By Prof Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Security Council Resolution and Veto
The inspiring moments when President Obama appeared before the cameras, and thus the world, to declare that the dictator Hosni Mubarak must step down and the people of Egypt given the inalienable right to self-determination are now in the past. It was a moment when U.S. foreign policy actually appeared to correspond to the foreign reality it addressed. Ironically, it was this very correspondence that made the moment anomalous–something quite out of the ordinary. Therefore, soon after Mubarak went into involuntary retirement at Sharm el-Sheik, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was off to Israel and Jordan to confirm that foreign policy would immediately return to its normal pathway. What is the norm here? Well, it is one where U.S. foreign policy references domestic political reality, like the power of the Zionist lobbies, rather than anything that might serve objective national interests. For all intents and purposes that was Mullen’s message, we are back on the normative track. And, on 18 February 2011, the administration backed up the admiral’s words with deeds.
On that day the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, vetoed a Lebanese/Palestinian sponsored resolution in the Security Council that simply stated the truth–that the settlements built and being built on Palestinian occupied territory are illegal and an obstacle to peace. Except for Israel itself, this is admitted by everyone, including the U.S. State Department. The resolution had over120 cosponsors (just about the entire non-Western world) and the support of every other member of the Security Council. The only thing wrong with it was that it singled out the Israelis as the culprits and was thus anathema to the politicians in Washington. For the Obama administration, it was a supremely embarrassing moment.
It was so embarrassing that the administration had invested a lot of energy in trying to make sure the moment never came. Someone in the White House, either Secretary of State Hilary Clinton or President Obama himself, called Mahmoud Abbas to tell him that the U.S. had a compromise in the works that would make the objectionable resolution unnecessary. And what sort of compromise did Washington have in mind? It turned out to be the same old "balanced" position that they U.S. has maintained for years. The compromise statement would express "strong opposition to any unilateral actions by any party which might prejudice the outcome of negotiations…and reaffirm that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity….and condemns all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza and stresses the need for calm and security for both peoples." By surrounding the seminal issue of settlements with all the other references to what the Palestinians might be doing, such a statement would sustain the Israeli position that the Palestinians are also obstacles to peace. That in turn would make this pronouncement marginally acceptable to both those embedded in the domestic reality of Congress and to the men in Jerusalem. Indeed, the Americans had pre-cleared their proffered compromise with Israel prior to offering it to Abbas. The Palestinians, of course, said that such pablum missed the point and they would have none of it.
Part II – Multiple Realities
The concept of multiple realities is the key to understanding American behavior when it comes to Israel/Palestine. Thus, on 17 February 2011,it was reported that Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (a rabid anti-Castro Cuban American), that committee’s ranking Democratic member Howard Berman, the Middle East subcommittee Chariman Republican Steve Cabot, the subcommittee’s ranking Democratic member Gary Ackerman, and others as well, were insisting that Obama "pledge to…veto any U.N. Security Council resolution that criticizes Israel regarding final status issues." After all, as Cantor and Hoyer stated, the fault lies with the Palestinians. It is they who "reject the difficult but vital responsibility of making peace with Israel through direct negotiations and instead advocate for anti-Israel measures by the United Nations Security Council [that are] counterproductive and unacceptable."
American politicians can only say these things because their audience is first, the Zionist lobbies themselves (from whom they desire political support and fear political opposition) and second, an ignorant American public who can not judge the veracity of their comments. So, while their position does reference the rather shabby political reality in Congress, their characterization of the reality under which Abbas and his fellows operate is all wrong. That other reality has recently been revealed by the leaked Palestine Papers. These show very clearly that the men Cantor and Hoyer accuse of avoiding "direct negotiations" had been in just those sort of talks but a short time ago, and while negotiating had offered the Israelis everything short of their very souls. Whereupon the Israelis had turned up their noses, walked away and recommenced building on stolen land. That left the Palestinian "leadership" in their own domestic political bind. For while the American politicians have to answer to lobbyists, the Palestinians now had to answer to an increasingly angry citizenry. At this point one can ask if, according to the Congressmen, it so necessary for the Palestinian politicians to "take up the difficult but vital responsibility of making peace with Israel," why should it not be equally required that American politicians take on "the difficult but necessary responsibility" of shaking off their corrupt dependency on Zionist dictates so as to pressure the Israelis to make a just peace? The whole thing makes no sense unless one takes into consideration: multi realities and the politicians’ propensity for hypocrisy and double standards.
The result of all this was that on February 18th the UN representatives of three quarters of nations of the earth went about their business in muted disgust at the cowardice of the world’s greatest power. They probably avoided making eye contact with Ambassador Rice who had played the role of the good and loyal soldier. Hanan Ashrawi, a respected and very smart member of the PLO Executive Committee, had said that an American veto would be "a direct affront to the international community and the requirements of peace." And so it was. But then, that is the rest of the world’s reality, which has yet to penetrate the Washington DC beltway. Inside that beltway it is the requirements of domestic politics, and not that of peace, that holds sway.
In the meantime, in the far off land of Palestine, the Israelis announced the plans for 120 new settlement units to be built in occupied East Jerusalem. The politicians in Jerusalem play to yet another reality–one shaped by ideology and power. The ideology of Zionism they dreamt up all by themselves. The power, at least in part, is made the USA. It is strange how history sometimes repeats itself. If, in November 1947, the UN had voted against the partition of Palestine it would have made no difference to the Zionists who were then determined to make Israel a reality come what may. And, on February 18th, if the Security Council had voted in favor of the resolution describing settlements as illegal, it would have made no difference to the Israelis who are determined to make greater Israel a reality come what may.
This is our present multiple realities mess. And, it is going to take more than UN resolutions to bring everyone concerned into the same world. The key group here is not the Palestinian politicos nor even the American politicians. The key group is the Israelis. It is their ideologically driven reality that has to reconstructed. When that happens the American politicians will meekly follow along. And how is this to be achieved? Through the slow but sure isolation of the Zionist state and its ideologues. Through a process of isolation that relentlessly raises the cost of Zionist reality until it is too great to bear. That process has already begun and will continue until racism is a dead issue in Israel whatever its ultimate borders. This struggle is now in the hands of a worldwide movement of civil society. And that movement will be the one to decide the ultimate reality in Israel/Palestine.
Lawrence Davidson is a Professor of Middle East History at West Chester University in West ChesterPennsylvania.He is the author of America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (University Press of Florida, 2001), Islamic Fundamentalism (Greenwood Press, 2003), and, co-author with Arthur Goldschmidt of the Concise History of the Middle East, 8th and 9th Editions (Westview Press, 2006 and 2009). His latest book is entitled Foreign Policy, Inc.: Privatizing American National Interest (University of Kentucky Press, 2009). Professor Davidson travels often and widely in the Middle East. He also has taken on the role of public intellectual in order to explain to American audiences the impact of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Davidson is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.