Pompeo Unveils Dangerous US Approach to Israeli Settlements

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

From 2006: Honest Brokers? US Presidents and the Middle East

I have discovered an article of mine from 20067258702972_d11e56b4ea_z still online. It is a review I wrote for the journal Global Understanding of William Quandt’s book, Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab–Israeli Conflict since 1967. Despite being eight years old, it is striking how much of this piece remains relevant. It will also serve as a preview of some more current work I am doing. I hadn’t seen the piece since its initial publication, so I’m happy to share it with you here. I hope you find it as valuable as I do.

Christie’s Gaffe: Stating the Obvious

This article originally appeared at LobeLog, one of the very best sites for foreign policy analysis, and of which I am proud to be a part. Please check it out.

Chris Christie addressing the 2014 CPAC convention. Credit: Gage Skidmore

Chris Christie addressing the 2014 CPAC convention. Credit: Gage Skidmore

The absurdity of political campaigns in the United States added another chapter recently when New Jersey governor Chris Christie made the “Republican hajj” to Las Vegas. Ostensibly, he was going to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition, but the real pilgrimage was to grovel at the feet of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in the hope of getting the kind of fat contribution that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich availed themselves of in 2012.

During his RJC speech, Christie made the grave mistake of using a clear fact that was unacceptable to the RJC and even more so to Adelson. He called the West Bank “the Occupied Territories.” Gasps were heard nationwide. Christie was forced to ramp his groveling up to supersonic levels as he moved to apologize to Adelson for this nearly unforgivable blunder.

Such is the role of truth when it comes to Israel in the bizarre world of Republican pro-Israel politics. And it’s not just confined to the GOP. The Democrats have also dodged this very simple fact, and it has created a political climate where the US media also rarely refers to the Occupied Territories as “occupied territories.” The politically correct term for moderates is “disputed territories.” On the right, it’s the biblical designation, “Judea and Samaria.” Nowhere else but in the United States, not even in Israel, is it this controversial to call the West Bank “occupied territory.” Continue reading

US on Israeli Settlements: A Policy Without A Policy

This article originally appeared at LobeLog. There is an indispensable wealth of material there on recent events in Israel/Palestine, Iran, Egypt and others. I urge you to check it out.

Some days, it must be really difficult to be the State Department’s spokesperson. It doesn’t seem like a bad job to have at all, but on certain questions it’s impossible to not look like an idiot. A lot of those questions are connected to de facto policies which differ from de jure ones.

Look up the hill from the West Bank town of Tuwani and you see the Israeli settlement, Maon

Look up the hill from the West Bank town of Tuwani and you see the Israeli settlement, Maon

And there is no better example of that than US policy on Israeli settlements.

Back in the early years after the 1967 war, the United States made it clear that the settlements were illegal according to international law. As recently as 1978, the State Department legal adviser confirmed that all Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line are illegal, and through the Carter administration, this was explicit US policy. That policy has never been explicitly revoked, but beginning with the Reagan administration, de facto policy has been ambiguous. Reagan began the trend when he stated that while the settlements were ill-advised, provocative and that further settlement was not necessary for Israel’s security “I disagreed when, the previous Administration refereed to them as illegal, they’re not illegal.  Not under the U.N. resolution that leaves the West Bank open to all people—Arab and Israeli alike, Christian alike.”

The problematic nature of Reagan’s statement — implying that “Arab” equals “Muslim” and “Israeli” equals “Jew”, and more importantly, citing the “U.N. Resolution”, which is not the basis for the illegality of the settlements (the Fourth Geneva Convention is) — notwithstanding, this was the beginning of the US’ refusal to label settlements illegal, terming them instead, at most, “illegitimate.” Continue reading

Exporting American Democracy

There’s a lot of talk out there about the death of the Sykes-Picot agreement in the Mideast. There may be a lot of truth in that, but in any case, it does not mean the US and the West in general has no responsibility to help fix the mess they’ve made of the region. I expound this week in Souciant.

Hawking in Palestine

Stephen Hawking unleashed a storm this week by pulling out of an Israeli conference. I explore the response to the boycott movement more broadly at Souciant this week.