January 25, 2007
Israel, US, and "the lobby"-4: A broader discussion needed about the Middle East
The media in the rest of the world, including Israel, have much more balanced coverage of Middle East politics that does the US media. The Tony Judt article I wrote about before, for example, appeared in Ha'aretz. News media in the US tiptoe around the Israel government, seemingly afraid to make any serious criticism of its policies. During the Israel-lobby debate, Judt said described how when he wrote an article about the lobby, the editors of a "well known North American newspaper" called him and said that they needed to know if he was Jewish before they published it. He also pointed out that debate itself was noteworthy for being sponsored in the US by a foreign publication, The London Review of Books. It was this same publication that published the Mearsheimer and Walt article after The Atlantic, that originally commissioned it, decided not to publish it.
As another example, Israel's open defiance of UN resolutions are rarely mentioned in the media here while the US has argued that such defiance by other countries like Iraq is grounds for military action. And in July 2006, California state legislator Tom Hayden gave an example of the way the lobby works when he reflected on events in 1982 when he was influenced by "the lobby" to take a position on the previous Israeli invasion of Lebanon that he knew was wrong and now regrets. He said that the current debate on the role of the Israel lobby had persuaded him to reveal now what had happened to him then.
What is also interesting is that AIPAC boasts about its influence with the US government when it is fundraising but reacts angrily when others point to that same influence as an example of its power. But the sense that AIPAC speaks for all American Jews may be on the wane as some become more determined to stake their own ground in the debate. Philip Weiss, writing in the New York Observer in the wake of the furor over Jimmy Carter, says that progressive Jews are trying to break the stranglehold that AIPAC has had so far on discussions in the US about Israel and the situation in the Middle East. He talked about the New York visit of two people from that region who are trying to spread the word about the conditions in the occupied territories.
The situation these men describe is worse than apartheid. "Three and a half million people live without any rights," said the Israeli, whose own sister was killed by a suicide bomber. "You want to stop these people [suicide bombers], you should give them a reason to live."
The campaign by the U.S. Jewish leadership to smear Jimmy Carter will one day be taught in history books, as an effort by a privileged elite to suppress the truth. Slavery and segregation also had powerful defenders who misrepresented those conditions. Despite all their well-connected efforts, these people will lose for two simple reasons: the facts are against them, and a movement has begun to discover those facts. The progressive Jews jamming the temple last night are the evidence. (emphasis in original)
I have written before about how the US is really a one party state with a pro-war/pro-business platform, with two factions differing on some social issues. Its policy concerning Israel is part of that one-party consensus so one should not expect any changes when there are changes in the leadership in Congress as occurred in the last elections. Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco has looked at the positions on Israel and the Middle East of the top Democratic leadership and concluded that "The election of a Democratic majority in the House and Senate is unlikely to result in any serious challenge to the Bush administration’s support for Israeli attacks against the civilian populations of its Arab neighbors and the Israeli government’s ongoing violations of international humanitarian law."
We already see examples of this with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards both trying to curry favor with AIPAC by refusing to criticize Israel in even the mildest way, and beating the drums for war against Iran, despite the lessons learned from what happened in Iraq. It will be interesting to see if any candidate for president in 2008 takes a stand that runs counter to AIPAC or to any of Israel's current policies in the occupied territories.
The state of affairs of the Palestinians in Gaza right now is a scandal. The people there are essentially being punished for the crime of voting in a government that Israel and the US do not approve of. Reporter Gideon Levy writing for Ha'aretz says that Gaza is becoming like Darfur, with the exception that at least in the case of Darfur, at least some in the West are paying attention to their plight. Another Ha'aretz reporter Amira Hass lists all the mind-boggling restrictions that Palestinians currently experience on a day-to-day basis. It is not hard to imagine the humiliation that all these indignities must be causing each and every day.
Periodically, the US sends some envoy, such as the Secretary of State to the Middle East to "revive the peace process." Condoleeza Rice made such a trip just last week and blathered on about getting the two sides to talk, etc. I rarely pay any attention to US government officials or the media references to the state of the "peace process." Until such time as a real solution is proposed by the US for the Middle East, these trips should be viewed for what they are, just window dressing, to give the impression that something is being done while in reality the construction of more and more Israeli settlements in the occupied territories makes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state even more remote. I have written before about the way that by its existing settlements, Israel has already created a kind of Swiss-cheese like region in the West Bank, with settlements and roads carving out non-contiguous regions for the Palestinians to live in, so that they have to go through Israeli checkpoints to get from one region to another.
This issue goes well beyond the question of the role of AIPAC in American politics, although that is part of the problem. The real problem is that as long as the American mainstream media does not describe the situation in the occupied territories in a way that resembles reality, there will be no reason for the American public to demand of its government that it pursue policies that have a chance of bring peace to the Palestinian and Israeli people. And so the violence will continue, and even escalate, and the American public will continue to be baffled by the failure to find a solution.
A real solution would have to have the following features: (1) Withdrawal by Israel to the pre-1967 borders; (2) The currently occupied territories of the West bank and Gaza made into a fully autonomous state; (3) the internationalization of Jerusalem; (4) full recognition of the state of Israel; (5) security guarantees (with the stationing of international troops as buffers if necessary) for the Israeli and Palestinian states until the growth of bilateral trade and other links between the two states makes a peacekeeping force unnecessary.
Oddly enough, comedians like Jon Stewart seem to understand what it would take to get a solution in the Middle East. Why is it so hard for others?
I believe that there will never be peace in the Middle East until the Palestinians have their own viable state, something at least closely resembling what I have outlined above. Until those policies are implemented, all talk of a "peace process" is pure wind.
POST SCRIPT: Let there be light?
On Tuesday, Mr. Deity explained why evil and suffering is necessary, and yesterday he tried to explain to Jesus what the crucifixion was about. Today, Mr. Deity finds that creating special effects is not as easy as it looks in the movies.
Tomorrow: How Mr. Deity treats prayers.