U.S. Intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Israeli Intervention in US Middle East Policy?
The T-shirts for sale in the souk have a picture of an F-16 on them and say: "Don't worry America, Israel is behind you." It is not so much a statement of support, but a statement of fact. The U.S. has become the blind kingmaker of the Middle East, heavily dependant on the advice of their paid friend Israel. Israel is behind the scenes advising the United States at every level of US Middle East policy; from helping to shape a regional vision, through providing intelligence, to tactical military training.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has successfully managed to portray the Israeli occupation of Palestine as part of the war on terrorism and this has coincided with a new more aggressive U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. Taking advantage of these two factors, Sharon has justified the re-invasion of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the closures and curfews, the house demolitions, land confiscations, massively accelerated settlement construction and annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem all as part of the war on terrorism. All of this activity has proceeded apace while the headlines and peace process remain captive to the war on terrorism.

A Policy in Search of an Administration

In 1996, a plan entitled "A Clean Break" was written by a group of US policy advisers for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The main objectives of the plan called for a re-invasion of the West Bank and Gaza; isolating Arafat; and abandoning the concept of "land for peace," which was the basis of the Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt and has lead to more than 25 years of peace between the two countries. The best known of the authors are some of the neo-conservatives guiding the current U.S. administration, men like Douglas Feith and Richard Perle.

The half-lie of the Zionist slogan "a land without a people for a people without a land" could be applied to the Clean Break paper in the hands of the Bush II administration, "A policy without an administration for an administration without a Middle East policy." The U.S. has embraced these doctrines: refusing to deal with the elected Palestinian president; accepting "terrorism" as the justification for the complete re-occupation of Palestinian territory after Israeli withdrawals during the Oslo period; and endorsing Sharon's move away from "land for peace" by agreeing to accept that settlements would remain in the May 2004 Bush Declaration.

Whether the Bush II administration would ever have become involved in the peace process without Iraq is uncertain. It is now popularly held that the launch of the Road Map, several months after it was finalized, only occurred at all as Tony Blair's trade-off with Bush for British support in the Iraq war and subsequent occupation. Israel did not want to see the Road Map published and does not want to see it implemented. The delay in the launch of the Road Map meant that the three-phase timetable was nearly impossible to achieve from the outset. This, in turn, raised the issue of the credibility of the whole project.

The wrangling over diplomatic initiatives and the attention this diverts from the creation of Israeli facts on the ground almost seems to be the Israeli goal of the peace process, such as it stands today. Sharon and the Israeli right would happily talk and stall until their network of facts on the ground is completed. The Israeli right's dream of a massive expansion of the settlements and the construction of a fortress wall to annex all unpopulated Palestinian land to Israel is being built even as summits are held and polite words exchanged. With the land annexed to Israel by the "security" wall and the settlements, the future Palestinian state would now constitute 11 percent of Mandate Palestine as it was only 60 years ago. Jewish-owned land prior to the end of the Mandate amounted to only 6 percent of the country. Israel will therefore have expanded to comprise 89 percent of historic Palestine in less than 60 years.

This suits the Bush II administration as well. The U.S. is busy in Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been handled by more capable administrations which have failed. USAID, which has provided humanitarian aid and infrastructure to Palestinians for years, has had its contractors barred from working in Palestinian areas by the U.S. State Department and the usual renewals of funding are not forthcoming. USAID funds for Palestine are now being diverted to Iraq instead. Whether withdrawal of this hands-on assistance will make a significant difference to Palestinians is difficult to quantify. After Jenin, USAID was chased out of the camp by residents who only days before had been invaded by an Israeli army fully equipped by the U.S. government.

The excellent work of USAID and the professional opinions of the State Department seem totally secondary to the dubious short-term political considerations created in Washington think tanks. A quarter-million dollar USAID project was recently destroyed by the Israeli army in Gaza, with no protest from the U.S. administration whatsoever.

Champagne Flight

Israel understands the U.S. well and plays its message there effectively. Israel has persuaded this administration of two very easy to digest and easy to act on points: Israel is the only democracy in the region and Israeli security is of paramount importance to broader regional interests. Once these principles are followed then the rules of the game change dramatically as demonstrated by the Bush Declaration. Illegal Israeli settlements on occupied territory become "population centers that must be accommodated," the right of return of refugees, for which the Americans rightly fought for the Kosovans against the Serbs, does not apply to Palestinians.

As the champagne flowed on his flight home from Washington D.C. after the declaration in April 2004, Ariel Sharon must have attempted a jig he would have been that happy. Israel is now at the helm steering the Middle East policy of the worlds' only superpower. The U.S. administration is not an entirely witless accomplice to this spectacular hijack. A strong Israel means a happy Christian right in the U.S. elections, which is important for a president short of a few votes. At the same time there is a historic bond between Israel and the United States: They are both immigrant nations and historically they were allies in the war against communism.

Now the two states are allies and strongmen in the Middle East and they have the tools to do what they like. These tools are the arsenal formerly deployed against the Soviet Union and their satellites now being used against civilian populations under the catch-all definition of terrorism. However, murder is murder, whether committed for religious or nationalistic reasons or by individuals or governments. There is no difference between the targeting of one civilian or another, particularly not if the difference is one based on race, religion or nationality. A man getting onto a bus full of commuters with an explosive belt is no different from a man dropping a bomb from an F-16 onto an apartment block full of sleeping Palestinian children. It is not good enough to say the intention was different and that the children were not the intended targets and the commuters were; the end result is the same: dead civilians.

The U.S. backs Israel with billions of dollars worth of almost free military equipment every year. Recently the Bush administration has given up on a long-standing hypocrisy, providing the weaponry and then condemning its misuse, a practice dating back to Israel's illegal use of cluster bombs on apartment buildings in Beirut in 1982. Now, the U.S. no longer condemns the illegal use of the weapons it supplies. Thus, when Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi was assassinated by missiles fired by U.S.-supplied Apache gunships, the US refused to condemn his killing.

U.S. policy in this regard is tied to its Iraq policy. Condemning Israel's assassinations would limit its own freedom of action in Iraq. When Saddam Hussein's two sons and teenage grandson were killed in Kirkuk last year it was not because the U.S. lacked the means to take them alive.

Powerful Obligations

The notion of the U.S. willfully ignoring international law in its occupation of Iraq does not bode well for trying to enforce international law as the basis for the end of the occupation in the Palestinian territories. The U.S. no longer has the credibility to play the role of honest broker in the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians. On the lawns of the White House with Ariel Sharon and in the prison cells of Iraq, the U.S. has nearly burnt up the last of its goodwill with the Arab world. The only acceptable role the U.S. can now play is as part of the Quartet, though the multinational nature of the EU and the UN will make it hard for them to act as quickly or decisively as a single state.

The United States is capable of making an immediate and tangible difference to the situation in the Holy Land by simply fulfilling its existing obligations. The U.S. has two legal obligations, to uphold its own law and international law. There are Israeli terrorist groups on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations that openly fund raise in the U.S. The most prominent Jewish terrorist organization, Kach and its offshoots, which is even illegal in Israel, is allowed to raise money to fund its terrorist activities through U.S. Web sites. The money goes to activities such as the recent attempt to explode a bomb in a Palestinian girls' school in East Jerusalem. Under U.S. law these Web sites must be prevented from both anti-Palestinian incitement and from raising funds to support Jewish terrorism against Palestinians, but very little action has been taken by the U.S. authorities.

Under international law, the U.S. also has certain responsibilities, the least of which is to see the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that the U.S. has voted for as one of the five permanent members. The contrast between U.S. implementation of Security Council resolutions where it has suited U.S. interests and the near total lack of movement on resolutions relating to Palestinians could not be starker. The U.S. has a dignified history of humanitarian intervention, a good recent example being its strong intervention to prevent Serbian ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

In addition to its legal obligations in a dry political sense, the U.S. has more powerful moral obligations. The U.S. cannot go on supplying arms to Israel with no regard as to how they are used. Israel has a long history of enjoying the latest in U.S. military technology, which it buys at the same discounted rates as the U.S. army, and a long history of abusing such firepower. The use of Apache helicopter gunships in May 2004 to bomb crowds of unarmed protestors in Rafah, in which at least 10 Palestinians died, for what the Israeli army cynically described as "crowd control," means that U.S. military equipment is being used to commit war crimes.

The death of three U.S. intelligence personnel in Gaza has not helped the Palestinian cause for active, impartial U.S. intervention (in direct contrast with the little fuss that was made when U.S peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed by the Israeli army). A lack of political consistency and credibility has meant that the U.S. has decided that there are very few Palestinians with whom they will do business (but this neglects the fact that there is still an elected Palestinian president).

There are two languages that Israeli governments understand: financial and military. The US has the power to affect both issues and effect a change in Israeli policy but has chosen to do neither, with one notable exception. When George Bush Sr. withheld the loan guarantees that Israel needed to maintain its comparative astronomical standard of living it was the start of the Oslo process. The failure of that Bush government to be re-elected despite a "victory" in the 1991 Gulf War, has suggested that such a move is unrepeatable despite its proven success.

On the assumption that Israel, as a U.S. ally, is actually interested in ending the occupation and advancing the peace process, the U.S. could tie financial support to tangible achievements in the implementation of the Road Map. Sharon's settler-influenced government is, of course, very unlikely to buy into such a suggestion and the U.S. government does not want to limit its ally's actions - in this time when allies are a scarce U.S. commodity. The Road Map was released, the first Palestinian prime minister was sworn in and the situation remained exactly as before. The tools were there to see the Road Map properly implemented, but they remained in their box.

Saying It Won't Make It So

The monitoring mission of John Wolf seemed understaffed from the outset to achieve such an important and complicated mission. However, initial monitoring of Road Map implementation was done and the results compiled and buried. Israel did very badly, implementing none of its obligations and doing the opposite of several other of its obligations - rather than opening the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other institutions in East Jerusalem, orders were issued prolonging their closure and closing more Palestinian institutions. Someone in the U.S. administration did not want Israel to look bad and so, quietly, the results were shredded and the monitors resumed their former jobs.

There is still a U.S. monitoring mission in the West Bank and it is highly successful. The Jericho monitoring mission supervises Palestinian prisoners found guilty of various political offenses who have been jailed, rather than executed by Israel, in a deal between the U.S., the British Government and the PLO. The mission is in its second year and is ensuring that justice is done without any needless killing. It provides an excellent precedent for further commitments of unarmed monitors to simply see that obligations are being carried out as promised. It is well known by Palestinians that the presence of the female Israeli pressure group "Checkpoint Watch" substantially improves the behavior of Israeli soldiers at checkpoints when they know they are being monitored. The same principle could apply to the whole of the Road Map.

In addition to an empowered and active monitoring role there are two other easy steps the U.S. could take to break the current dynamic. The first is that the Road Map could be reissued with a detailed, accelerated and updated timetable. Second, an international conference to support the Road Map should be scheduled and organized. There are other players in the conflict and they should be entitled to ensure objective implementation of each party's obligations to advance the peace process. These would be tangible achievements, rather than the empty rhetoric of showy summitry.

George W. Bush may have been the first U.S. president to say the term "Palestinian state" in public, but saying it won't make it happen. Sharon also knows this game, and became the first Israeli prime minister to say "occupation" out loud, while quietly telling his acolytes to "seize the hilltops [of the West Bank]." The will of one man alone can change the whole dynamic of the conflict as George H. Bush proved when he withheld the loan guarantees to Israel and started the Oslo process. The man with the will is Ariel Sharon, and he is standing right behind the American president.