The occasion arose recently in Santa Fe to talk briefly — less than ten minutes — about the likelihood of resolving the Palestine-Israel issue in the near future. Following is the text of that talk to a group of people generally quite knowledgeable about U.S. foreign policy.
Just to get a discussion started, would each of you please ask yourself, how much do you honestly think the situation for Palestinians will have improved over the next five years, say by 2013? Obviously we may all have different answers, including even on the meaning of “improve. We may not even agree on what,s an improvement. But let,s come back to that question later if anyone wishes. Let,s also not argue that no big Palestinian changes for the better in this fairly short period are possible. Major changes in world history have often caught us by surprise, and we all knew about them only after the fact. Just as the Soviet Union collapsed, for instance, something equally big inside the United States or inside Israel could conceivably happen and the result might be to bring immediate and major benefits to the Palestinians. Here, however, the key word is “conceivably, which really means unlikely. The point most important to me here and now is that there are powerful forces in the United States that will work to make the present injustices to and oppression of Palestinians worse rather than better in coming years.
The most important of these powerful forces in the U.S. arises from a critical element in the U.S.-Israeli relationship that one can see in Washington almost every day. This critical element is the competition that has grown stronger and stronger between the Republicans and the Democrats over which party can demonstrate the greater support for Israel. The competition, which overrides everything else in the U.S. affecting Palestine, will not just be important from now until the presidential election in November. It will last well beyond that and will still be important in future elections through 2012 and beyond. The Republicans are trying to replace the Democrats as the party receiving the most support from Jewish-Americans, and Democrats are trying to prevent that from happening. The battle may continue for years, and, to repeat, it underlies everything affecting Palestine.
Next, we need to broaden the discussion beyond just this competition between the two major U.S. political parties. All the policies of the U.S. in the Middle East and Central Asia are interrelated. Everyone here today knows this. But under the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. side of the uniquely close Israeli-U.S. partnership either concentrates on, or fails to concentrate on, Palestinian affairs depending in part on how involved the U.S. is at any moment in other parts of the region such as Iraq or Iran. The 80 or 90 percent of the U.S. electorate that is generally apathetic to all international affairs is even more willing to ignore anything that is happening in Palestine when the corporate-controlled and Israel-lobby-dominated U.S. media is devoting its limited international attentions to, say, Iran. At such times, the inclination of U.S. governments is to let the Israeli government, supported particularly by those U.S. officials most friendly to Israel, do practically anything it wants to the Palestinians, as long as Israel does it without making too much noise about it.
Anyone who is realistic simply must recognize that the situation of the Palestinians, and the future outlook for them, is bleak today, and for the next five years, and possibly even for an unknown length of time beyond that.
There is, however, another trend — this time a global trend — that may encourage hopes of changes for the better among Palestinians and among those who want more justice for the Palestinians. The neoconservatives who have dominated U.S. policies in the Middle East in recent years have not only been among the strongest supporters of Israel in the U.S. They, and the elite families who own Israel,s largest corporations and financial institutions, have also been the strongest advocates of the excessively greedy form of capitalism based on privatization, deregulation, and total freedom of trade and monetary transfers that the U.S. has forced down the throats of many nations since the 1970s. This Israeli advocacy is strengthened by the wealthy financiers of the Israel lobby in the U.S. who make it just about impossible for American supporters of justice and peace in the Middle East to induce lawmakers and bureaucrats to change Washington,s foreign policies. Anyone who stands up to the lobby risks being charged with anti-Semitism.
In recent years, and in areas of the world that so far do not include Israel, this U.S. extreme capitalism has led to increased criticism, and in some instances the ouster, as in Venezuela, of governments that accepted this extreme economic system under U.S. pressure. The question is whether malaise arising from increasing income inequalities not only globally and in the U.S. as well, but also in Israel itself might encourage Israel to start turning away from the costly and unjust occupation measures in the West Bank and Gaza in ways that would truly be beneficial to the Palestinians. Admittedly this does not seem likely at the moment, but there is little doubt that significant numbers of Israelis and supporters of Israel in the U.S. are increasingly questioning the close partnership between the leaderships of the two major U.S. political parties and the older generation of American-Jewish leaders who dominate the Israel lobby in the U.S.
The present situation in the U.S. sends me two very clear messages. The first is that the present tight partnership between Israel and the U.S. is not beneficial to the long-term interests of either nation. The second message is that the U.S. version of unregulated or minimally regulated global capitalism combined with greater powers to the executive that introduce significant elements of dictatorship is absolutely no better than the Soviet version of communism as a way of organizing and managing a society. There is only greed, and a serious lack of decency or compassion, in both systems.
BILL CHRISTISON was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as director of the CIA,s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He can be reached at email@example.com.