People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 17

April 25, 2010

 US-Israel Relations: Biting The Hand That Feeds

 

Yohannan Chemarapally

 

THE announcement by the Israeli government in late March that it would go ahead with settlement building in the Palestinian dominated parts of Jerusalem was a direct snub to its main patron, the USA. The announcement had come when the US Vice President, Joseph Biden, was on a visit to the country. The Palestinian Authority (PA), already under criticism from other Palestinian groups for its conciliatory attitude, had no other option but to announce that it would not participate even in indirect talks involving Israel. President Obama’s special envoy to the region, George Mitchell had worked overtime to convene the proximity talks between Israel and the PA.

An Israeli legislator, Eitan Cabel of the Labour Party, which is part of the coalition government told the media in Israel that Netanyahu “decided to spit into Obama’s eye, this time from up close”. According to Israeli newspapers, Biden angrily told the Israeli prime minister that his action “undermines the security of our troops fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace”.  President Obama, according to reports, has given Netanyahu a deadline to roll back his plans for the new settlements in Jerusalem and give a written undertaking that he will not unilaterally expand settlements in future. The PA is now saying that it will only return to the negotiating table after a complete Israeli settlement freeze in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.

 

SETTLERS GOBBLE UP

JERUSALEM

East Jerusalem is the designated capital of the Palestinian State. Barring brief interludes, since AD 638, Jerusalem has been under the control of various Muslim dynasties, having their roots in Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The Jewish influx only started in the late 19th century. Jews of course had a religious and cultural connection with Jerusalem because of the “Temple on the Mount”, known as al-Haram-al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) to the Muslims. The Al Aqsa mosque was built adjacent to this. It is the third holiest site for Muslims after Mecca and Medina. As the Israeli peace activist and former Minister, Uri Avnery noted----“there will be no peace without an independent Palestinian state, no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem”.

East Jerusalem was captured by Israel during the 1967 war with the Arab states. 180,000 Jewish settlers have already moved into Jerusalem since then in addition to the 300,000 living in equally illegal West Bank settlements. 47 per cent of the West Bank has already been gobbled up by the settlers.  The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council in late March that “all settlement activity is illegal, but inserting settlers into Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem is particularly troubling”.

The Arab League summit held in Tripoli in the last week of March has been hailed as the “Jerusalem conference”. A $500 million fund has been earmarked for the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to counter the Israeli settlement expansion. The Palestinians say that the amount is a modest one compared to the $17.4 billion that Israel has spent on its illegal expansion program in East Jerusalem. Arab states, despite their differences on other important issues, have adopted a united stance on Jerusalem. The Arab League has fully supported the PA’s decision to stop talking till all settlement activity is stopped.

Vice President Biden and the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, described the decision to construct more settlements in Jerusalem as “insulting”. More galling to them was the timing of the announcement, coming as it did when the second most powerful US official was visiting the country. The Israeli announcement had come after Biden had reiterated “absolute, total and unvarnished” support for its closest ally in the region.  Official US anger was in full display when the Israeli prime minister was in Washington. Not even photographers were invited to cover the Obama-Netanyahu meeting. An Israeli newspaper wrote that Netanyahu received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”. There was no official banquet or Rose Garden ceremony that is usually accorded to friendly visiting heads of state.   

There is a view that the current face-off is the most serious one between the two countries since the Suez Crisis of 1956. But many others believe that the tough stance being adopted by the Obama administration is mere posturing, mainly for convincing a sceptical Arab world, that the US is an honest mediator in their conflict with Israel. They fear that the Obama administration, like previous ones, would revert to type sooner than later, and blindly support the illegal acts of the Zionist state. It is to be noted that the Obama administration has unconditionally re-authorised the loan guarantee program and the massive economic aid for Israel, estimated to be more than $7 million per day.

 

US’ “SUPER HERCULES”

PLANES FOR ISRAEL

In the last week of March, a $210 million arms deal was inked between the two countries. The US will be gifting three “Super Hercules” planes as the cost will come under the annual military aid budget for Israel. A separate $3 billion deal has been signed for F-35 warplanes for Israel. Since 1996, the US has been giving $3 billion a year to the tiny state making its army the fifth most powerful in the world. Before George W Bush demitted office, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two countries whereby the US committed an assistance package of $30 billion to Israel over the next ten years. The US tax payer’s money is being doled out to a state which today is on the verge of joining the OECD, the club of rich countries. Israel’s GDP is much larger than that of Egypt though its population is only one-tenth of the most populous Arab country.

A week after the “Jerusalem” announcement, the US Secretary of State, chose to share a platform with the Israeli prime minster at a meeting organised by AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and reiterated that relations between the two countries “remain rock solid”. She did however say that the expanding Israeli settlements “undermine mutual trust”.   Netanyahu, going by his actions and words in Washington, seems to have taken the Obama administration for granted. In his speech to AIPAC, he went to the extent of stating that “Jerusalem is not a settlement, it is our capital”. He gloated that Israel would continue to receive American support “from one president to the next, from one Congress to the next”. His optimism was not very much off the mark. The US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, while welcoming the visiting Israeli prime minister, said that “in Congress, we speak with one voice on Israel”.  

American officials have been saying for some time that the actions of the Israeli government, the most right wing one in office elected so far, have been detrimental to its interests in the region. The Obama administration has given the utmost priority to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular and West Asia in general. Washington seems to have belatedly acknowledged that its unblinking support for Israel’s brutal colonisation policies has completely alienated Arab and Muslim public opinion, making the going tough for the pro-American regimes in the region.

Gen David H Petraeus, the head of the US military’s Central Command, recently told the US Senate Arms Committee that the Palestine issue “foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of US favouritism towards Israel”. The General, whose views are said to be highly valued by President Obama, is obviously suggesting that Israel’s policies are harming American interests and putting American soldiers in harms way, particularly in Iraq. He told the senators that the inability to reach a comprehensive peace settlement in West Asia “presented distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests”.

Israel is facing embarrassment on other fronts too. The parents of Rachel Corrie, the young American crushed to death by a military bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, are suing the government in an Israeli Court. The international media is giving the hearings good coverage. The parents of another victim, Tristan Anderson, are also suing the government. Their son was shot by the Israeli army while attending a protest meeting in Ramallah in 2009 against the separation wall Israel is constructing on the West Bank. Anderson is lying “brain dead” in an Israeli hospital. Israel has been using lethal and excessive force on a regular basis against unarmed civilians.