“The announcement of the settlements on the very day that the vice president was there was insulting. It was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone; the U.S., our vice president, who had gone to reassert America’s strong support for Israeli security, and I regret deeply that that occurred and made that view known.”
– Sec. Hillary Clinton in an interview with CNN, 12 March 2010
As the diplomatic row over Israel’s smack down of Vice President Joe Biden unfolds, governmental officials in both the United States and Israel continue to question the timing of Interior Minister’s Eli Yishai’s announcement of plans to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substantive matter—further expropriation of Palestinian land—is clearly of secondary importance.
Veteran Middle East observers were little surprised by the affront. Indeed, they have long regarded Israel as one of the most ungrateful of U.S. “allies” dating back to their 1967 attack on the USS Liberty, killing 34 American crewmen.
Despite pouring billions of dollars into it annually (on top of the billions more given as loan guarantees), dealing with Israel’s brazen insolence has posed quite the challenge. With AIPAC’s wrath ever-looming, most responses to such behavior have been couched in timid, tepid and restrained language.
Common terms employed to criticize Israeli intransigence and aggression include “unfortunate,” “regrettable” and “disappointing.” After the Biden snub though, Sec. of State Clinton introduced a new one: “insulting.”
Sixty-two years after the creation of Israel; after countless United Nations resolutions vetoed on its behalf; after weapons provided solely for defensive purposes used indiscriminately against innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians; after innumerable reflexive House and Senate resolutions passed affirming support for its war crimes and policies of collective punishment; after pretending its espionage was not really espionage; the U.S. finally felt “insulted.”
Although Clinton’s description was based strictly on the timing of the East Jerusalem expansion announcement, it was still the wrong “I” word to use.
The correct characterization entails use of one that all U.S. presidential administrations have studiously avoided.
That word, of course, is “illegal.”
Every settler in every settlement in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights is illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
Although the U.S. accepts these territories as occupied, they have utterly failed to describe Israel’s unabated settlement activity as anything other than “unhelpful.”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in a March 13 op-ed column titled “Driving Drunk in Jerusalem,” feigned indignation at Biden’s treatment when he wrote that he [Biden] should have “… snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: ‘Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences?’”
He continues, “… Israel needs a wake-up call. Continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, and even housing in disputed East Jerusalem is sheer madness.”
Disputed East Jerusalem?
By all international standards—the U.N. Charter, the Fourth Geneva Convention, the rulings of the International Court of Justice—East Jerusalem has been indisputably recognized as occupied territory since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Furthermore, U.N. Resolution 252 “considers that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status.” It also reaffirms “… that acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible.”
Like Friedman, the mainstream U.S. media eschews the correct designation of East Jerusalem, preferring to mindlessly label it “predominantly Arab” instead. Even Biden, two days after Israel had thoroughly demeaned him and the offices of the vice president and president, could only refer to the matter as “a very touchy subject.”
Until U.S. administrations can adopt the proper language in relation to occupied East Jerusalem, let alone forthrightly condemn illegal settlement activity, Israel’s humiliation of Biden should be considered one richly deserved.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri [at] yahoo [dot] com.