The proper way to begin to understand the “Israeli-Palestinian problem” is to recognize that Israel is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the United States government. Criticism of its racist and oppressive policies towards non-Jews and of its brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine is necessarily criticism of the policies of American governments, Republican as well as Democrat, that have made these things possible.
During the Cold War, it was fashionable to sneer at the Cuban economy as “unviable” because it depended on money from the Soviet Union, principally in exchange for Cuba’s sugar crop (owing to the long-standing US embargo); but every year for a generation Israel has received much more money per capita from the United States than Cuba received from the USSR in its best year. The present Israeli economy is of course unviable — it survives as a military outpost of the US, armed to the teeth to prevent the emergence in the Middle East of any domestic radicalism that would threaten US control of the world’s greatest geopolitical prize, Mideast oil. To control world energy resources is to control the world economy, as the US has done for generations — and intends to continue to do. Israel is vital to its plans, and therefore successive US governments have been willing to put up with Israel’s enormities in regard to the Palestinian people.
But it has been pointed out that our principal client is a racist state in the legal — and not just psychological — sense of the term. A legally racist state is one in which privileges for a certain group defined by descent — and disabilities for those not so descended — are enshrined in law and governmental practice: disregarding anything thought or done, you belong to the privileged group if your parent(s) did, and if not, not. That was the case in South Africa from 1948 to 1991 and in many southern states in the US for the first half of the 20th century. Those states ceased to be legally racist when those laws were abolished, although psychological racism remained.
Israel of course is racist in a legal sense in that one group defined by descent, Jews, are privileged. (It is not of course a matter of religion, the majority of Jews in Israel not being religious.) Indeed, Israel is a uniquely racist state, in that all states, democratic and dictatorial, are taken to be the states of their inhabitants — but not Israel: it is by law the state of one group defined by descent, the “Jewish people world-wide.” It is as if a radical faction of the Irish Republican Army should come to power in Ireland and declare Ireland the state of the “Irish people world-wide,” so that an Irishman in South Boston (or Urbana) had more rights in Dublin than an Englishman (or a Jew) whose family had been there for generations. (There is not to my knowledge any such faction in the IRA.)
It is surprising in the extreme to see self-styled “supporters of Israel” write rabid letters to editors in this country whenever the state of Israel or any of its government’s policies are criticized. If they really loved Israel and its people, as they profess, you’d think they would want to encourage a situation in which the citizens of Israel could live in peace with their neighbors and prosper in an open, democratic society that was not the economic dependence of another state. Instead, they support Israel’s expanding moral corruption as a militarized colony, its prime ministers including men inspired by a nazi ideology (in the Jabotinsky tradition) and guilty of war crimes. Beleaguered and hated by the people surrounding it (and many in it) and armed with illegal nuclear weapons, Israel threatens the world with massive destruction. The Air Force officer in charge of nuclear strategy for the last US administration, Gen. Lee Butler, said, “It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East, one nation has armed itself, ostensibly, with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, perhaps numbering in the hundreds, and that inspires other nations to do so.”
What could Israel do to cease being a pariah state, if its Washington masters permitted it? First of all, it could end the occupation of Palestinian territory, declared illegal by the UN Security Council thirty-four years ago, and not just pretend to do so by maintaining the proposed Palestinian statelet as a set of Indian reservations, controlled by the Israeli military. It could withdraw the settlements that cover the map of the West Bank and Gaza like a rash, settlements illegal under the Forth Geneva Convention (1949). It could establish the rights of non-Jewish citizens within Israel and come to an agreement on a “law of return” for Palestinians and their families driven out of Israel fifty years ago. (The existing Law of Return applies only to Jews, whose forbears may have left the area in the time of the Roman Emperor Titus, or before.) And it could move towards agreements on disarmament and economic cooperation with its neighbors, with the goal of an economically self-sufficient region, not dependent on US handouts. (Israel, followed distantly by Egypt, is by far the largest recipient of US aid.) The route to peace in the Middle East begins and ends in Washington. CP
Carl Estabrook teaches at the University of Illinois and is the host of News From Neptune, a weekly radio show on politics and the media. He writes a regular column for CounterPunch.