: the Israel lobby. With Obama aide's upcoming meeting with J-Street, another Zionist advocate of two states, the government is signalling that not only is the Israeli ambassador persona non grata, but AIPEC officials as well.

The Neoncon cabal in Congress can wrap itself with the American flag all it likes, but if Congressmen continue to obstruct foreign policy and to "negotiate" with a foreign power over the President's authority, then the clanking of the prison doors may not be far away.

The speed with which all this has happened suggests that it has been in preparation for some time. For sheer survival, the US is jumping at the first chance to cut itself loose from Israel.

picture

Ali, since you wrote this fine article and raised the important question about the US-Israeli relationship, two events have taken place.

One, White House officials this morning have accused Israel of spying on the United States during the negotiations with Iran. But this is not the main point of their accusation. The Washington Post reported the senior official saying, “It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy.” A few weeks ago, the New York Daily flashed the photos of the authors ("Traitors," it called them) of the famous letter assuring the Iranian government that an American signature would not be worth the paper it is scratched on.

In my reply above I mentioned the "clanking of prison doors," as I have several times before. This was a mere possibility only 3 years ago when Netanyahu addressed the UN with a drawing of a Mickey Mouse bomb. In my estimate, not only is the Israeli ambassador well-advised not to show his face anywhere near Congress, but AIPAC and the Congress ringleaders of the Israel cabal are now toast.

The second event is what Chief-of-Staff McDonnough just said, that the Israel occupation, which has lasted 50, "must end." Watch the UN voting.

Clearly we are on the cusp of a major turn in fortunes for the Zionist race colony. I no longer see this as a passing tempest, because governments, esp. the American, do not hurle idle accusations--no matter how foolish or outlandish, as in the case of Iran. Words open new possibilities; they reshuffle the cards. Israel is in the sights of very powerful forces. In fact, the Zionist tentacles around the world have been watched for decades. The comical thing about Israeli leaders, without exception, is that they never considered the arrogance of thinking so little of the possibility that anybody besides their god of the Promised Land might be watching.

picture

The fraud of the U S as an honest broker of peace in the Middle East is finally exposed and done. Palestinians have had to participate in peace talks to satisfy world opinion. But Netanyahu and official Israeli policy have never supported an independent state of Palestine. Now, finally, we have (thanks to frantic electioneering by Netanyahu) an honest admission that Israel would never support a Palestinian state. Yes, we must support a boycott of Israeli goods. Yes, we must support divestment of foundations and educational institutions in Israeli bonds and businesses. Yes, we must support sanctions. Yes, we must support Palestine's case against Israel in the International Criminal Court, and from a criminal judgement against Israel we must support civil penalties and damages, and we must expect that all European trading partners with Israel will cooperate in Palestine collecting their judgement against Israel by seizing Israeli properties and bank accounts in those countries.

picture

I predict that there will be no substantive measures---of any kind--- against
Israel. "Jews" as a group are actually few in number in the USA. However,
Jews with lots of money who give money to Democratic candidates on all levels
have a great number of Jews. (BDS has not been the recipient of millions of
dollars in grants to my knowledge!)

Quite aside from the current President, US Administrations have been complicit
in assisting Israel, arming it, providing it with tax decuctions and grants
for settlements and on and on. This is detailed for the 35 years prior to the
election of Bush II and includes both US political parties.

Meanwhile, Palestinians continue to suffer, have their homes demolished,
their lands and food taken, their families murdered. No condolences have
been expressed to the Palestinian people nor has President Obama visited
Gaza to see for himself, to talk with bombed schoolchildren, to have
confidential talks with all leaders including Hamas. They don't need Israels
permission. They never asked any Palestinian permission to have talks with
Israeli officials.

As the saying goes in the US: "Don't hold your breath!" Nothing will happen.

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA

picture

Sadly, Ali is right about this; the tough talk coming from the White House won't amount to a hill of beans. Obama has never been willing to stand up to Netanyahu & the Israel lobby on anything except Iran, and only then because Obama realizes that war with Iran -- which Bibi is trying to push the US into -- would destroy his presidency. Obama is complicit in Israeli occupation & apartheid in general and the Israeli genocide in Gaza last summer in particular, and Hillary would be no better on Israel/Palestine. The US needs to jettison the two-state solution, which is dead anyway. The only way forward is BDS, and Netanyahu's election is helpful in that regard; Bougie would have been a friendlier face but would have helped comfort liberal Zionists with the delusion that the 'peace process' could deliver the phantom two-state solution; we're better off with Bibi snarling & causing division within the ranks of the Zionist machine.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.