Standing in front of a huge banner of an Israeli flag merging into the American Stars and Stripes last Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave yet another set-piece speech laying out how US “engagement” would help bring peace in our time.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center in Washington, DC with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and key Israel lobby figures looking on — including Salam Fayyad, the puppet “prime minister” of the US- and Israeli-backed Palestinian Authority — Clinton asserted that “a Palestinian state achieved through negotiations is inevitable” (“Remarks at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy Seventh Annual Forum,” 10 December 2010).
What Clinton laid out in diagnosis and prescriptions, however, ensures that a Palestinian state is anything but inevitable. It is vanishingly unlikely.
Clinton’s much-anticipated intervention followed the Obama administration’s latest capitulation to Israel on settlement construction in the West Bank. After almost two years of attempting to bribe Israel into “restraining” the expansion of its Jewish-only colonies on occupied, stolen land, and its violent Judaization of Jerusalem, the administration concluded that it could do nothing. Of course one thing the Obama administration never tried was real pressure using as leverage the billions in annual no-strings aid the fiscally-bankrupt United States provides to Israel.
Returning to a theme she first took up in her last major speech to the Israel lobby, at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (better known as AIPAC) in March, Clinton warned that the status quo is unsustainable:
“I know that improvements in security and growing prosperity have convinced some that this conflict can be waited out or largely ignored. This view is wrong and it is dangerous. The long-term population trends that result from the occupation are endangering the Zionist vision of a Jewish and democratic state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Israelis should not have to choose between preserving both elements of their dream. But that day is approaching.”
This is a polite way of putting it. Prominent Hebrew University demographer and Palestinian-birthrate-watcher Sergio DellaPergola recently told The Jerusalem Post that Jews already constitute just under 50 percent of the population in historic Palestine — Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined (“Jews now a minority between the River and the Sea,” 26 November 2010).
So while demographically, historic Palestine is no longer “Jewish” it has also never been a democracy, certainly not for its indigenous Palestinians. The Jewish majority within Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries — the basis for the claim that Israel is a “Jewish democracy” — was engineered through the most undemocratic means possible: the deliberate, carefully-planned ethnic cleansing of 90 percent of the Palestinians in that area between 1947-1950 and subsequent efforts to cover up the crime.
And, for the past 43 years — or more than two thirds of Israel’s existence — millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied since 1967, have lived under brutal Israeli military tyranny with no control over their own lives, land and resources. This has not changed despite the ongoing and lavishly-funded fantasy of Salam Fayyad’s “state-building” initiative of recent years — in reality a repressive US-managed police state apparatus to crush any form of resistance.
Clinton made it clear that preserving this unjust situation — rescuing Zionism — remains the priority of US policy. For there can be no “Jewish democracy” without the liquidation of Palestinian rights, particularly of refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
On refugees, all Clinton had to say was, “This is a difficult and emotional issue, but there must be a just and permanent solution that meets the needs of both sides.”
She did not spell out what those “needs” are. For Israel it is clear that the “need” is to continue to deny the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to lands from which they are excluded solely on the racist grounds that they are not Jews. Israel clearly “needs” this so it can continue to subordinate the rights of indigenous Palestinians to the ethnic privileges of Israeli Jews.
The needs of Palestinian refugees are that their rights be respected, especially the right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to return home — should they choose to do so — and for restitution and compensation. These basic human rights are recognized specifically and repeatedly in international law in the case of Palestinians.
These two sets of “needs” are irreconcilable. One can only stand on one side of the question: either one is for Israel’s “right” to remain a racist state, or one is for universal rights and international law and treating all human beings as equals regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
These are exactly the same rights that the United States and the European Union actively supported in Bosnia, in the 1995 US-brokered Dayton Agreement. Under the agreement more than half a million refugees have returned home, in a country with a total population of just 3.5 million, to areas dominated politically and demographically by antagonistic ethnic authorities. In Bosnia, the preference of ethnonational groups to live in areas cleansed of those they consider undesirable was not allowed to trump the actual rights of individual refugees. Nor should it in Palestine.
Perhaps because Clinton knows that the US position on refugees is wrong, immoral and illegal, she does not dare spell out the implications of her words in such clear terms. It is up to Israel, the ethnic cleanser and bully, and a subservient and neutered Palestinian “leadership” to “agree” on what their “needs” are — amid a radical power imbalance that guarantees (or so the United States calculates and hopes) that the result will come down in Israel’s favor.
Don’t be fooled either by Clinton’s sophistry on settlements: “The position of the United States on settlements has not changed and will not change. Like every American administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and two-state solution, but to Israel’s future itself.”
In international law, all of Israel’s settlements beyond the line of 4 June 1967 are illegal. The United Nations Security Council, for example, determined that “all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention …” (UN Security Council Resolution 465 (1980)).
That resolution, like so many others, called “upon the Government and people of Israel to rescind those measures, to dismantle the existing settlements and in particular to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning” of new ones.
The current US position, contrary to international law, questions only the “legitimacy” — not even the legality — of “continued” settlement activity. The US only asserts that there is a problem with new settlements. The Obama administration has endorsed former President George W. Bush’s 2004 written promise to Israel that the US will recognize Israeli sovereignty over virtually all settlements that have already been built since 1967.
Could there be a clearer inducement than this for Israel to continue to establish “facts on the ground”? Whatever lip service Clinton paid to opposing settlements, it is clear, based on the performance of the Obama administration to date, that for Israel there will be no negative consequences, and only rewards.
Nor did Clinton have any word of comfort for 1.4 million Palestinian (second-class) citizens of Israel who face a raft of new racist laws, policies and declarations by Israeli leaders and state-funded rabbis, dozens of whom recently issued a religious ruling calling for Jews to boycott any other Jew who sells or rents a home to a non-Jew. For the United States it is as if these Palestinians — who face increasing threats of expulsion by prominent Israeli politicians — simply don’t exist.
So what is left of Obama’s vaunted peace process “engagement”? For sure all the things that suit Israel: an “unwavering,” unconditional commitment to supply Israel with more of the weapons that have been so promiscuously used to commit war crimes in Lebanon, Gaza and across the West Bank; acquiescence to continued settlement construction; more sanctions and pressure on Iran — an Israel lobby priority; continued boycott of Hamas, siege of Gaza and support for the West Bank police state; calls on the Arab states to normalize ties with Israel; and of course putting Israel’s desire to remain a racist ethnocracy before the universal rights of human beings.
And the US prescription now is more of the same: urging Palestinians to “negotiate” with an Israel from which the US superpower itself could extract nothing, precisely because of unconditional American support!
For the discredited Palestinian Authority “leadership” which rushed to Washington as soon as Clinton beckoned, the secretary of state had these instructions: “To demonstrate their commitment to peace, Israeli and Palestinian leaders should stop trying to assign blame for the next failure, and focus instead on what they need to do to make these efforts succeed.” She warned Palestinians specifically, in reference to efforts to get more states to recognize Palestine: “Unilateral efforts at the United Nations are not helpful and undermine trust.” Recently, Brazil and Argentina joined more than a hundred countries that recognize the nonexistent “State of Palestine” declared by the Palestine Liberation Organization in November 1988.
In other words, Palestinians must continue to take it on the chin as Israel does what it pleases with American support. Only Palestinians intent on committing national suicide could go along with such a charade. Those who support genuine peace for Palestinians and Israeli Jews, based on universal rights, equality, restitution and the decolonization of the relationship between the populations, must escalate the real peace process: boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israel to respect Palestinian rights and obey international law.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.