In the latest reversal of long-standing United States policy in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Washington no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.”
Pompeo framed the decision as a “reversal” of Obama administration policy. He said, “[Former] Secretary [of State John] Kerry changed decades of this careful bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements,” referring to a December 2016 resolution in the United Nations Security Council that termed the settlements illegal, which President Barack Obama permitted to pass by abstaining from the vote.
But in fact, Obama had been more tolerant of Israeli settlement than his predecessors. While he talked more often about their being an obstacle to peace, that abstention was the only time in his eight years in office that Obama had allowed a U.N. resolution critical of Israel to pass. By contrast, George W. Bush permitted six UNSC resolutions to which Israel objected to pass. Ronald Reagan permitted twenty.
Obama even vetoed a UNSC resolution whose text was almost verbatim U.S. policy, causing himself quite a bit of embarrassment in the international arena. On another occasion, Israel announced a new and highly controversial settlement in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was in the country. The administration’s reaction was to do a reading of standard talking points and move on.
Distorting Obama’s record affects more than the president’s legacy. It increases the distortion of politics around Israel and its occupation. Obama emphasized actual Israeli security needs, which, in his view, included finding an agreement with the Palestinians, and lowering the temperature between Israel (and Saudi Arabia) and Iran. Trump has focused on crowd-pleasing, grandiose gestures like moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem a move that eliminated any possibility of diplomacy with the Palestinians; or leaving the Iran nuclear deal, which aggravated tensions with Iran, thereby making the environment considerably less secure for Israel. Much like the neoconservative strategies of the early part of the century, casting those who pursue diplomacy as a threat to security allows hawks to get away with making the region less secure for everyone. Read more at LobeLog
For many years, the Israeli government has waged what we might call a campaign of normalization regarding its military occupation of the West Bank. Israel has spared no effort to erase the demarcation between its internationally recognized boundaries—the territory Israel controlled prior to the 1967 war when it captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights—and the areas under military occupation.
The effort has never gotten the attention it deserves, and that problem has only gotten worse in recent years as the two-state solution has retreated further and further into the realm of fantasy. Still, its importance remains, whatever ultimate solution one supports. This week, a ruling by the European Court of Justice raised the issue again, and in doing so, clarified the importance of the issue.
The Court ruled that products made in Israeli settlements needed to be labeled as such, so that European consumers could make an informed choice as to whether they wanted to buy them. This is a long-standing regulation in Europe, one which the EU started to enforce in 2015, and which Israel has been fighting all along. The reactions to the latest ruling are typical. Read more at LobeLog
Last week, I explained some of the mechanics of U.S. aid to Israel and why a president would find it difficult to use aid as leverage against Israel. I also explained why the traditional theoretical targets of leveraging aid—settlements and a two-state solution—were no longer relevant and their futility meant supporters of the Israeli right would be delighted to see those targets in the center of a fierce debate over U.S. aid.
Those ideas raised other questions. While my original focus was U.S. military aid to Israel, what about loan guarantees? Might that be a more fruitful path to pursue? Does a president’s relative inability to use military aid as leverage mean it is a dead issue, or might there be other avenues? Is it pointless to even discuss U.S. military aid to Israel? These are some of the questions raised in response to my article, and they lead to some important answers.
Withholding loan guarantees has worked in the past. Couldn’t it work again? Read more at LobeLog
Not so long ago, a presidential candidate showing any hint that she would consider reducing aid to Israel was considered political suicide. Those days are over. This week, both Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg said they would consider using aid to Israel as leverage to get Israel to stop building settlements. The response has been almost total silence from Israel’s supporters in the United States.
The lack of response is somewhat surprising. While polls indicate that Americans support the idea that Israel’s disregard for Palestinian rights should impact the aid it gets from the United States, the numbers don’t indicate a sea change in public opinion. Many polls over the years reflected the willingness of the American public to use aid to press Israel to make concessions it did not want to make.
I suspect the reason there has been so little reaction to Warren’s and Buttigieg’s statements is indifference. It isn’t that pro-Israel groups which see any gains for Palestinian rights as a dangerous loss for Israel don’t care if the U.S. cuts aid to Israel. Rather, they see no danger of it happening any time soon, regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election. In many ways, seeing the United States continuing to quibble over settlement expansion and grasping on to an increasingly ephemeral two-state solution serves right-wing Israeli interests very well. Read more at LobeLog
With impeachment filling the air and the 2020 election season starting to rev up, it’s a natural time to start thinking of a post-Donald Trump world. While defeating Trump is no sure thing despite his many scandals, it’s also easy to fall into the “anything is better than Trump” trap. It’s just as imperative that we not merely return to the status quo ante: a world of misguided, albeit somewhat more organized and systemic, policy that set the stage for some of the most disastrous Trump policies.
Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria and unleash a Turkish invasion is the most recent example of the need to thoroughly overhaul our foreign policy. One aspect that needs attention is the absence of international law in our thinking. In his Netzero Newsletter, journalist Robert Wright points out that the Turks’ flagrant violation of international law, and the Trump administration’s green light for it, has hardly been mentioned among the many criticisms Trump is enduring for his foolish decision. Read more at LobeLog
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin
The second Israeli national election of 2019 has led to a lot of confusion. It has not resolved the question of who will fill the prime minister’s office on a permanent basis, nor has it cleared up the political logjam the country has been dealing with all year. Contrary to what many believe, the decision by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to give incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the first try at forming a governing majority coalition is not at all the same thing as Netanyahu having successfully held on to the job.
Here are a few key points to help untangle this mess. Read more at LobeLog
A happy, sweet new year to all, Jewish or not.
May 5780 be filled with love, peace, justice, and fellowship.
May 5780 see an end to oppressive rule, be it dictatorship or cloaked in the guise of democracy.
May 5780 see the power of the many rise and the power of the few diminish.