Stephen Zunes : Israel and Palestine
Although President Barack Obama’s May 19 address on U.S. Middle East policy had a number of positive elements, overall it was a major disappointment. His speech served as yet another reminder that his administration’s approach to the region differs in several important ways from that of his immediate predecessor, but he failed to consistently assert principled U.S. support for human rights, democracy, or international law.
The US veto of a mildly worded United Nations Security Council resolution supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and reiterating the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied territories leaves little doubt that, in certain critical respects, President Barack Obama shares his predecessor’s contempt for international law. All fourteen of the other members of the Security Council voted for the resolution — which was cosponsored by a nearly unprecedented majority of UN members — not only situating the United States as an extreme outlier in the international community, but placing President Obama to the right of the conservative governments of Great Britain and France.
The inspiring triumph of the Egyptian people in the nonviolent overthrow of the hated dictator Hosni Mubarak is a real triumph of the human spirit. While there will likely be continued struggle in order to insure that the military junta will allow for a real democratic transition, the mobilization of Egypt’s civil society and the empowerment of millions of workers, students, intellectuals and others in the cause of freedom will be difficult to contain.
It’s been two years since Israel initiated the “Operation Cast Lead” military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip. Since then, the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has launched an unprecedented wave of intimidation against Israeli peace and human rights groups. These groups say they are “working in an increasingly hostile environment,” according to a New York Times report, and that Israeli government leaders are fostering “an atmosphere of harassment” by turning “human rights criticism into an existential threat.”
However, Congress has chosen to look the other way — and wants the executive branch to do the same.
The recently announced deal for the United States to provide Israel with 20 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets marks yet another blow for arms control advocates and those who had hoped the Obama administration would resist continuing with the Bush administration’s policy of further militarizing the Middle East. Once again rejecting calls from the peace and human rights community to link arms transfers to adherence to human rights and international law, the $2.75 billion deal is one of the largest arms procurements by the state of Israel. This is the first part of a series of US taxpayer-funded arms transfers to Israel that is expected to total more than $30 billion over the next decade.
The failure of progressives to make major inroads in electoral politics in the United States today could not be better illustrated than a recent decision by Democracy for America, a million-member political action committee founded by former Vermont governor Howard Dean which claims leadership in the support for progressive candidates for office, regarding a veteran U.S. senator facing reelection in November.
Despite revelations from a detailed investigation by a special commission of the United Nations Human Rights Council confirming that Israel committed war crimes, the overwhelming majority of both Republican and Democratic members of Congress remain on record defending the Israeli attack as legitimate self-defense. This is particularly striking given evidence presented in the report that five of the nine people killed, including a 19-year-old US citizen, were murdered – shot execution-style by Israeli commandos.
Once again, as President Barack Obama began pressuring the right-wing Israeli government to freeze the expansion of its illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, leading Congressional Democrats have joined in with Republicans to try to stop him.
In a letter to President Barack Obama date June 17, 329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives referred to Israel’s May 31 attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters, which resulted in the deaths of nine passengers and crew and injuries to scores of others, as an act of “self-defense” which they “strongly support.” Similarly, a June 21 Senate letter — signed by 87 out of 100 senators — went on record “fully” supporting what it called “Israel’s right to self-defense,” claiming that the widely supported effort to relieve critical shortages of food and medicine in the besieged Gaza Strip was simply part of a “clever tactical and diplomatic ploy” by “Israel’s opponents” to “challenge its international standing.”
Few decisions of the Obama administration have outraged the peace and human rights community as much as its successful efforts to block an international inquiry into May’s Israeli aid flotilla attack. Instead, supported by leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress, the Obama administration has thrown its weight behind an investigative committee handpicked by right-wing […]