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
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a very disappointing day on Tuesday. Struggling in the polls a week before the rerun of April’s Israeli national
elections, the embattled prime minister was desperate for something to swing a chunk of voters in his direction, or at least in the direction of some of the right wing parties supporting him.
To that end, Netanyahu scheduled a press conference to announce some big development, and as the hour of his appearance neared, the word was that it was going to be that the Trump administration had agreed to Netanyahu’s plan to annex major pieces of the West Bank. Netanyahu appeared and quickly said that if he won the election, he would immediately annex the Jordan Valley, which constitutes around 30% of the West Bank (excluding Jerusalem) and about 60% of Area C, the part of the West Bank that was left under full Israeli control in the Oslo Accords (see adjacent map). He further implied that more annexation would follow, as a result of negotiations with the United States (not the Palestinians, of course) that would be held in the framework of Donald Trump’s fabled “Deal of the Century.” Read more at LobeLog
A poll conducted in September and October shows a growing acceptance by the American public of a single, democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians. This position is considered anathema in much of the United States and certainly on Capitol Hill.
Yet according to the University of Maryland’s latest critical issues poll, 35 percent of Americans support a single, democratic state with equal rights for all as compared to 36 percent who still support the two-state solution. This parallels a low point in both Israeli and Palestinian support for two states. A joint Palestinian-Israeli poll released in August showed that only 43 percent of each side still supported the two-state program.
These results clearly demonstrate that the idea of a single, democratic state in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza is within the mainstream of American opinion. Read more at LobeLog
The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, is widely seen as Israel’s lone mainstream left-of-center daily. It has a low circulation inside Israel, but its English edition is read much more widely by Israel observers outside of the Middle East. It has even been called “The New York Times of Israel.”
That’s why it’s important to draw attention when it stumbles.
In a story published on Tuesday, Haaretz reported on the Israeli military’s claim that 15-year-old Mohammed Tamimi, a Palestinian youth whose cousin, Ahed has recently become a cause celebre for opponents of Israel’s occupation around the world, got his devastating skull injuries not from Israeli fire but from falling off his bike. Read more at LobeLog
It is very dangerous for policy to be based on alternative facts, and even alternative realities. Whether the policymakers believe the alternative realities or merely weave a fabric of falsehoods to
build political support for their decisions, the danger is just as great.
In Washington this has been the prevailing condition for a long time. The Trump administration’s decision to leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is one of the most absurd examples. Read more at LobeLog
Given the frequently bombastic rhetoric that has come from the new President of the United States in his first two weeks in office, it is not surprising that many observers are reading the statement from the White House about Israeli settlements as being much sterner than it is. Expectations (and fears) have been raised in some quarters that President Donald Trump would be even more supportive of settlements than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the statement has been read by many in that context. Read more at Facts On the Ground
On Sunday the Israeli cabinet unanimously passed a bill that would legalize settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank that were built on privately owned
Banner reads “Every house that is demolished is a victory for Hamas.” This refers only to Jewish-owned houses in settlements.
Palestinian land. If passed by the Knesset, the law could potentially be used to raise the status of many outposts all over the West Bank to those of settlements that are legal under Israeli law. That would be a tremendous setback to the already dimming prospects of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, and to the two-state solution. Read more at FMEP’s blog, Facts on the Ground