The T-shirts for sale in the souk have a picture of an F-16 on them
and say: "Don't worry America, Israel is behind you." It is not so
much a statement of support, but a statement of fact. The U.S. has
become the blind kingmaker of the Middle East, heavily dependant on
the advice of their paid friend Israel. Israel is behind the scenes
advising the United States at every level of US Middle East policy;
from helping to shape a regional vision, through providing
intelligence, to tactical military training.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has successfully managed to
portray the Israeli occupation of Palestine as part of the war on
terrorism and this has coincided with a new more aggressive U.S.
foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. Taking advantage
of these two factors, Sharon has justified the re-invasion of the
West Bank and Gaza Strip, the closures and curfews, the house
demolitions, land confiscations, massively accelerated settlement
construction and annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem all as
part of the war on terrorism. All of this activity has proceeded
apace while the headlines and peace process remain captive to the
war on terrorism.
A Policy in Search of an Administration
In 1996, a plan entitled "A Clean Break" was written by a group of
US policy advisers for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The main objectives of the plan called for a re-invasion of the
West Bank and Gaza; isolating Arafat; and abandoning the concept of
"land for peace," which was the basis of the Camp David agreement
between Israel and Egypt and has lead to more than 25 years of
peace between the two countries. The best known of the authors are
some of the neo-conservatives guiding the current U.S.
administration, men like Douglas Feith and Richard Perle.
The half-lie of the Zionist slogan "a land without a people for a
people without a land" could be applied to the Clean Break paper in
the hands of the Bush II administration, "A policy without an
administration for an administration without a Middle East policy."
The U.S. has embraced these doctrines: refusing to deal with the
elected Palestinian president; accepting "terrorism" as the
justification for the complete re-occupation of Palestinian
territory after Israeli withdrawals during the Oslo period; and
endorsing Sharon's move away from "land for peace" by agreeing to
accept that settlements would remain in the May 2004 Bush
Whether the Bush II administration would ever have become involved
in the peace process without Iraq is uncertain. It is now popularly
held that the launch of the Road Map, several months after it was
finalized, only occurred at all as Tony Blair's trade-off with Bush
for British support in the Iraq war and subsequent occupation.
Israel did not want to see the Road Map published and does not want
to see it implemented. The delay in the launch of the Road Map
meant that the three-phase timetable was nearly impossible to
achieve from the outset. This, in turn, raised the issue of the
credibility of the whole project.
The wrangling over diplomatic initiatives and the attention this
diverts from the creation of Israeli facts on the ground almost
seems to be the Israeli goal of the peace process, such as it
stands today. Sharon and the Israeli right would happily talk and
stall until their network of facts on the ground is completed. The
Israeli right's dream of a massive expansion of the settlements and
the construction of a fortress wall to annex all unpopulated
Palestinian land to Israel is being built even as summits are held
and polite words exchanged. With the land annexed to Israel by the
"security" wall and the settlements, the future Palestinian state
would now constitute 11 percent of Mandate Palestine as it was only
60 years ago. Jewish-owned land prior to the end of the Mandate
amounted to only 6 percent of the country. Israel will therefore
have expanded to comprise 89 percent of historic Palestine in less
than 60 years.
This suits the Bush II administration as well. The U.S. is busy in
Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been handled by more
capable administrations which have failed. USAID, which has
provided humanitarian aid and infrastructure to Palestinians for
years, has had its contractors barred from working in Palestinian
areas by the U.S. State Department and the usual renewals of
funding are not forthcoming. USAID funds for Palestine are now
being diverted to Iraq instead. Whether withdrawal of this hands-on
assistance will make a significant difference to Palestinians is
difficult to quantify. After Jenin, USAID was chased out of the
camp by residents who only days before had been invaded by an
Israeli army fully equipped by the U.S. government.
The excellent work of USAID and the professional opinions of the
State Department seem totally secondary to the dubious short-term
political considerations created in Washington think tanks. A
quarter-million dollar USAID project was recently destroyed by the
Israeli army in Gaza, with no protest from the U.S. administration
Israel understands the U.S. well and plays its message there
effectively. Israel has persuaded this administration of two very
easy to digest and easy to act on points: Israel is the only
democracy in the region and Israeli security is of paramount
importance to broader regional interests. Once these principles are
followed then the rules of the game change dramatically as
demonstrated by the Bush Declaration. Illegal Israeli settlements
on occupied territory become "population centers that must be
accommodated," the right of return of refugees, for which the
Americans rightly fought for the Kosovans against the Serbs, does
not apply to Palestinians.
As the champagne flowed on his flight home from Washington D.C.
after the declaration in April 2004, Ariel Sharon must have
attempted a jig he would have been that happy. Israel is now at the
helm steering the Middle East policy of the worlds' only
superpower. The U.S. administration is not an entirely witless
accomplice to this spectacular hijack. A strong Israel means a
happy Christian right in the U.S. elections, which is important for
a president short of a few votes. At the same time there is a
historic bond between Israel and the United States: They are both
immigrant nations and historically they were allies in the war
Now the two states are allies and strongmen in the Middle East and
they have the tools to do what they like. These tools are the
arsenal formerly deployed against the Soviet Union and their
satellites now being used against civilian populations under the
catch-all definition of terrorism. However, murder is murder,
whether committed for religious or nationalistic reasons or by
individuals or governments. There is no difference between the
targeting of one civilian or another, particularly not if the
difference is one based on race, religion or nationality. A man
getting onto a bus full of commuters with an explosive belt is no
different from a man dropping a bomb from an F-16 onto an apartment
block full of sleeping Palestinian children. It is not good enough
to say the intention was different and that the children were not
the intended targets and the commuters were; the end result is the
same: dead civilians.
The U.S. backs Israel with billions of dollars worth of almost free
military equipment every year. Recently the Bush administration has
given up on a long-standing hypocrisy, providing the weaponry and
then condemning its misuse, a practice dating back to Israel's
illegal use of cluster bombs on apartment buildings in Beirut in
1982. Now, the U.S. no longer condemns the illegal use of the
weapons it supplies. Thus, when Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi was
assassinated by missiles fired by U.S.-supplied Apache gunships,
the US refused to condemn his killing.
U.S. policy in this regard is tied to its Iraq policy. Condemning
Israel's assassinations would limit its own freedom of action in
Iraq. When Saddam Hussein's two sons and teenage grandson were
killed in Kirkuk last year it was not because the U.S. lacked the
means to take them alive.
The notion of the U.S. willfully ignoring international law in its
occupation of Iraq does not bode well for trying to enforce
international law as the basis for the end of the occupation in the
Palestinian territories. The U.S. no longer has the credibility to
play the role of honest broker in the Israeli conflict with the
Palestinians. On the lawns of the White House with Ariel Sharon and
in the prison cells of Iraq, the U.S. has nearly burnt up the last
of its goodwill with the Arab world. The only acceptable role the
U.S. can now play is as part of the Quartet, though the
multinational nature of the EU and the UN will make it hard for
them to act as quickly or decisively as a single state.
The United States is capable of making an immediate and tangible
difference to the situation in the Holy Land by simply fulfilling
its existing obligations. The U.S. has two legal obligations, to
uphold its own law and international law. There are Israeli
terrorist groups on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist
organizations that openly fund raise in the U.S. The most prominent
Jewish terrorist organization, Kach and its offshoots, which is
even illegal in Israel, is allowed to raise money to fund its
terrorist activities through U.S. Web sites. The money goes to
activities such as the recent attempt to explode a bomb in a
Palestinian girls' school in East Jerusalem. Under U.S. law these
Web sites must be prevented from both anti-Palestinian incitement
and from raising funds to support Jewish terrorism against
Palestinians, but very little action has been taken by the U.S.
Under international law, the U.S. also has certain
responsibilities, the least of which is to see the implementation
of UN Security Council resolutions that the U.S. has voted for as
one of the five permanent members. The contrast between U.S.
implementation of Security Council resolutions where it has suited
U.S. interests and the near total lack of movement on resolutions
relating to Palestinians could not be starker. The U.S. has a
dignified history of humanitarian intervention, a good recent
example being its strong intervention to prevent Serbian ethnic
cleansing of Kosovo.
In addition to its legal obligations in a dry political sense, the
U.S. has more powerful moral obligations. The U.S. cannot go on
supplying arms to Israel with no regard as to how they are used.
Israel has a long history of enjoying the latest in U.S. military
technology, which it buys at the same discounted rates as the U.S.
army, and a long history of abusing such firepower. The use of
Apache helicopter gunships in May 2004 to bomb crowds of unarmed
protestors in Rafah, in which at least 10 Palestinians died, for
what the Israeli army cynically described as "crowd control," means
that U.S. military equipment is being used to commit war
The death of three U.S. intelligence personnel in Gaza has not
helped the Palestinian cause for active, impartial U.S.
intervention (in direct contrast with the little fuss that was made
when U.S peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed by the Israeli
army). A lack of political consistency and credibility has meant
that the U.S. has decided that there are very few Palestinians with
whom they will do business (but this neglects the fact that there
is still an elected Palestinian president).
There are two languages that Israeli governments understand:
financial and military. The US has the power to affect both issues
and effect a change in Israeli policy but has chosen to do neither,
with one notable exception. When George Bush Sr. withheld the loan
guarantees that Israel needed to maintain its comparative
astronomical standard of living it was the start of the Oslo
process. The failure of that Bush government to be re-elected
despite a "victory" in the 1991 Gulf War, has suggested that such a
move is unrepeatable despite its proven success.
On the assumption that Israel, as a U.S. ally, is actually
interested in ending the occupation and advancing the peace
process, the U.S. could tie financial support to tangible
achievements in the implementation of the Road Map. Sharon's
settler-influenced government is, of course, very unlikely to buy
into such a suggestion and the U.S. government does not want to
limit its ally's actions - in this time when allies are a scarce
U.S. commodity. The Road Map was released, the first Palestinian
prime minister was sworn in and the situation remained exactly as
before. The tools were there to see the Road Map properly
implemented, but they remained in their box.
Saying It Won't Make It So
The monitoring mission of John Wolf seemed understaffed from the
outset to achieve such an important and complicated mission.
However, initial monitoring of Road Map implementation was done and
the results compiled and buried. Israel did very badly,
implementing none of its obligations and doing the opposite of
several other of its obligations - rather than opening the
Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other institutions in East
Jerusalem, orders were issued prolonging their closure and closing
more Palestinian institutions. Someone in the U.S. administration
did not want Israel to look bad and so, quietly, the results were
shredded and the monitors resumed their former jobs.
There is still a U.S. monitoring mission in the West Bank and it is
highly successful. The Jericho monitoring mission supervises
Palestinian prisoners found guilty of various political offenses
who have been jailed, rather than executed by Israel, in a deal
between the U.S., the British Government and the PLO. The mission
is in its second year and is ensuring that justice is done without
any needless killing. It provides an excellent precedent for
further commitments of unarmed monitors to simply see that
obligations are being carried out as promised. It is well known by
Palestinians that the presence of the female Israeli pressure group
"Checkpoint Watch" substantially improves the behavior of Israeli
soldiers at checkpoints when they know they are being monitored.
The same principle could apply to the whole of the Road Map.
In addition to an empowered and active monitoring role there are
two other easy steps the U.S. could take to break the current
dynamic. The first is that the Road Map could be reissued with a
detailed, accelerated and updated timetable. Second, an
international conference to support the Road Map should be
scheduled and organized. There are other players in the conflict
and they should be entitled to ensure objective implementation of
each party's obligations to advance the peace process. These would
be tangible achievements, rather than the empty rhetoric of showy
George W. Bush may have been the first U.S. president to say the
term "Palestinian state" in public, but saying it won't make it
happen. Sharon also knows this game, and became the first Israeli
prime minister to say "occupation" out loud, while quietly telling
his acolytes to "seize the hilltops [of the West Bank]." The will
of one man alone can change the whole dynamic of the conflict as
George H. Bush proved when he withheld the loan guarantees to
Israel and started the Oslo process. The man with the will is Ariel
Sharon, and he is standing right behind the American president.