Hasan El-Hasan: Palestine in US Presidential Elections

By Dr. Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

It is the election ritual season in the US. Presidential aspirants are campaigning, debating issues and attacking each other. Candidates from both major parties seem to have profound disagreements among themselves on almost every major issue facing the US except in their support of Israel. If there is any difference it is how far they can go to support and protect the Jewish state even when its survival is not threatened. Announced reasons for such unqualified and uncompromised support include the importance of Israel as a strategic partner in the war against terror or sharing the same values, but the real reason is the presidential candidates “electability”. Calling for even-handed approach in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict or expressing sympathy with the Palestinians can ruin the prospects of the candidate.

In the 2004 presidential campaign, Howard Dean, a strong supporter of Israel, did not help himself politically when he promised to take more “even-handed role” in dealing with the conflict should he become a president. One of his rivals called such reasonable idea “irresponsible” approach that would lead to “selling Israel down the river”. And majority of Dean’s fellow Democrat members of Congress signed a letter criticizing his statement. Dean failed to win the Democratic nomination for many reasons including his “even-handed role” suggestion.

Senator Barak Obama was attacked by his political opponents for expressing some sympathy for the Palestinians’ “suffering”. He was accused of being anti-Israel even when he had not mentioned Israel in the statement that has been attributed to him. Obama had to do something to correct his mistake and stay in the race. He explained the suffering of the Palestinians he had talked about was at the hands of their own leaders not Israel. He praised Israel for what it stands for and promised not to change the US-Israeli close relationship if he was elected as a president. Perhaps forgiveness has been granted!

Ron Paul is a 10-term US congressman from Texas and has been described as a man “synonymous with integrity”. He never voted for raising taxes, he even refuses to accept the congressional pension he is entitled to have and he never used his office to benefit himself. Ron Paul is running for the nomination of the GOP Party but despite his integrity and devotion to his country, he will never become president. There are many Americans who admire Ron Paul, contribute money, campaign and vote for him because of what he stands for, but unfortunately they are a small minority that hardly registers in the polls. High among the reasons that disqualify Ron Paul to be nominated is his opposition to foreign aid to Israel. He was the only Republican candidate to address the September Arab American gathering in Michigan where he promised even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a proposition that does not endear him to the supporters of Israel.

None of the other Republican candidates responded to the Arab Americans invitation to speak or send representatives. They had already signaled where they stand on the major foreign policy issues that concern Arab Americans and these are not what the conferees in Michigan want to hear. Rudy Giuliani is the Republican national front runner. His main platform in foreign policy suggests no interest in pursuing justice for the Palestinians.

In a speech to a London based Atlantic Bridge conference, Giuliani called among other things for expanding NATO to include Israel. Even some Republican leaders perceive him too dangerous to be trusted with the presidency of the US. Pat Buchanan, a conservative Republican commentator and a one time presidential candidate, wrote an article criticizing his foreign policy titled “Is a Vote for Rudy a Vote for War?” On the Palestinian issue, Buchanan asked whether Giuliani would send “American boys to fight Hizbullah and Hamas” if Israel joined NATO. Rudy was asked if he would be even-handed in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. His answer was no, "America shouldn’t be even-handed in dealing with … an elected democracy [Israel] … and a group of terrorists [the Palestinians]."

To know Giuliani better we should examine where his advisors and supporters stand on the issues. Ken Silverstein, the editor of Harper’s magazine referred to Giuliani’s campaign advisory team as "AIPAC’s Dream Team". For those who are not familiar with AIPAC, it is the acronym for the powerful America Israeli Political Action Committee that promotes and defends the right wing interests of Israel in the US. It has big influence on American policy makers including the high office occupants and candidates. According to Wall Street Journal, “no less than 51 pro-Israel PAC’s are operated by AIPAC officials or people who hold seats on AIPAC’s two major policymaking bodies”. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated on August 5, 2006 “Thank God we have AIPAC, the greatest supporter and friend we have in the whole world”.

One of Rudy’s advisors is Daniel Pipes, "who has called for profiling Muslims at airports and scrutinizing American Muslims in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps”. Should Rudy win the Republican nomination and the general elections, mapping Muslim communities profiling may become part of the US counterterrorism policy.

Rudy’s candidacy was endorsed by the television Evangelist Pat Robertson who has been preaching that Israel should be supported in its war against the Arab Palestinians at all cost. The birth of Israel according to Robertson was the first part of a long series of God’s plan to be followed by violent events that would lead to the defeat of the evil forces and the return of Jesus. He identifies Arabs and Muslims among the forces of evil. Robertson attributes the former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon debilitating stroke that left him in comma, as a punishment from God for withdrawing the Israeli army and settlers from Gaza Strip.

The Democratic contenders are as strong supporters of Israel as the Republican candidates, but they display less hostility toward the Palestinians than the Republican front runners. Of the Democratic candidates, only Congressman Denis Kucinich, a critic of US Middle East policy, and Governor Bill Richardson made appearances in the Arab American gathering. Their leading candidates sent video presentations and assistants to respond to questions on their behalf.

Hillary Clinton, the first lady, was perceived to have sympathy with the Palestinians in 1999 when she visited the West Bank. But she became an ardent defender of Israel’s policies once she started running for office. In 2006, Hillary and Bill Clinton were among the main participants in the pro-Israel Saban Center annual conference. The center was established in 2002 by the ardent Zionist Los Angeles mogul media investor, Haim Saban who said he was “a one-issue guy, and my [his] issue is Israel”. Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate, supported Israel’s destructive 2006 war against Lebanon. She suggested in a speech to a local chapter of AIPAC last February that Israel had been threatened by the Palestinians. She said: “in this moment of great difficulty for Israel ,..What is vital is that we stand by our friends and our ally and we stand by our values”.

For six years, President Bush has paid only lip service to the two-state solution. The Annapolis meeting that Bush is counting on has no agenda, no clear American message and its aims are shrinking. Its focus will be on the first stage of the defunct 2002 so-called “Road Map”. Yossi Alpher writes “no amount of impassioned statements of commitment to the summit’s [Annapolis meeting] success on the part of Olmert, Abbas and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can change the sorry political reality shared by all three”. All signs suggest that the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be settled under Bush presidency and the issue will be there for the next US administration to solve or ignore.

Should Senator Clinton win the nomination and the general elections, she has the potential of building on the effort of her husband policy that failed to achieve peace. But Hillary has been too close to the supporters of the right wing Israeli policies. According to the Jewish daily “Forward”, by January 2007 Clinton was “expected to snare the lion’s share of the Jewish political donations”. The national network of Jews supporting Hillary Clinton has been hosting events to raise money for her presidential campaign.

The US has enormous powers and experience to deal with both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli issue. It has the key to solve the conflict, but it never exercised its leverage to make any substantive progress toward achieving just peace. The US never acted as a neutral party mediating between two parties that cannot reach a middle ground on their own. President Bush sided publicly with the Israelis on the main contested issues, the refugees and the settlements. His administration lined up international support for Israeli policy of isolating and starving the Palestinians and violating their human rights.

The Palestinians have the misfortune of competing with an adversary who has great influence on the centers of power in the US. While acting as a mediator, the US treated the Palestinians as part of the problem rather than victims seeking overdue Justice. There is an Arab proverb that says “if the judge is your opponent, to whom do you complain!”. The Palestinians are defeated and oppressed by their enemies, abandoned by their friends and treated unfairly by the US mediators. They have nowhere to go but to Almighty as their last resort.

-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan,Ph.D, is a political analyst and an author. He worked for 30-years in Avionics Engineering.

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