Settlements: Obstacles to Peace by Kathy Christison

Radio LORA, June 2011 und Alternative Radio

Taos, New Mexico  16 November 2010

Kathy Christison worked as a political analyst with the CIA, dealing first with Vietnam and then with the Middle East. Since leaving the CIA, she writes and lectures. She is a regular contributor to “CounterPunch.” She is the author of “The Wound of Dispossession,” “Perceptions of Palestine,” and co-author of “Palestine in Pieces.”

In 2001, when Benjamin Netanyahu, then out of office, was caught on video talking to a family of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, he boasted about having undermined the Oslo peace process when he was prime minister in the mid-1990s. Speaking about the U.S., he said, “I know what America is. America is a thing that you can move very easily, move in the right direction.” I would have to say that this little truism uttered by Netanyahu has never been more accurate than it is today. The so-called peace process which President Obama recently attempted unsuccessfully and is still trying to revive is, of course, only the latest of a multitude of U.S. attempts to ignite the search for a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis over the last several decades. The U.S. has been attempting in one way or another to start some kind of process, sometimes trying to ignore the Palestinians, sometimes not, since the mid-1970s, well before the Oslo agreement was signed 17 years ago. It has to be said that each attempt is a little more hopeless, and each time the U.S. is a little more blind to why it is hopeless.

The hard reality, I think, is that because of that blindness, it is the United States itself that is blocking any possibility of reaching a just, equitable, and lasting peace. The United States itself is ultimately the party that is impeding the search for justice and equity in Palestine/Israel. There has been and there still is to a considerable degree a disturbing amount of enthusiasm for this current round the talks, from what I would describe as those who have an investment of reputation in the two-state solution. This includes, first and foremost, policymakers from the Obama administration, as well as many former policymakers from the Clinton administration, some of whom are still around and some of whom, I have to say, made a hash of peace processing back then in the Clinton era and have not, I believe, learned anything since. These people who have an investment in a two-state solution also include moderate Zionists, such as the relatively new pro-Israel lobby group, J Street, and a great many commentators in the mainstream media.

The danger, I think, in this push for a two-state solution and in the fact that these people have invested their reputation in its achievement is that they are pursuing it for the wrong reasons, because it’s politically expedient or to save Israel from the demographic problems of a too high Palestinian population growth or simply because this is what they stake their reputations on. And they fail or deliberately refuse to recognize the substantial obstacles to the actual realization of a peace agreement that will result in a real, viable Palestinian state. They don’t examine the realities on the ground that stand in the way of full sovereignty for the Palestinians. They refuse to see that Israel, whether under Netanyahu or under any other conceivable government in Israel, will never agree to genuine Palestinian independence or to ending the occupation. They don’t, in fact, generally even acknowledge that there is an occupation, that one party to the negotiations occupies and totally controls the other, and therefore that the two parties are in no way equal or equally able to press their demands for a peace agreement.

This is a road to disaster, meaning most likely, disaster for the Palestinians. These two-state enthusiasts are locked into this particular solution no matter what. No matter that Israel continues to devour the territory where the small Palestinian state would be located. No matter that the U.S. and Israel are forcing the Palestinians to negotiate over an occupied territory that by international law should not be negotiable. No matter that the negotiations and the proposed solution ignore Gaza, where over one-third of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories lives. No matter that the United States arms one side in the negotiation and enables its territorial advances and all of its oppressive policies.

This is really the crux of the issue, because the U.S. gives Israel $3 billion in military aid every year, and usually more, as part of a 10-year, $30 billion arms package agreed to by the Bush administration, and because the U.S. and Israel are in so many ways geopolitical partners. The U.S. is, in fact, an interested party on one side of peace negotiations rather than a neutral mediator or an honest broker. U.S. military aid and the fact that it is essentially a signed and sealed commitment running through the year 2018 removes virtually any leverage that the U.S. the might have to induce Israel to make concessions for peace. With this aid the U.S. has rendered itself powerless to cajole or force Israel to move. And, of course, Israel has absolutely no incentive to move.

I think we’ve seen how this works in reality throughout the yearlong dispute over Israeli settlements and the so-called settlement freeze. The U.S. demanded, Israel made a show of complying but did not. In fact, it was right in the middle of the so-called freeze that the Israelis embarrassed Vice President Biden by announcing the construction of several hundred—actually, it was 1600—housing units in settlements in East Jerusalem while he was there on a trip last March. Despite this, Obama and Secretary Clinton covered for the Israelis, congratulating them for making supposedly unprecedented concessions. And then, when we wanted an extension of the freeze at the end of September, Israel said flatly no. So instead of exerting pressure on the Israelis or even objecting, we have offered them more aid and more concessions. Israel is never held accountable, always rewarded. But we do exert pressure on the Palestinians always to be more accommodating to Israel.

Let me say something here about the way that the U.S., President Obama and his administration, have kowtowed to Israel. Former Secretary of State James Baker rather pointedly criticized Obama’s submission to Israel earlier this year during all the back-and-forth over freezing settlements, when Obama continually backed down. Baker, who himself had a lot of experience dealing with Israel on the settlements issue in the early 1990s under the first Bush administration, and who also failed to make any progress toward getting the Israelis to stop, criticized Obama for what he called “caving in” to Israel so easily. “You can’t take a position,” Baker said, “and then the minute you get push-back, you soften your position. When you’re dealing with foreign leaders, they can smell this kind of weakness a thousand miles away.” I think Israeli leaders and their lobby in the U.S. smelled Obama’s weakness long ago, even before he won the election in 2008 and before he won the Democratic primary in that year. Despite a lot of worry among Israeli supporters during the campaign that Obama was not pro-Israeli enough or was too pro-Arab or too pro-Palestinian or was too pro-Muslim, indeed maybe because of all the talk by the lobby that he would hurt Israel if elected, he made it crystal clear back then that he intended to stand with Israel and would do little to forge a truly just peace in Palestine/Israel.

He tipped his hand very early. We knew where he stood on Israel well before the election, and he has never changed. His mantra promising change never really applied here. He didn’t even really promise much change in this area. He sent out lots of signals of how closely he stood to Israel. For instance, he actually repudiated a long-standing friendship with Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi when the McCain campaign began calling Khalidi a PLO supporter. During a speech to the annual convention of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama called for Jerusalem to remain undivided, meaning under continued Israeli control. He told an interviewer that he had learned to love Israel by reading the novel Exodus—I think a great many of us did that—although Exodus came out before he was even born. He visited the Israeli town of Sderot, the main target of rocket attacks from Gaza, and joined Israelis in condemning Hamas without ever mentioning the Israeli death and destruction that for years been being inflicted on the civilian population of Gaza. Two days after Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, when he appointed George Mitchell special envoy, he all but explicitly blamed Hamas for causing Israel’s destructive 23-day assault on Gaza that had just ended. This was without a word about the fact that it had been Israel that violated the ceasefire preceding this attack or about the fact that in that attack Israel had just killed more than 1400 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians and over 20% of whom were children. Israel killed more than 100 Palestinians in that assault for every Israeli killed. But Obama said then and still says he thought that Israel had a right to launch that murderous attack.

This is the absolutely critical destructive effect of this U.S.-Israeli partnership, the fact that the U.S. always defends Israel’s actions, no matter what, always promises to stand with Israel, always takes Israel’s part. This totally skews the balance in peace negotiations. There is a glaring power imbalance at work in these negotiations and in all other aspects of the Palestinian/Israeli situation that undermines any possibility of achieving a truly just solution to this conflict. Without justice you won’t ever have true peace.

The U.S.-Israeli relationship places an almost totally powerless people, the Palestinians, on one side of the negotiating table opposite their very powerful occupier and their occupier’s arms supplier. This is an impossible, absurd situation. Neither justice nor peace can arise from an equation like this. The power imbalance dramatically skews not only the relative strength of the parties but the very terms they are negotiating.

The general assumption, the so-called international consensus, and the assumption of those two-state enthusiasts I mentioned earlier is that a peace agreement would set 1967 borders, the lines that defined Israel before it captured the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in 1967 as the boundary between Israel and a Palestinian state. This would already give Israel 78% of Palestine. The remaining 22%, where the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem lie, is where a Palestinian state would be located. But the Palestinians are now being asked to negotiate over that 22%, because Israel is determined to retain East Jerusalem, all of it, and the large settlement blocks inside the West Bank as well as the land on its side of the separation wall, which is well inside the West Bank, much of the road network connecting settlements, and all or most of the Jordan Valley, all inside the Palestinians’ 22%. In other words, Israel wants to keep large segments of the only place where a Palestinian state is likely to be located, and it has the military power and the U.S. support necessary to impose its demands on the disposition of territory.

Another disparity in the negotiations is that Hamas, which holds sway in Gaza, although under a tight blockade imposed by Israel and under continued Israeli imprisonment, is being left out altogether. Israel doesn’t want to have to deal with Hamas, and the U.S. therefore doesn’t either. It should be clear that Hamas is willing to agree to a long-term truce with Israel and live with a two-state solution if Israel moves back inside its own borders, the 1967 lines, and withdraws from the occupied territories. This willingness has been conveyed repeatedly in press interviews with Hamas officials and in two official letters sent by Hamas to Obama last year, which were both rejected by the U.S. These Hamas concessions aren’t good enough for Israel and the U.S., which have imposed three conditions on Hamas participation in any negotiations: that it recognize Israel’s right to exist, that it agree to abide by all past agreements, such as the Oslo peace accord, and that it renounce violence. The trouble with these preconditions is that they are not imposed equally on Israel. Israel does not have to recognize the right of a Palestinian state to exist, it is not required to live up to past agreements, and in fact has never done so, and it clearly has not been required to renounce violence.

Israel’s new precondition, that the Palestinians, all Palestinans, not just recognize Israel but recognize its right to exist and now recognize its right to exist specifically as a Jewish state is a further move of the goalposts that places an impossible demand on all Palestinians, not just Hamas, since recognizing Israel as a Jewish state has the effect of delegitimizing the Palestinian cause altogether. It validates Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948, requiring Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to have expelled them from their homes as non-Jews in order to make way for this Jewish state. It also delegitimizes the citizenship of the more than 1 million Palestinians who live in Israel and are Israeli citizens but are not Jews. This demand is a deal breaker, and it’s intended to be just that, because Israel does not want a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The U.S., unfortunately, has gone along with this new demand, however, as it does with most Israeli demands.

If the Palestinians ever do gain a “state” in a small part of Palestine at the end of this process, it will be a state in name only, little more than a disconnected set of tiny enclaves with no real sovereignty or independence or viability, and without Gaza, which will be left to drift. A state in pieces. I think it’s vital that we recognize that this totally unacceptable outcome, which is probably the best that can be expected anytime in the near future, will be the responsibility of those two-state enthusiasts, including in the Obama administration, who are ignoring the grim realities that stand in the way of a just solution.

The noted Israeli historian Avi Shlaim recently made an important point about the power imbalance in an article in the LondonGuardian. “The prospects for reaching a permanent status agreement are poor,” he wrote, “because the Israelis are too strong, the Palestinians are too weak, and the American mediators are utterly ineffectual. The sheer asymmetry of power between the two parties militates against a voluntary agreement, meaning one not forced on the Palestinians. To get the Israelis and the Palestinians around a conference table and tell them to hammer out an agreement is like putting a lion and a lamb in a cage and asking them to sort out their own differences. In order to bridge the huge gap separating the two sides, America must first redress the balance of power by putting most of its weight on the side of the weaker party.” I would guess that we are nowhere near the day when the U.S. is prepared to put most of its weight on the side of the weaker party in this conflict.

And so we come to the reasons for the identity of interests that binds the U.S. to Israel and prevents any meaningful U.S. pressure on Israel. There is some disagreement among analysts about what influences have the greatest impact on U.S. policy toward Israel and the Middle East in general.

One school of thought believes that policy is determined almost solely by U.S. imperial interests and by a political ruling class made up of the elites of the military-corporate-government complex. This school believes that U.S. interests are cynically determined by this ruling class and that, although these may not in fact be the true interests of the American people, they actually are identical with Israeli interests. The theory here is that Israel is a strategic asset that serves U.S. imperialism; that Israel essentially does what the U.S. wants it to do, follows U.S. orders; and that as a result, the Israel lobby has only minimal influence on U.S. policymaking.

The other school holds that the Israel lobby plays a vitally important role in determining the direction of U.S. Middle East policy, particularly Palestinian/Israeli policy, policy toward that conflict, and that the lobby cements the U.S.-Israeli relationship. I happen to be an advocate of this school of thought. I don’t at all discount the influence of the military-industrial complex, which obviously has a voice in policymaking, since it makes the weapons with which we arm Israel to the tune of $3 billion a year and more, often more, and this complex also makes the weapons that the U.S. uses in its own wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, etc., etc. So I don’t dismiss the power of the military-industrial complex at all. In fact, there is such an interweaving of political and arms industry interests and such a convergence of U.S. and Israeli efforts toward global and regional Middle East domination that it’s impossible to minimize the importance of these special interests in determining U.S. policy. I just feel, unlike the other school of thought, that the influence the Israel lobby exerts has been critically important, and I feel there is a mountain of evidence to support this view.

I think it’s fair to say that almost everything President Obama has done during his two years in office demonstrates the profound power of the lobby to move policy in a pro-Israel direction. This phrase, “to move policy in a pro-Israel direction,” comes from the two scholars, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who wrote a ground-breaking book on the lobby three years ago entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy and essentially broke the taboo on discussing the lobby. Mearsheimer and Walt came up with a particularly good definition, I think, of what they mean by lobby. They say the lobby is “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” This is a perfect, comprehensive definition.

First they say it’s “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations.” The lobby is not, as many people believe, just AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is the main lobby organization but definitely not the only means by which pro-Israel influence is exerted. There are other organizations as well, there are also individuals who exert influence, and there is also—and to my mind this is critical—a common public discourse fashioned by Israeli advocates that has a strong influence on policy formulation. I’ll talk about that in just a minute.

The other part of the Mearsheimer-Walt definition is also critical, and this comes back to the phrase I used a minute ago. This “loose coalition,” as they say, “actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” They don’t say, as defenders of Israel have charged, that the Israel lobby controls all U.S. policy or even all U.S. Middle East policy. The lobby, individuals as well as organizations, simply works hard to, as I keep saying, move policy in a pro-Israel direction. Sometimes it doesn’t succeed, sometimes it’s defeated, which is why “control” is not the right word. But the lobby most certainly does work hard to move policy in a pro-Israel direction, and it’s successful more often than not.

The examples are myriad, but most important, I think, is the pro-Israeli discourse that I just spoke of. This is a mind set and a set of assumptions that determine how we all automatically think about Israel when we hear the name mentioned and what we all think when we hear the name “Palestinians” mentioned. This is a public discourse and Israel-centered mind set that has been building and being shaped and being internalized for almost a century, since well before Israel was created. This mind set has a huge impact on how a policymaker approaches the Arab/Israeli issue, and particularly the Palestinian/Israeli issue. I’m talking about every policymaker in every administration since the Zionist enterprise began promoting itself in the U.S. around World War I.

Let me start at the beginning—I won’t go into too much history—at least the beginning in terms of making U.S. policy on the issue of Palestine and the Zionists. Woodrow Wilson was the first president to make a policy decision on Palestine, and he did it at the instigation and under the influence of the first Zionist lobbyist in the U.S., Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Brandeis spent some time in Britain consulting with the British government on its support for Zionism. And in 1917, when the British issued the Balfour Declaration promising support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, Brandeis used his easy entree to Wilson to press for U.S. support for the declaration. His intercession was of inestimable value in setting U.S. policy on a course that has never in any significant way deviated from strong support for Zionism and ultimately for Israel.

Zionist lobbying in these early years did not stop with Brandeis. There were other Zionist activists in key positions able to influence policy and influence Congress. Even in this early period American Zionists proved to be skilled, well organized, quite dedicated, and numerous enough to get the job done. They mounted a multi-pronged effort, simultaneously attempting to shape the views of the media through frequent well-placed media stories; of Congress, through direct lobbying that resulted in pro Zionist resolutions even back then; of the political establishment, through more direct lobbying, that resulted in pro-Zionist statements in both the Republican and the Democratic Party platforms in election years from the 1920s on; of the public, through media placement and demonstrations that continually brought the Zionist project to public attention; and of key policymakers, including presidents, through personal contact up through Roosevelt and Truman. I’m still talking about the early years, before Israel was created, but, of course, the Zionist effort has continued and intensified as the decades have gone on.

The early effort was very sophisticated, even back then, and it was incredibly effective. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but the point is that these early efforts essentially determined the public and policymaker thinking for all succeeding periods and administrations. It quickly became automatic, almost rote, for policymakers to view the Palestinian situation from a totally Zionist perspective, to assume that because the U.S. had supported a Jewish homeland during the Wilson administration, that set policy forever. No one ever questioned the policy, no one ever asked what Zionism meant for the Palestinians. This atmosphere was reinforced by already existing disdain for Arabs and Muslims and was further solidified by the huge outpouring of sympathy for Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Along the way, several very effective Zionist groups worked to mobilize public support for the Zionist enterprise, which in turn influenced the views of the media and ultimately of policymakers. This is what I mean by a public discourse and a frame of reference that were totally pro-Zionist and are now pro-Israeli.

The mind set was more or less set in concrete by the time Harry Truman had to make a decision on supporting statehood for Israel. He actually had misgivings about a state based on a religion, but he was subject to such heavy lobbying by Zionist advocates that he gave in. There were lobby pressures from outside the White House but, even more importantly, his three closest White House aides lobbied strongly and emotionally for Israel. So Truman went along with them even though—and this is really important to note—all of his national security advisers, military and political, were totally opposed to the creation of a Jewish state on the grounds that this would disadvantage the U.S. in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, that it would endanger U.S. access to the Middle East’s oil resources, which, of course, were in Arab countries, and could lead to war. That was prophetic. The important point here is that it was lobby pressures, not the military-industrial complex, that moved Truman to support Israel.

It has been ever thus. This is how policymaker thinking has been directly affected. Over the years since Israel’s creation, there has been a pervasive atmosphere in which Israel is simply assumed to be so close to the U.S., its interests so closely intertwined with American interests that it is accepted almost as a part of the U.S. The lobby reinforces this sentiment, maintaining it in a myriad of ways and channeling it into institutional ways of involving ordinary Americans into supporting Israel. It’s impossible for policymakers not to be influenced in this way.

The Christian right, of course, is a major source of support for Israel and is actually part of the Israel lobby. The Christian right makes up a huge proportion of the Christian population of this country, numbering in the tens of millions, and Christian Zionists strongly support Israel’s continued existence as well as its continued control over the occupied Palestinian territories. They believe this is the essential prerequisite to the so-called Millennium, when they believe Jesus Christ will reappear, so support for Israel is very fundamental to their beliefs. During the last several years in particular, the Christian right has used its vast numbers to lobby both the Bush and Obama administrations, and Congress in support of Israel’s policies and in opposition to any proposal that would require Israeli concessions. It’s interesting to note that during the 2008 campaign Sarah Palin often wore a lapel pin with U.S. and Israeli flags intertwined.

Former Senator James Abourezk, who represented South Dakota in the 1970s, recently described how this atmosphere of required support for Israel operates inside political circles. “The support Israel enjoys in Congress,” he said, “is based completely on political fear, a fear that anyone who does not do what Israel wants done will be defeated by the lobby. This pressure creates a kind of self-censorship that silences criticism of Israel, and this silence imposed by the lobby ripples down the line even beyond Congress. Even one Congressional critic who speaks out is attacked by the lobby,” Abourezk said, “on the grounds that if Congress is completely silent on the issue, the press will have no one to quote, which effectively silences the press as well. Any journalists or editors who step out of line are quickly brought under control by well organized economic pressure against the newspaper caught sinning.”

This kind of silencing has a direct impact on policy formulation. And it has a longer-term, more indirect impact, because this is the atmosphere in which future policymakers grow up—an atmosphere of ignorance and denial and a belief that Israel can do no wrong, in which it is virtually impossible, first of all, to learn anything about the situation, and, secondly, to speak out without incurring the organized wrath of Israel’s supporters through mass letter-writing campaigns, media criticism, and heavy pressure from Congress.

Here’s an example of what I mean by the ignorance that arises from the silencing of information and debate on the Palestinian issue. In a recent issue (14 October 2010) of The Nation magazine their Washington editor, Christopher Hayes went a little outside his usual beat. He visited the West Bank and wrote a “Postcard from Palestine,” as he called it. It was primarily about visiting the Palestinian city of Hebron, where a small group of 800 Israeli settlers controls and restricts the lives of about 150,000 Palestinians in the city. Hayes was taken around the heart of the Jewish enclave in the city by a group of former Israeli soldiers, who now work to combat the Israeli military’s human rights violations there. This is what Hayes said about his own previous knowledge of Hebron. “I had heard of Hebron, of course, but it was lodged vaguely in my mind as one of those foreign places where awful things happen. But to see it in person is to understand viscerally that the status quo in the West Bank cannot hold. To see it is to understand just what occupation requires.” Later in the article he said, “In Hebron the occupation has turned a holy city into a moral obscenity.” He quoted his Israeli bus driver, who hadn’t seen Hebron since serving there in the 1967 war as saying, “As an Israeli, I’m shocked.” Here are a journalist and an Israeli, neither of whom you would expect to be ignorant of the situation in the West Bank and in Hebron, expressing shock over what’s going on there when they finally see it. This is what I mean about the near impossibility in this country of learning anything about the situation and the difficulty of speaking out about it. Not many politicians are willing to risk the wrath of the lobby when realities such as these are exposed, so ignorance prevails.

I think, unfortunately, that Barack Obama’s behavior during his first two years in his office, backing down meekly and repeatedly when Israel and its lobby supporters repeatedly said no to his demand for a freeze on settlement construction, all this dramatically illustrates the strong, strong influence that Israel and its lobby exert in determining what is known in this country and ultimately how U.S. policy evolves on this critical issue. Barack Obama and the U.S. are today caught in an induced ignorance and blindness. I actually believe that Obama fumbled so badly on the settlement-freeze issue precisely because he and his advisers are almost totally ignorant of the actual situation in Palestine and Israel. I don’t believe they understand the situation on the ground in Palestine and what the occupation means for the Palestinians, and they do not care. They are also basically ignorant, I believe, about Israel and its objectives. And I want to emphasize the ignorance of its objectives. They did not really realize how important the settlements are to Israel and its ambitions, which are to maintain permanent control over all of Palestine, over all of Eretz Israel, as Israelis call it. I think Obama and his advisers thought they could get away with asking for a freeze because they thought Israel didn’t care that much about the settlements.

Obama’s subservience to Israel on the settlement freeze, on the appointment of officials to U.S. government posts whom Israel and its supporters don’t like, on the Goldstone report about Israel’s horrific assault on Gaza almost two years ago, which report the U.S. has repudiated, all this has occurred not because of U.S. imperial ambitions but purely and simply because the Israel lobby has such a powerful influence on policymaking in this critical area. There is no denying the importance of the U.S. military-industrial-financial complex or the intricate interweaving of this conglomerate with Israel’s military, industrial, and financial interests, as many scholars and commentators contend. But rather than a relationship in which Israel does the bidding of the U.S., in reality the entanglement is much more one between two independent players. The relationship is symbiotic.

It’s important to keep in mind, when someone says that Israel always does the U.S. bidding, that Israel and its lobby have been the policy initiators, the U.S. the follower in Israel’s 1967 war, its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, its 2002 invasion of the West Bank, its 40-plus-year settlement construction enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territories, its disproportionate attacks on Palestinians, its assault on Lebanon in 2006, its assault on Gaza in 2008 and 2009, and its crippling blockade of Gaza in effect since 2006. The military-industrial complex may have benefited economically from some of these wars, but it did not initiate them. Israel initiated these wars and these policies. The Israel lobby supported them and worked to ensure U.S. support for them. The lobby set the policy and the atmosphere and the discourse that have shaped the official U.S. stance that has always enabled Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians and other Arabs. As I said, the two players are independent actors operating as partners.

I don’t think I need to tell this audience how very dismal is the U.S. image throughout the Arab and Muslim world because of our unquestioning support for everything Israel does. One recent poll of 4,000 people in six Arab countries found a precipitous rise in negative feelings about Obama. A year ago, shortly after his speech in Cairo in June of 2009, only 23% expressed a negative view of him. Today that number has risen steeply to 62%. The tragedy of the present situation is that the U.S. and all U.S. politicians appear trapped in a web that they do not even recognize, a mind set that dominates both political parties in the U.S. in a web in which it is impossible to separate U.S. from Israeli ambitions.

I don’t believe, and I don’t really think anyone does who thinks about this seriously, that Israeli interests and Israeli ambitions should influence us in the U.S. to this extent. The perceived convergence of interests has a profound effect on U.S. policy choices in the Middle East. If the U.S. is unable to distinguish its own real needs and the world’s from those of another state and that state’s lobby, then it simply cannot say that it always acts in its own best interests. The failure to recognize this reality is where those who belittle the lobby’s power and accept U.S. Middle East policy as simply an unchangeable part of a long-standing strategy are particularly dangerous.

I think we’re seeing the effects of the supposed convergence of interests today as president Obama attempts, always unsuccessfully, to induce Israel to work toward a peace agreement. I noted earlier what former Secretary of State Baker said about the dangers of “caving in” to Israel and how foreign leaders “can smell this kind weakness a thousand miles away.” Almost a year after Baker’s statement, we’re still hearing criticisms like this, even in some instances from media commentators, who are usually fairly supportive of Israel, and also from former policymakers. They’re using terms to describe Obama’s handling of Netanyahu, such as “humiliating,” “craven,” “pandering.” One former policymaker recently called Obama’s behavior “pathetic.” Language like this directed at a sitting president by a former policymaker is almost unprecedented. If this is what commentators, who generally favor Israel, and former policymakers are saying, you can imagine what the Arab and Muslim world are saying and thinking.

If the U.S. is not able to do better than this, we are in considerable trouble. But it’s hard, unfortunately, to see any hopeful signs on the horizon. Chas Freeman, the former ambassador and Middle East expert who was initially nominated by Obama in mid-2009 to be the director of national intelligence, but who came under such heavy pressure from people in the Israel lobby who didn’t like him or his views on Israel that he withdrew his nomination before it ever came up for Senate confirmation, gave a talk at a conference in Washington and said that he believes there will never be a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians until there is a reversal of policy by the United States. This is similar to the statement by the Israeli scholar Avi Shlaim that I quoted earlier that nothing will be accomplished unless the U.S. first redresses the imbalance of power by putting most of its weight on the side of the weaker party. I’m afraid both of these brilliant analysts are right, but unfortunately I don’t see such a reversal of policy coming in the near future.

Let me end with an anecdote that I think is quite revealing that dramatically illustrates the extent and nature of the U.S.-Israeli partnership. This is from the blog Mondoweiss, run by Philip Weiss. Weiss is a Jewish journalist who writes a lot about Jewish identity, its connection to Zionism, his own feelings about Zionism, and the connection of all this to politics and policymaking in the U.S. Over the last few years, he has also come to be very critical of the Israel lobby and its influence on U.S. policy. He wrote a blog post earlier this year with a headline that seemed to advocate the two-state solution. I’m not actually certain where he stands on the virtues of two states in Palestine versus one, but he has definitely not been locked into two states the way the Obama administration and many others are. But it quickly became clear that Weiss was not talking about the two-state solution as we all know it. He was talking about what he termed “the incredible conflation of American and Israeli interests that the neocons in the Bush administration and many people in Obama administration policy circles as well have pushed in U.S. discourse.” He gave several examples and ended his post by saying that the special relationship with Israel has hurt the United States in the Middle East, and he called for disentangling the relationship. This was his last sentence: “Separation, partition, call it what you will, but the U.S. and Israel need to be two states, not one.” “Two states, not one.” And he’s not talking about Israel and Palestine; he’s talking about the U.S. and Israel. That’s dramatic and thought-provoking, I think. To have a serious Jewish journalist who devotes his entire blog to probing the realities and the consequences of the U.S. partnership with Israel, conclude that there is a very harmful identity of interests with Israel is a very striking revelation. I’ll say again, however, to wrap this up, that although there is a considerable change of tone at the grass-roots level in this country and among some commentators, like Weiss himself, I’m afraid we’re still quite far from the day when the political level is ready to change course, put the brakes on Israel, and work for justice for the Palestinians. Thank you.

Q&A

Those are brilliant statements. I would just like to comment on a couple of things.. Israel specifically refuses to regard itself to be a state of its citizens. It’s a state of the Jews, it considers itself. Tzipi Livni, for instance, who ran for prime minister and actually won a plurality in the election but couldn’t form a coalition so Netanyahu is now the prime minister, she was foreign minister before, and she has explicitly said, “We couldn’t be a state of our citizens, because that would mean making Palestinians equal to Jews,” Christian and Muslim Palestinians equal to Jews. So that’s where we are at the moment on that question.

And you’re exactly right about the placement of the settlements. It’s not just a haphazard thing. They’re not just little—some of them, the outposts, are little caravan trailer encampments, but most of them are big cities with all of the amenities—Ace Hardware and Intel Corporation plants and things like that, and tree-lined boulevards and swimming pools—while the Palestinians in small villages have to wait in line often for drinking water out of a truck. And also, the settlements, particularly around Jerusalem, are placed deliberately in order to isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank. And, of course, the roads do the same thing, roads on which Palestinians are not allowed to drive, people with Palestinian license plates. Jerusalem is the political and the cultural capital of the Palestinians, but the Israelis are deliberately isolating it from the rest of the Palestinian population.

On where the settlements are located. Most of the sort of outlying settlements are in area C, but the major settlement blocks, which Israel insists on keeping and which the Bush administration basically said to Israel, You can keep this because they’re major population centers—Bush actually wrote a letter to Sharon saying, These are major population centers and everybody assumes that they stay under Israeli control. Obama’s policymakers—he himself hasn’t said this—have almost explicitly said the same thing. These are the areas in which 80% of the 500,000 Israeli settlers who are in Palestinian territory live, and it is basically assumed that Israel will be able to keep them in any deal. This would be horrific. It’s concentrated, but it’s primarily around Jerusalem. On the west side of the West Bank, a little to the north, where a big settlement called Modi’in Illit, which actually straddles the 1967 lines, and then coming down into Jerusalem and including the settlement I mentioned of Ma’ale Adumim. But if Israel keeps all of the settlement blocks, the West Bank would be broken up into several different pieces. That’s why my husband and I titled our book Palestine in Pieces. The settlements around Jerusalem and this large settlement, Ma’ale Adumim, actually splits the West Bank in half, into a northern half and a southern half.

It never could be a functioning state.

It’s an impossible situation.

They’re built for the very purpose of taking the land.

That’s exactly right, for the very purpose of taking the land. This is done deliberately.

Outro music – Trio Joubran: Hawana

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