Criticism of its ‘apartheid-like’ Palestinian policy is shouted down as anti-Semitism by Israel’s right-wing government and by the Jewish lobby in the US, says TP O’Mahony.
In November, 2006, former US president, Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), published a book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and although it quickly became a New York Times bestseller, it drew vitriolic criticism, not only from right-wing quarters in Israel, but also from the powerful Israeli lobby in the US.
In their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M Watt said the reaction to the Carter book illustrated how difficult it is, at least in the mainstream media in the US, to criticise Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism.
“America’s generous and unconditional support for Israel is rarely questioned, because groups in the lobby use their power to make sure that public discourse echoes its strategic and moral arguments for the special relationship.”
They say that while reasonable people may challenge Carter’s evidence or disagree with his conclusions, his ultimate goal is peace between these two peoples, and he unambiguously defends Israel’s right to live in peace and security.
“Yet, because he suggests that Israel’s policies in the occupied territories resemble South Africa’s apartheid regime and said publicly that pro-Israel groups make it hard for US leaders to pressure Israel to make peace, a number of these same groups launched a vicious smear campaign against him.”
The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy was published in 2007, a year after Carter’s book and at a time when George W Bush was in the White House.
He was succeeded by Barack Obama and, in the dying days of that administration, the White House allowed the UN Security Council to adopt a landmark resolution, demanding an end to Israeli settlements, defying pressure from US president-elect, Donald Trump, and Israel, who wanted Washington to use its veto.
The US decision to abstain was a relatively rare step by the White House, which usually shields Israel.
The US abstention was a parting shot by Obama, who had an acrimonious relationship with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and who made settlements a major target of peace efforts that ultimately proved futile.
The resolution condemned all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as a “flagrant violation” of international law, which imperilled a future two-state peace.
The reaction from Israel was predictable and swift. “We will do all it takes, so Israel escapes unscathed from this shameful decision,” said Netanyahu.
In reality, Resolution 2334 was unenforceable. Nobody, least of all the US, will support moves to evict the 430,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, or the 200,000 in East Jerusalem.
And while serious observers of the Middle East dismissed Obama’s move as “too little too late” to drive peace, some conceded that it did have some significance.
In The Guardian, Simon Tisdall wrote that the UN vote highlighted the extraordinary extent of Israel’s international isolation.
“This was the world telling Netanyahu, with one voice, that the expanded settlement policy he has encouraged and justified is wrong: wrong legally, wrong morally, wrong politically, and wrong in terms of Israel’s future peace and security.”
But Tisdall’s criticism of Obama stands.
“Obama did not push nearly hard enough for peace, when the regional climate might have allowed it . . . Cautious to the end, even Obama’s UN demarche was half-hearted. If he really believes settlements are undermining peace, why abstain? Why not go the whole hog and condemn them? Why wait seven years?”
Writing in the New York Times international edition, earlier this year, Gideon Levy, a columnist for Haaretz (widely regarded as Israel’s most respected and influential newspaper), described the decades-long siege of Gaza as an “unparalleled collective punishment”, and the fate of almost two million human beings, “forced to live in a vast cage, mainly because of Israel’s inhuman policies, doesn’t seem to touch the country’s conscience.”
This, he said, was because Israelis live in denial. Much of the local media, betraying its mission, hardly covers life there.
“Israel has turned right, and nationalist, even racist. Yet, the truth is that Gaza is a disaster zone, and one of Zionism’s greatest victims,” Levy wrote.
Now, in the age of Trump, Netanyahu and his administration (the most right-wing in Israel’s history) are cock-a-hoop.
The 45th US president appointed a man with pro-settlement views as his ambassador to Israel, and then, last December, to the dismay of the Palestinians and a wider international audience, announced his intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem, formally recognising it as Israel’s capital (the inauguration of the new embassy occurred in mid-May, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel).
The Palestinians have always claimed part of the holy city as the capital of a future state.
After the UN voted in December to condemn the unilateral action by Trump, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the decision by Trump as a “misstep” and the “wrong long-term decision” for the region.
Mr Varadkar said the move would make a peaceful settlement in the region “very hard to secure”.
Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, in New York, described Trump’s “error” as a disaster.
“Every time it seems Donald Trump cannot outdo himself, he does it again. Now, he has announced that his administration will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing nearly seven decades of American policy.
“Jerusalem is the most important of the so-called final-status issues that have been repeatedly deferred during the Israel-Palestine negotiations, because of their extreme sensitivity.
In July, the Knesset (Israeli legislature) passed, by 62 votes to 55, Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People Law, defining Israel as the “historic homeland” of the Jewish people, and declaring that the “right to exercise self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people”.
It also identified further development of Jewish settlements nationwide as a “national priority”.
The legislation was widely condemned as “anti-democratic”, and Arab members of the Knesset tore up their copies of the bill, shouting “Apartheid!”
The internationally-renowned composer and pianist, Daniel Barenboim, published an article in The Guardian, under the heading: “This racist new law makes me ashamed to be an Israeli”.
“The founding fathers, who signed the declaration of independence in 1948, considered the principle of equality to be the bedrock of the society they were building.
“They also committed themselves ‘to pursue peace and good relations with all neighbouring states and peoples’. Seventy years on, the Israeli government has just passed a law that replaces the principle of equality and universal values with nationalism and racism.
“This law states that only the Jewish people have a right to national self-determination in Israel,” Barenboim wrote.
Meanwhile, the agony of the Palestinians, especially those trapped in the open-air prison that is Gaza, continues.
Six days before the end of August, the US announced it had cut $200m in aid for Palestinians, a move described by a Palestinian government spokesman as “part of the policy of blackmail and pressure practised by President Trump towards the Palestinian leadership to force it to accept the so-called deal of the century”.
This is a plan, rejected by Palestinians and Arabs, being drafted by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.
Then, just days after the US said it was withdrawing $200m from programmes based largely in Gaza, where they help tens of thousands of people, the Trump administration announced it would cut all US funding from the main UN programme for Palestinian refugees across the Middle East — essential services helping five million people.
All of this, coming after the decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, demonstrates that Trump doesn’t care about a two-state solution, and that he is more intent on pleasing the most right-wing government in Israel’s history and the Israel lobby in the US.
It is surely time for Ireland to recognise Palestinian statehood.
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