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
Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander ignited a controversy by stating her support for Palestinian rights. In her piece, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” Alexander used the act of confronting her own silence on this issue to encourage others to break theirs. She made the case that “criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli government is not, in itself, anti-Semitic,” while also affirming that
Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent in 2017, and many of us are still mourning what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history… We must be mindful in this climate that, while criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, it can slide there.
That statement was not nearly enough for the “pro-Israel” community in the United States. The Israeli-American former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called Alexander’s column a “strategic threat.” The American Jewish Committee had the audacity to accuse Alexander—a prominent African-American civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—of “appropriating” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. Numerous other voices, conservative and liberal, defended Israel from Alexander’s “attacks.”
Gershon Baskin is the founder of IPCRI – Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, and served as its co-director until January 2012. He is a long-time veteran of both Israeli peace NGOs and second track diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians, and has many key contacts on both sides. This gives him a particularly well-informed grasp of current events.
In July 2006, after Gilad Schalit’s abduction in Gaza he began unofficially, without governmental authorization or support, to open a back channel with Hamas. Baskin was involved in the ultimately successful efforts leading up to Shalit’s release for more than five years
Baskin holds a Ph.D. in International relations from the University of Greenwich.
All of this makes his insight into how to resolve issues particularly valuable. As this week of escalated violence in Israel and the West Bank came to a close, Baskin posted some of his thoughts to his Facebook page. The Foundation for Middle East Peace reprints them here with his permission.
In another piece I’ll be publishing later today, I take some time to discuss how the Israeli daily Ha’aretz has been marginalized in
Israel and no longer represents a “vibrant debate” as it once did. Now I must also take a moment to reflect on what is only the latest example of how their journalistic standards have fallen as well.
Ha’aretz today reports, uncritically, on the widespread story about leading Hamas activist Salach al-Aruri purportedly claiming that Hamas was, in fact, behind the kidnapping and murder of the three young Israelis earlier this year. That incident, you will recall, was the catalyst for a massive Israeli crackdown in the West Bank and eventually led to the horrors in Gaza these past weeks, which are ongoing. The problem is that this is a non-story, wherein al-Aruri said nothing we didn’t already know. Nothing he said should change anything about how we perceive this crime.
There has always been debate over whether the kidnappings were planned by Hamas or done by a rogue unit. The debate hasn’t really been a sensible one; speak to people with knowledge of the politics in Palestine and, in particular, the various armed factions as well as different familial groupings within the political system and resistance movements and you will realize quickly which side of the debate is correct. But such is the state of our media that such people are rarely spoken to, so we live in ignorance. Continue reading →
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte receives Israeli President Shimon Peres on September 29, 2013
In recent weeks, Israel and especially advocates for its right-wing in the United States have been scrambling to lash back at a boycott resolution passed by the American Studies Association (ASA). This was an initiative of an academic group in the United States directed at all of Israel in support of the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. But all of this activity against the ASA has overlooked a much more important act of economic pressure against Israel — this one from Europe.
The ASA boycott has divided peace activists, some of whom support economic actions against settlements and the occupation but not against Israel as a whole. Others have been reluctant to support the ASA action because they support certain actions against Israel but not an academic boycott. While there has been a good deal of support for the ASA action from the broader BDS movement, these questions have left the ASA action more open to attack from those who oppose any sort of action that might compel Israel to change its policies. Continue reading →