US Senate Awaits Israeli Instructions
Israel is often viewed by Washington politicians as the most ‘stable’ ally in the Middle East. But stability from the American perspective can mean many things. Lead amongst them is that the ‘ally’ must be unconditionally loyal to the diktats of the US administration. This rule has proven to be true since the United States claimed a position of ascendency, if not complete hegemony over many regions of the world since World War II. Israel, however, remained an exception.
The rules by which US-Israeli relations are governed are perhaps the most bewildering of all foreign policies of any two countries.
An illustration of this would be to consider these comments by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon quoted in the Israeli news portal Ynetnews. “The American security plan presented to us is not worth the paper it’s written on,” he said, referring to efforts underway since July by American Secretary of State John Kerry, “who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor.” Kerry “cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians,” said Ya’alon.
So far, Kerry has made ten trips to the Middle East with the intention of hammering out an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Based on media reports, it seems that the potential agreement is composed in such a way that it mostly accommodates Israel’s ‘security’ whims and obsessions, including a proposal to keep eastern West Bank regions and the Jordan Valley under Israeli military control. In fact, there is growing interest in the idea of ‘land swaps” which was floated by Israel’s notorious Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ten years ago.
“When Mr. Lieberman first proposed moving Arab-populated Israeli towns near the present border into Palestine in exchange for Jewish settlement blocs in the Palestinians’ West Bank being incorporated into Israel, he was branded a racist firebrand,” wrote the Economist on Jan. 18. “Liberals accused him of promoting the forcible ‘transfer’ plan, akin to ethnic cleansing, proclaimed by a rabbi, Meir Kahane, who vilified Arabs while calling for a pure Jewish state.”
Those days are long gone, as Israeli society drifted rightward. “Even some dovish Israeli left-wingers find such ideas reasonable.” Back then, the Americans themselves were irked, even if just publically, whenever such ideas of ‘population transfers’ and ethnic cleansing were presented by Israel’s ultra-right politicians. Now, the Americans find them malleable and a departure point for discussion. And it’s Kerry himself who is leading the American efforts to accommodate Israel’s endless list of demands – of security and racial exclusiveness even if at the expense of Palestinians. So why is Ya’alon unhappy?
The Defense Minister, who sat immediately next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during talks with Kerry, was unapologetic about his reasoning: “Only our continued presence in Judea and Samaria and the River Jordan will endure.” It means unrelenting Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu is hardly an innocent bystander in all of this, although for diplomatic reasons he often entrusts his government minions to deliver such messages. The Prime Minister is busy issuing more orders to populate the occupied West Bank with Jewish settlements, and berating every government that rejects such insidious behavior as being anti-Israel, ‘pro-Palestinian’ or worse, anti-Semitic. This was the case again in recent days following another announcement of settlement expansion.
On Jan. 17, Netanyahu called on Europe to stop its “hypocrisy”. On the same day, Israel’s foreign ministry summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, Italy and Spain, “accusing their countries of pro-Palestinian bias,” reported the BBC online. According to the ministry, the “perpetual one-sided stance” of these countries is unacceptable.
Yet, considering that Europe has supported Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories for decades, economically sustained the ‘Jewish state’ and its over 100 illegal Jewish settlements, and continue with its often unconditional military support of Israel, the accusations may appear strange and equally bewildering to that of Ya’alon against John Kerry.
How could a country the size of Israel have so much sway over the world’s greatest powers, where it gets what it wants and more, hurls regular insults against its sustainers, and still asks for more?
European countries found themselves in Israel’s firing line because a day earlier, the four EU countries took the rare step of summoning Israeli ambassadors to object to the Netanyahu government’s latest announcement of illegal settlement expansion (that of an additional 1,400 new homes). EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton has even went to the extent of calling the settlements “an obstacle to peace”, although hardly an advanced position considering that Israel’s colonial project in Palestine has been in motion for 46 years.
But even that is too much from the Israeli point of view. “The EU calls our ambassadors in because of the construction of a few houses?” Netanyahu asked as if baffled by a seemingly foreboding act, in a Jan 16 press conference. He even had the audacity to say this: “This imbalance and this bias against Israel doesn’t advance peace,” and also this, “I think it pushes peace further away because it tells the Palestinians: ‘Basically you can do anything you want, say anything you want and you won’t be held accountable.”
There is no sense in arguing with Netanyahu’s strange logic, but the question regarding Israel’s stronghold over the US and EU remains more pressing than ever, especially when one considers the ruckus in US Congress. No, the congress is not revolting because of the unmitigated power of the Zionist lobby, but for something far more interesting.
There seems to be a level of confusion in US Congress because members of the Senate are yet to feel serious pressure by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over a bill that proposes more sanctions on Iran.
“The powerful pro-Israel lobby has not engaged in a shoe-leather lobbying campaign to woo wayward senators and push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to schedule a vote on the bill .. While the group supports the bill — authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) — it is not yet putting its political muscle behind a push for an immediate vote,” reported Politico, citing key senators and their aides.
To say the least, it is disturbing that the US Senate is completely bewildered that AIPAC, which lobbies for the interest of a foreign power, is yet to provide its guidelines regarding the behavior of America’s supposedly most respected political representatives.
“I don’t know where AIPAC is. I haven’t talked to anybody,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). “I don’t know what they’re doing,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
This alone should shed some light on the seemingly bewildering question of the ‘strong bond’ and ‘stable’ alliance of Israel and the US – and to a lesser degree EU countries. This is not to suggest that Israel has complete dominance over US foreign policy in the Middle East, but to ignore Israel’s indispensable role in shaping the outlook of US foreign policy is dishonest and inconsistent with the facts, to put it mildly.
Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle and “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).