When President Obama spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on May 22, 2011, he said the ties the United States has with Israel are “unshakable” and “ironclad.” Just three days before that speech Obama had laid down markers for the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians:
1. The time to press for a peace accord is now, not some time in the indeterminate future.
2. Putting forward American parameters for bilateral talks is not an imposition on the parties. The parameters are essential terms of reference for successful talks.
3. The starting point for talks about mutually agreed-upon territorial swaps must be the 1967 lines.
4. A peace accord must provide credible security arrangements for both parties and “full and planned” withdrawal of Israel’s military forces from the West Bank.
Obama’s speech before AIPAC illustrates what critics of Obama label as the fatal flaw in Obama’s Middle East approach: there are no consequences for Israel rejecting Obama’s terms for a peace accord and words like “unshakable” and “ironclad” bind the United States very tightly to Israel.
Early in his presidency, President Barack Obama gave every indication that he would make the termination of any further Israel settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem a keystone of his Middle East policy; however, Israel has continued to build settlements without incurring any effective counter-action on the part of the United States. Vice President Joe Biden’s arrival in Israel in March 2010 was greeted with word that Israel would be building 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem. Instead of just expressing disapproval of Israel’s continued settlement building, the U.S. should have made the sending of any more aid to Israel contingent on the complete stop to further settlement building.
It was reported that during Biden’s March 2010 visit, he excused Israel’s horrific destruction in its air strikes on Lebanon and the war excesses documented in the Goldstone report on Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip. This was the December 2008/January 2009 assault on the Gaza dubbed “Operation Cast Lead” by the Israeli military. It was in April 2011 that UN Ambassador Susan Rice said she wanted the Goldstone report to “disappear.” The report by Judge Richard Goldstone found that it was Israel’s indiscriminate use of force that broke international law.
President Obama reacted mildly to the Israeli commando attack on a Gaza humanitarian ship in international waters by deploring the loss of life and calling for an investigation. There was almost universal international disapproval and Obama’s mild reaction to one ally, Israel, risked a serious rift with another ally, Turkey, whose government and people were incensed by the Israeli raid.
It is appalling that the United States should not have roundly condemned Israel for its massive overreaction in Lebanon to the taking of two of its soldiers. Furthermore, the U.S. should have demanded that Israel assist monetarily in the rebuilding of a heavily damaged Lebanon or withhold aid that it was planning to give to Israel.
In regard to the well-documented and even-handed Goldstone report, which cited both the Palestinians and Israelis for war excesses, instead of trying to make the report “disappear,” the U.S. should have commended and supported Goldstone for his valuable public service.
According to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, “Operation Cast Lead.” in the Gaza Strip, continuing for 22 days in December 2008/January 2009, destroyed over 14,000 buildings, including schools, mosques, hospitals, civil administration buildings and homes. The assault left 71,675 Palestinians homeless.
End the Occupation also charges that the Israelis used U.S.-supplied F-16s, hellfire missiles and ammunition in their assault on Gaza.
The next blog will deal more specifically with Israel’s violations of international law, focusing mostly on Israel’s use of banned weapons of war.