Sunday, May 1, 2011

No Change In US Policy Vis-à-Vis Israel

By Musa Keilani
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 01/04/2011 

Professor George Shaheen from Alabama sent this writer a letter criticising Jordan’s cordial relations with Washington. Though nobody here can agree with his extreme radical views, his ideas represent what an Arab living in the United States feels.

Shaheen refers to Pew’s recent opinion poll. He says: “Opinion polls conducted in recent years have shown that the US is not exactly very popular in the Arab world. The latest of such surveys was conducted by the US-based Pew Research Centre, which found that79 per cent of Egyptians had an unfavourable view of the United States, a marginal change from 82 per cent in a similar poll in 2010.”

The result was roughly the same as surveys conducted in several other Arab countries in 2010 and 2009, including Jordan.

One of the key reasons for its unpopularity - and indeed hostility - that the US has acquired in the Arab world is Washington’s unreserved support for Israel and its alliance with it.

Even at the height of the uprising in Egypt, which led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the administration of US President Barack Obama was seen trying to ensure the survival of the Mubarak regime. Washington wanted Mubarak to remain in power and maintain the state of peace with Israel under the Camp David treaty, as he did throughout the three decades of his reign. The US administration also wanted to use Mubarak-run Egypt as a key centre of influence of Arab affairs.

Many Arabs attribute Israel’s defiance and refusal to accept a fair and just solution to the Palestinian problem directly to its reliance on the dedicated American commitment to Israel.

Records prove that the US has separate sets of rules for dealings with Israel and the rest of the world. The rules for Israel mean only one thing: unlimited political, diplomatic, military and economic support despite Israel’s gross violations of international law.

Many analysts around the world hold the US directly responsible not only for the deadlock in efforts to attain peace in the Middle East but also for the ruthless Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, in breach of all international conventions governing military occupation of foreign territory.

Washington offers generous military aid to Israel and an all-inclusive umbrella to protect it from being held accountable by the international community, and this emboldens Israel to do as it pleases with impunity.

This was further highlighted in the passage this month of US military aid to Israel, worth $3 billion, in the 2011 budget.

In addition, the Obama administration also gave Israel $415 million to fund joint missile defence projects, including $205 million to pay for Israel’s newly deployed Iron Dome anti-rocket system.

The deployment of the system, which shoots down rockets potentially coming from Gaza Strip, allows Israel to perpetuate its crippling blockade of the coastal enclave.

Unlike all other countries which buy American military equipment, Israel does not consider itselfbound by an end-use agreement, under which it is not supposed to use US-supplied weapons against civilians.It regularly unleashes US-made weapons and aircraft against the Palestinians living in Gaza Strip. It was mainly American weapons that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians during the 22-day 2008-2009 war that Israel waged against the Gazans.

The US Foreign Assistance Act prohibitsforeign assistance to any country that “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognised human rights”.

Instead of halting all military assistance to Israel, the US appeared to cheer the Israeli actions and in fact supplied Israel with more weapons.

With aper capita income of around $26,000, Israel, which was ranked as the 24th largest economy in the world in 2010and the 15th among 169 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index, does not really need American assistance.Still, Israel remainsthe largest recipient of US foreign assistance.

Direct American assistance to Israel, which totalled more than $99 billionfrom 1948 to 2009 - not including tens of billions of dollars for joint projects and generous contributions by Jewish organisations in the US - does not constitute a strong leverage for Washington to put pressure on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians or withdraw from their lands.

In 1997, when Benjamin Netanyahu served his first term in office as prime minister, he came under US pressure to make realistic moves towards a peace agreement with the Palestinians. At the time, he declared that one of his prime objectives was to stop receiving American money. That was indeed a reflection of the reality that Israel could do well without American aid. However, nothing further was heard about Netanyahu’s pledge.

Ironically, it is the financial, military, political and diplomatic support that the US offered over the decades that has made Israel immune to American pressure of any kind. That is what Obama found out last year when he confronted Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has even made fun of the US, saying any American president would be better off accepting the fact that Israel had more clout and influence in the legislative and administrative corridors of power in Washington. That statement made then- president George W. Bush hold his tongue after calling on Israel to agree to a fair and just settlement of the Palestinian problem. If anything, the Bush administration has trebledmilitary assistance to Israel since 2009.

All concerned Israeli, and regional and internationalorganisations have been regularly exposing Israel’s gross violations ofthe Palestinian rights, but Washington has done little to hold its “strategic” ally accountable for its actions. This makes the US an accessory, even a partner, to Israeli actions against peace in the Middle East.

As such, the latest Pew Centre findings that political change in Egypt has done little to improve the opinion Egyptians have of the United States should come as no surprise. That is indeed the case inmost other Arab and Muslim countries.

However, the US could not be expected, in the short term, to mend its pro-Israeli ways in order to regain its stature and credibility, because Israel and its supporters have their tentacles deep into the American financial and political establishments, which have always been very accommodating of and helpful to Israel.

Obama is perfectly aware of this reality, but he finds himself bound by the same political imperatives that led his predecessors at the White House; hence the realisation that the hopes pinned on him for positive change were pointless.

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