December 23, 2016
A fantasy persists of a Israeli-Palestine peace agreement leading to an independent Palestine state in the land Israel has occupied since the 1967 Mideast War. It must be clear by now to anyone paying attention that Israel has no intention of engaging in meaningful peace negotiations that would result in an independent Palestinian state. Rather, Israel is slowly squeezing the Palestinians where the ultimate goal is to take over the entire country by erecting a wall or fence, which cuts deep into Palestinian territory, joining large Jewish settlement blocks to Israel, further confining the Palestinians to isolated enclaves.
Israel continues to establish new settlements (called outposts), demolishing homes and uprooting plantations in the process. These settlements are a de facto piecemeal annexation of the West Bank. In the meantime, Palestine has been pushed to the periphery, clinging to economic life. Foreign policy leaders for decades have labeled Israeli settlements as an obstacle for peace.
Israel has no internationally recognized borders. Before Israel was created, the Jewish communities owned no more than 6% of historic Palestine and represented about 30% of the population. In 1947, the United Nations partitioned the land, allotting the Jews 55% of Palestine.
In the 1948 “war of independence,” Israel ended up with 78% of the area of Palestine. This war displaced 750,000 Palestinians and over 450 Arab villages were erased. In the 1967 war, Israel took control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since then, Israel systematically takes more and more Palestinian land to accommodate Israel’s settlement project to establish “facts on the ground.” Over half a million Israeli settlers now live in the occupied Wast Bank. It doesn’t seem to matter to Israel or the U.S. for that matter, that under international law, it is illegal for Israel to move settlers into the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel is about to annex 60% of the West Bank.
Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu — the current premier of Israel — if nothing else is a political survivor. If he lasts as premier till September 23, 2018, he will beat out David Ben-Gurion as the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history. His survival does not depend on reestablishing peace negotiations with the Palestinians. His political dexterity was evident when in 1996 he won election by moving to the center and then winning in 2015 by moving to the right. On the eve of the last election, Bibi stated that he would not allow a Palestinian state. This shored up his right flank. On a trip to Washington, D.C. in November, he stated that he remained committed to a vision of two states for two people. With the war in Syria, the Arab Spring, confronting ISIS, and the Iran nuclear deal, has allowed Netanyahu to avoid dealing with Palestine.
There are a number of pro-Israel lobbies seeking to influence U.S. policy. The most successful is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Others include JStreet, and the Anti-Defamation League. AIPAC is a self-described pro-Israel lobby. AIPAC was established in the 1950s and now claims 55,000 members. Most candidates for political office feel obligated to appear before AIPAC to woo wealthy pro-Israel campaign donors. All presidential candidates meet with Israel’s advocates. For example, in March 2016, Trump gave a speech to AIPAC’s annual policy conference. AIPAC cultivates single-issue partisans. American Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic, but as Jewish groups moved to the right along with Israel in the 1980s, AIPAC increasingly leaned toward the Republican Party, which from the time of Ronald Reagan is seen as more staunchly pro-Israel than were the Democrats. AIPAC has begun to work with the evangelicals who form the Republican base and tend to be pro-Israel. AIPAC’s influence on Congress is immeasurable. Yet, Congress did approve the Iran nuclear deal in spite of Israel’s and AIPAC’s opposition.
Over the years, there have been numerous efforts in Congress — supported by AIPAC — to pass legislation giving legitimacy and recognition to Israeli settlements by, in effect, making it U.S. policy to treat them as part of Israel.
Total U.S. aid to Israel is approximately one-third of the American foreign-aid budget, even though Israel comprises just .001% of the world’s population and already has one of the world’s higher per capita incomes. Israel’s GNP is higher than the combined GNP of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. With a per capita income of about $14,000, Israel ranks as the sixteenth wealthiest country in the world.
Why then, is the U.S. so generous with its aid to Israel? According to Stephen Zunes, Israel is “a surrogate for American interests in this vital strategic region.” “Israel has helped defeat radical nationalist movements” and has been a “testing ground for U.S. made weaponry.” Moreover, the intelligence agencies of both countries have “collaborated,” and “Israel has funneled U.S. arms to third countries that the U.S. [could] not send arms to directly,…Iike South Africa, the Contras, Guatemala under the military junta, [and] Iran.”
Does Israel really need so much military aid from the U.S.? Although there is open hostility between Israel and many of the other Arab states, the latter do not pose a direct threat to Israel at this time. Even though an Arab alliance has a quantitative advantage, Israel can rely on its technological and military dominance. Israel has a nuclear monopoly in the region now that Iran’s possible nuclear ambitions have been neutralized by the Iran nuclear deal. It has a military superiority vis-a-vis any possible coalition of Arab forces. It has the fourth largest air force in the world after the U.S., Russia, and China. It is the only state in the region with its own defense industry. And it has the most modern military in the region with about 160,000 personnel.
In order for a state to gain membership in the General Assembly, its application must have the support of two-thirds of member states with a prior recommendation for admission from the Security Council. This requires the absence of a veto from any of the Security Council’s five permanent members. At the prospect of a veto from the U.S., Palestinian leaders opted instead for a more limited upgrade to “non-member state” status, which requires only a simple majority in the General Assembly but provides the Palestinians with some of the recognition they desire. In 2012, the General Assembly accorded Palestine non-Member Observer State status in the United Nations, which amounts to a de facto, or implicit, recognition of statehood. The U.S. and Israel were two of the eight votes against. U.S. state department spokesman Mark Toner called it a “counterproductive” attempt to pursue statehood claims outside of a negotiated settlement.” Yet, the U.S. threat of a veto in the General Assembly, absent a negotiated settlement with Israel, there will be no UN statehood for Palestine.
What about the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations under a Trump administration. Given Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric during the election and his threat to establish a Muslim registry, they don’ t look good. Jason Greenblatt, the Trump team’s point person on Israel told Israeli Army Radio, “It is certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activities should be condemned and that it is not an obstacle for peace.”
David Friedman, Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, opposes a two-state solution, supports settlements, and advocates annexation of the West Bank. He certainly is not an ambassador that a U.S. administration would send if it had any plans whatsoever to advance the peace process. Friedman, by the way, is the bankruptcy lawyer that helped Trump with the bankruptcy of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, where employees lost there jobs and contractors went unpaid.
A new poll shows that a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis support a two-state solution. However, when the pollsters presented respondents with a hypothetical peace agreement based on previous negotiations, only 39% of Palestinians and 46% of Israelis supported it. The hypothetical deal included mutual recognition, a demilitarized Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with land swaps, the establishment of a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem and an Israeli capital in West Jerusalem, and the return of 100,000 refugees to Israel based on family reunification.
The obstacles have grown so much that a two-state solution has become shaky at best. When there is power imbalance and diplomacy is not working, we can expect an increase in violence.