Bribing Israel: Enhancing the Swag
By Phyllis Bennis
November 23, 2010

Dear Hanan,

The breathless will-they-won’t-they coverage wasn’t quite as extreme this time, but there’s still been way more attention paid to the latest U.S. “settlement freeze” offer to Netanyahu than it deserves. What’s supposed to be the main point of it all – new negotiations leading to something remotely resembling a just, lasting and comprehensive peace – is simply not on the agenda of either Israel or the U.S.

The actual bribe – oh, sorry, I meant to say “incentives” – being offered to Israel this time around isn’t insignificant, of course. Among other things it will massively escalate the offensive capacity and reach of Israel’s air force, already by far the most powerful in the region. The offer starts with 20 brand-new state-of-the-art F-35 Joint Strike Fighter planes – three billion dollars worth. That’s $3 billion on top of the almost $3 billion of military aid already paid to Israel this year. According to the influential Israeli daily Ha’aretz, it will double the number of the F-35 stealth bombers that the U.S. will send to Israel – Tel Aviv had already ordered 20 using the “normal” military aid to Israel, now they’re being offered 20 more free of charge.

F-35 Stealth Bombers free of charge to Israel, that is – this offer will cost U.S. taxpayers $3 billion more, money that could instead pay for 600,000 new green jobs here at home.

Then there’s the guarantee that the U.S. will veto any effort in the United Nations aimed at winning Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state. And the promise to prevent any UN effort to hold Israel accountable for possible war crimes in Gaza, such as moving the Goldstone Report forward in the Council, and potentially moving the investigation to the International Criminal Court. From what we know of the offer (the final language is not yet settled – at least publicly) it will also include a broad commitment to automatically veto essentially any UN resolution that Israel claims undermines its already precarious international legitimacy.

I’ve been discussing these issues in the media quite a bit lately, including a couple of weeks ago on al-Jazeera’s “Inside Story” and yesterday on Russia Today (scroll down to the last video).

What it all means is that the Obama administration is promising to interfere with and prevent any effort to hold Israel accountable in the international arena. The U.S. is staking out a position that allowing the UN to function unhindered, or implementing UN resolutions such as the Goldstone Report, are simply gifts to be bestowed or withheld according to politically-driven, not international law-driven, considerations.

So basically, the U.S. government is now openly and publicly complicit in all the Israeli violations of international law and past UN resolutions.

And what does Israel have to give up for all of this? A one-time-only 90-day partial settlement moratorium in the West Bank, NOT including Occupied Arab East Jerusalem. Not a bad deal. Sure, most of the swag is stuff Israel would have gotten anyway. The U.S. has been vetoing Security Council resolutions criticizing Israel for decades; just a couple of weeks ago the Obama administration engineered the withdrawal of a mild request in the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, asking that Israel finally acknowledge its widely known but officially secret nuclear weapons arsenal. That’s nothing new. But 20 additional new F-35 warplanes, at $130 million a pop, paid for by U.S. taxpayers? Now that’s nothing to sneeze at.

On the other hand, sneezing at the “settlement freeze” isn’t such a bad idea. It simply isn’t serious. Settlement expansion – which translates into house demolitions, land grabs, and population expulsions – will be allowed to continue at its current record pace in Occupied East Jerusalem. Just six weeks after the last ten-month settlement moratorium ended, Peace Now reported that construction had virtually caught up to the level it would have reached anyway. And even if the new West Bank “freeze” is total (which it certainly won’t be), all it does is delay the settler building frenzy for 90 days – at which point it can explode again, since the U.S. promised that this settlement slow-down will be the last ever requested.

So with U.S. complicity, Israel’s illegal settlements – all of which are illegal, whether in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, whether tiny outposts or the giant settlement cities – will continue.

With 500,000 illegal settlers in the Occupied Territory who are breaking international law just by waking up in the morning, Israel will continue to violate the Geneva Convention’s prohibition on moving people into occupied territory. This “freeze” will do nothing to change that. In fact, the Israeli settlement real estate boom is being aided by U.S. organizations like the Hebron Fund, that raises tax-exempt funds to support the illegal and particularly violent settlers in Hebron.

Unfortunately the Obama administration seems not only to recognize, but to welcome the reality that the U.S. is supporting illegal occupation. According to the noted analyst and former head of the American Jewish Congress Henry Siegman, “How else to understand what Vice President Joe Biden told Netanyahu on November 8 in New Orleans before a gathering of Jewish Federation officials, that differences between Israel and the United States on the subject of construction in Jerusalem and in the West Bank are nothing more than ‘tactical in nature.’ Is the continuation of Israel’s military occupation and its denial of all rights to millions of Palestinians for nearly half a century nothing more than a minor tactical issue for the United States? Is that what President Obama told the Arab and Muslim world in his speech in Cairo? President Obama will have to take his own words about the Middle East peace process and its deep moral and strategic implications for America more seriously than he has so far if he expects Bibi Netanyahu to do so as well.”

We will have to take those words seriously too. Stay tuned to the action alerts of the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation for the latest.

I have been traveling again, most recently up to Canada where I did a four-city speaking tour mainly on Israel-Palestine, though with some discussion also about Afghanistan, particularly because of the 3,000 Canadian troops backing the U.S. war there. In Toronto I was honored to deliver this year’s James Graff Memorial Lecture, following Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and Richard Falk who have delivered that lecture in the past. I was speaking on “The U.S. in the Middle East: Peace Processes and War Fevers” if you want to take a look at the video. Then some other interesting events in London, Halifax, Ottawa…An interview on (Canada’s answer to Pacifica Radio) is here.

Quite fascinating to see how the Israel-Palestine discourse is changing up there -- not quite as rapidly as here in the United States, it seems, but nonetheless far more quickly than before. Of course the Canadians now face a similar challenge to what we in the U.S. faced for so long, with their Harper government -- the same government that led to a common joke, Canadians are bemoaning the fact that their country is the only place left where George Bush is still president. Prime Minister Harper has embraced a position of hard-core support for all Israeli policies of occupation, apartheid, suppression of any criticism. Staking out a pro-Israel position even beyond that of the Obama administration, Harper announced a couple of weeks ago that Canada would stand by Israel and refuse even to “pretend” to be an “honest broker.”

But what’s exciting is the huge escalation in human rights activism in Canada, challenging the government’s support for Israeli occupation and apartheid, supporting Palestinian rights and using the global campaign of BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – to confronting Harper’s policies. The world, specifically the United Nations, is helping as well, having just voted to deny Canada a coveted two-year term in the UN Security Council, largely because of the Harper government’s embrace of Israeli violations. It was a shock to many Canadians, who for decades viewed their country as a key backer of the UN and multilateralism, the country of Lester Pearson, credited with inventing UN peacekeeping. Suddenly Canadians had to face that their once-and-future “UN country” was being dissed by the world...But maybe that’s a good thing. It certainly sparked some good discussions.

Finally, with all the unchanging grim news on the policy side, the discourse shifts are racing ahead. For any of you who may have missed it, I urge you to take a look at this amazing four-minute video of “young Jewish and proud” – an extraordinary portrait of a new generation of already experienced activists. These young people – organized by Jewish Voice for Peace – stood to confront Netanyahu as he addressed the heart of the U.S. Jewish pro-Israel establishment: the annual assembly of the Jewish Federation. As the Israeli prime minister railed against those who would dare to delegitimize Israel, they stood alone, one after another, to raise hidden banners and to shout “the OCCUPATION delegitimizes Israel!” “The LOYALTY OATH delegitimizes Israel!” “The SETTLEMENTS delegitimize Israel!” “The SIEGE OF GAZA delegitimizes Israel!” And more. Each one was grabbed, roughed up, thrown out. After each one, somewhere else in the vast hall, another stood. The crowd turned vicious, turning on the last of the protesters, Rae Abileah from JVP and Code Pink, throwing her into a choke hold. But they turned the narrative around. Their action should make all of us proud. And we’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up.

Many thanks,

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author with David Wildman of the new Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer.