By Hasan Afif El-Hassan
When Israel occupies and colonizes the West Bank and Jerusalem in a coordinated Zionist and Talmudic zeal, destroys Gaza in three wars and imposes tight blockade on the Strip, that counts as “self defense” by Israel’s supporters and their media rhetoric. When frustrated Palestinians, who have been under occupation or besieged and starved, resist the Israeli aggression using their limited means, it is called “terrorism. Israel “owns Palestine” and it does so ‘by right’ according to Israel’s supporters. Given the extent of this support and the hopeless conditions of the Arab states, Israel alone can dictate how and where the Palestinians should live and die.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration was the first to countenance the possibility of accepting a “Palestinian state” when it came into office in 1996, following those of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, that had rejected it. According to Palestine-Israel Journal, nos. 3-4 (1996), Netanyahu’s Director of Communications and Policy Planning, David Bar-Illan, explained that some areas in the West Bank and Gaza would be left to Palestinians, and if they wanted to call them “a state, or if they could call them fried chicken, Israel would not object.” This reflects Israels operative attitude to the Palestinian rights to have their own state!
Israel and the US claim that the Palestinians are hampering the “peace process” by imposing preconditions like freezing settlement in the West Bank for negotiations with the Israelis. But in reality, it is Israel and the US that are the ones imposing the preconditions of allowing the settlement expansion to continue and that any negotiations should be mediated by the US rather than any internationally recognized neutral body.
The US tries to avoid the arguments over the legality of Israel’s settlements actions in the West Bank and Jerusalem and the American official mediators are described by many observers as “Israel’s lawyers” rather than honest brokers. In his 2005 article in the Washington Post, the US peace mediator Aaron David Miller wrote: “For far too long, many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations.” Dennis Ross, known as an advocate for Israel, served in Bill Clinton and Obama administrations as a negotiator in the peace process, and he is mentioned as a possible secretary of state under Hilary Clinton.
The US position on the settlement issue went through many phases. It was downgraded from illegal as judged by UN General Assembly and International Court of Justice, to “a barrier to peace” during President Reagan administration; then President Obama weakened it even more by designating it to “not helpful to peace.” The US used its veto power to kill a 2011 Security Council resolution calling the settlements “illegal.”
Today, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby is widely regarded as the second most powerful domestic lobby in the US, behind only the “gun lobby.” It has been described by many observers as not only single-handedly responsible for the US government’s support for Israel, but it is also accused of being the driving force behind US foreign policy in the Middle East. Some even suggested that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and the over-throw of Saddam Hussein had been masterminded by AIPAC.
An indictment of the pro-Israel lobby was published in 2007 by two mild-mannered American professors, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. They wrote a highly controversial book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. They blame AIPAC for the US pro-Israel “bias” and the failure to hold Israel to account for its military actions and human rights violations against the Palestinians. The authors were hailed by some as courageous intellectuals who spoke “truth” and assailed by others as “anti-Semitic villains” who tried to recycle old conspiracy theories. Rupert Cornwell wrote “At Last, a Debate on America’s Support for Israel.” But Abraham H. Foxman defended the Israel lobby in his book The Deadliest Lies: the Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control. Eliot Cohen described Mearsheimer and Walt book as “anti-Semitic publication.” What is the pro-Israel lobby?
The pro-Israel lobby is “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively work to shape US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.”It is not only composed of formal lobbying organizations, but also includes think tanks such as “the Washington Institute for Near East Policy” and “the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs” and individual American Jews, Christian evangelicals, and neo-conservative policy-makers. The pro-Israel lobby creates Action Committees (PACs) that raise money and donate it to their preferred candidates for public offices at the lowest and highest levels of government to insure support for Israel and help defeat politicians who are perceived as unsympathetic to Israel. It is engaged in outreach to religious groups, ethnic groups, trade unions, journalists, and even student unions to attract supports and influence the public opinion of the American people.
The pro-Israel lobby is a by-product of many local Zionist societies that were established by American Jews since 1898, few months after the first Zionist Congress was convened in Basel, Switzerland. The Federation of American Zionists (FAZ) was created in New York City to build support for Zionism among American Jews, and in World War I, the FAZ began lobbying the US government on behalf of the Zionist movement.
The FAZ became the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) in 1918 focusing on providing philanthropic support to the Zionist enterprise and lobbying the US policy makers to oppose British plans to limit Jewish immigration into Palestine. Many American Zionist Organizations were formed during World War II, and by the end of the war, they established a national network of activists to build political support for Jewish statehood. They played an important role in helping the State of Israel come into existence and they have succeeded in making the support of Israel a domestic political issue.
In the early 1950s two flagship organizations, “AIPAC” and the “Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations”, were formed. Their primary mission was to strengthen relationship between the US and Israel; the focus of the first was on Congress, and the task of the second was to deal with the Executive Branch of the US. Each of the fifty different member-groups in the organization has a seat in the executive board of the Conference of Presidents, but since 1980, AIPAC became an autonomous entity where its leaders answer only to its own members.
Some things have happened in the US recently, the pro-Israel lobby is not nearly as united as it was once. Concerted efforts by some liberal American Jews were taking place to create lobby groups to counter AIPAC influence. This reflects the divisions within the American Jewish community at large regarding Israel. The lobby is divided between left-wing, right-wing and centrist groups, each claiming to be “pro-Israel.” While AIPAC still has the most influence in Washington, it is by no means the only one that policymakers hear today. All groups are motivated by a fundamental concern for Israel’s welfare and a commitment to ensure Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. For one, the most publicized “J Street” was established in 2008 to challenge AIPAC.
The pro-Israel lobby became less able to speak with one voice to American policymakers. J Street and some center-left groups within the lobby have called for the US government to be more engaged in trying to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians; but right-wing groups like ZOA and Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) have opposed it; AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents stayed silent. APN, a small group that has little say in the big decisions supported the Palestinian bid for UN membership in 2012.
While the growing division within the American Jewish community might in the long run reduce its political power, these divisions have not affected the US support of Israel’s repressive policies toward the Palestinians. Supporting and defending Israel, even when it abuses its power, continues to be a bipartisan tradition in the US government which makes any debate on the merits of the subject impossible.
The presidential nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties spoke to AIPAC. In their exercise of political pandering, both see Israel as innocent victim of unceasing Palestinian violence. Mrs. Hillary Clinton speech was described by Ben Norton as “She sounds like Netanyahu.” And Mr. Donald Trump reaffirmed his “lifelong support and friendship to Israel”, and he attacked Iran, the Palestinians and the UN.
As long as the US provides military, economic and diplomatic support, Israel will continue to establish facts on the ground in the West Bank and Jerusalem and ignore UN resolutions and the International Court decisions, which the world may ultimately come to accept.
The Palestinians should not expect the US to change its bipartisan traditional policy toward Israel in the foreseeable future. They should stop counting on the US government to help them achieve their national goals, and they have to find another path to a just resolution to their century old case. But first and most important, the Palestinians must clean up their own house, a task beyond their present leadership. The illegitimacy, division, autocracy, corruption and incompetence make it even more difficult to overcome the longstanding Israeli intransigence and achieve national goals.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.