The Upside-Down Policy on Israel

Despite the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, the Obama administration continues the fiction that any Palestinian appeal to the UN somehow threatens those non-existent talks, while Republicans vow to sync U.S. policies even more in line with Israeli demands, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

George Orwell, who imagined a Ministry of Truth that dispensed untruths, and Charles Dodgson, who as Lewis Carroll had Humpty Dumpty making words mean whatever he wanted them to mean, would appreciate how some concepts routinely get flipped and stood on their head in much of what is said about the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One of the recurring examples was in full display this week as the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a pro-peace-agreement resolution. It seems that only in this conflict can involving the United Nations, the most multilateral forum on the planet, be routinely denounced as “unilateral.” This latest effort at UN involvement failed, while actual unilateral moves on the ground, which make a peace agreement ever more difficult, continue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Routine abuse of other concepts in talking about this conflict also were evident at the Council this week, including in the statement made by U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power while voting against the resolution. Power said her government opposed the resolution because peace “will come from hard choices and compromises that must be made at the negotiating table” and because hardships and threats associated with the conflict “will not subside until the parties reach a comprehensive settlement achieved through negotiations.”

This continues the canard that a multilateral resolution of this sort is somehow a substitute for, or an attempt to circumvent, bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians when in fact it is nothing of the sort. The draft resolution repeatedly, and either explicitly or implicitly, recognizes that any agreement will have to emerge from such negotiations. A central operative paragraph is an exhortation to the parties “to act together in the pursuit of peace by negotiating in good faith.”

The resolution does get into some of the substance of what is to be considered an acceptable resolution of the conflict, but only in ways that already are broadly recognized by the international community, and for the most part explicitly by the United States, as necessary parts of any agreement that ever could be reached and would stick. Some principles are laid out, but specific hard choices and compromises will still have to be made at the negotiating table.

The resolution states, for example, that the boundaries of the Israeli and Palestinian states should be based on the June 1967 borders with “mutually agreed” and “equivalent” land swaps; exactly what those swaps will be must come out of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The resolution calls for “a just and agreed solution to the Palestine refugee question” but does not presuppose what that solution should be.

Another commonly abused concept is “balance.” Power’s statement asserted that the resolution is “deeply unbalanced” and “addresses the concerns of only one side.” In fact, the resolution is centered on the objective of “two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine.”

It calls for security arrangements “that ensure the security of both Israel and Palestine through effective border security and by preventing the resurgence of terrorism.” It declares that a final status agreement shall put “an end to all claims and lead to immediate mutual recognition”; references in the resolution to the Arab League peace initiative lead to the clear conclusion that mutual recognition would include recognition of Israel not only by Palestine but by the other Arab states.

The resolution is about as balanced as it can be in the face of a highly unbalanced situation. An unhelpful fiction plaguing discussion of this issue is that the conflict is symmetric when in fact it is highly asymmetric. The fundamental asymmetry today is that one side is the occupier and the other side consists of those who are occupied.

The occupier could, if it chose, make it possible for a Palestinian state to be established this year. Those who are occupied have no such power. The most peaceful and respectable thing they can do, in addition to negotiating in good faith at a bilateral negotiating table, is to plead their case at the United Nations.

The United States (and, of course, Israel) lobbied hard against the resolution, being particularly assiduous in twisting the arm of the Nigerian president. The pressure succeeded in getting enough abstentions (in addition to a “no” vote from Australia) that the resolution failed to get the nine affirmative votes needed for passage, even though it did get a majority.

Thus the Obama administration can say that it was not the U.S. veto that prevented adoption of the resolution. But make no mistake: this pro-peace resolution failed because the United States, once again, did the bidding of the Israeli government and opposed it.

On the basis of what the resolution says, and of what the United States has repeatedly said it favors regarding an Israeli-Palestinian peace, the opposition made no sense. It might make sense if it is part of a calculated management of the balance sheet of favors and influence that tends to be involved in the Israel lobby’s interaction with the U.S. Congress.

Maintaining this kind of “pro-Israel” (actually, pro-Likud) position at the UN might make it slightly easier for the administration to ward off Congressional trouble-making on, in particular, a nuclear agreement with Iran. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, issued a reminder of the potential for such trouble when he declared the other day that the Republican-controlled Congress, rather than exercising independent judgment about what is in U.S. interests regarding policy toward Iran, will instead “follow” the “lead” of the Israeli prime minister, who endeavors to undermine U.S. diplomacy on the subject.

Now Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, in the wake of the Palestinians’ setback at the Security Council, is moving to have the PA join additional international treaties and organizations, including the International Criminal Court. This is generating the usual protests from the Israeli government, and thus from the U.S. government.

The Palestinian action is described as another supposedly destructive “unilateral” move, or as members of the Israeli government have put it, “aggressively unilateral.” Amid such reactions, and what will be the usual forms of punishment, such as Israel withholding tax receipts that are supposed to belong to the Palestinians, one can lose sight of the nature of what the Palestinians are doing by adhering to such international conventions and institutions. They are voluntarily signing on to commitments to observe certain standards of behavior. That seems like just the sort of step that one should hope and expect to see from people who want their own state.

The point is underscored by a threat the Israeli government is voicing in response to the ICC move, viz., that if the Palestinians have any ideas about bringing suit in the court against Israel for its conduct during its most recent demolition of Gaza, then Israel will counter with accusations about Palestinian war crimes. Fine.

It would be great to have a thorough airing before an international tribunal of everyone’s conduct during that tragic episode (although there are reasons to question whether the ICC would be able and willing to assume that role).

But that would still leave the underlying, unresolved conflict. As long as it is unresolved, there will continue to be, in addition to many other regrettable things, periodic Israeli lawn mowing in Gaza, with more operations like Cast Lead and Protective Edge. This brings us to one of the most trouble-plagued concepts of all, because the concept itself is inherently weird, which concerns the nature and existence of the Palestinian Authority itself.

The PA was established two decades ago as supposedly a means to transition from naked occupation to a Palestinian state. Not only have the scheduled dates for that transition already gone far, far into the past; the PA has occupied a role that has made it more of an impediment to creation of a Palestinian state than the facilitator of one.

With the PA existing as an entity that is supposed to have some state-like qualities but not be a state, Israelis who, like those currently in power in Jerusalem, oppose creation of a Palestinian state are able to have things both ways to keep such a state from ever coming into being.

The PA serves as the Palestinians on the plantation, as distinct from the ones in Gaza who are off the plantation. The notion of the PA as a transition mechanism keeps alive the fiction that the Israeli government really is committed to such a transition. It keeps alive the notion that Palestinians should “earn” statehood by building a state from below, while the occupier imposes conditions on it from above that never really enables it to do that kind of building.

And if the PA gets uppity enough to start behaving like a real state, as it has done at the UN and in signing those international conventions, then it swiftly gets slapped down.

The most effective thing the PA has been permitted to do is to serve as an auxiliary administrator of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Those who denounce the PA for signing treaties on grounds that it is not a state are right; it is indeed not a state. It is more like a prison trusty.

Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah says of the prospect that Abbas’s ICC move will bring about crippling economic punishment from the United States as well as Israel, “This could indeed be the beginning of the end of the PA. They fully realize that.”

If this happens and the trappings of a false transition are stripped away, and a gussied-up occupation becomes once again a naked occupation, it may turn out to be the most useful thing Abbas has ever done.

Such a development may stir the international pot just enough, and get enough more Israelis to think hard about the costs and consequences to their nation of continuing the occupation, to save the possibility of, in the words of the failed Security Council resolution, “two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine.”

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

7 comments for “The Upside-Down Policy on Israel

  1. January 6, 2015 at 13:10

    US stands against the Palestinians’ right to independence and statehood
    Nasir Khan, December 16, 201

    America cannot go against the wishes and diktat of Israel. That means it will veto any bid to statehood for Palestine in the United Nations Security Council and it may instead use the empty rhetoric of ‘direct negotiations between the parties’ as the only way forward, knowing fully well that there is no substance to any such way forward as the last 20 years have shown.

    The whole world knows that Israel has used the gimmick of negotiations since the Oslo Accords in 1993 to colonise the West Bank and East Jerusalem while systematically wreaking havoc on the beleaguered Gaza time and again. That virtually means that the Zionists are not going to agree to end the occupation of Palestine as long as they have the power and control over the US government and its foreign policy.

    Here by ‘ending the occupation’, I mean nothing more than accepting the 1967 borders as the Palestinian Authority leadership has agreed to compromise and thus end the conflict. The reason is simple. Israel has and is continuing its objective of expansion in the occupied areas methodically and relentlessly. What the captive people of Palestine are asking for or aspiring to – the end of occupation of their land and their right to self-determination – is the last thing the Israeli rulers are interested in to listen to or care about. However, I’ll be profoundly happy if things turn out to be different and my fears are proved wrong.

  2. January 6, 2015 at 00:49

    This is just another delaying and diverting ploy on the part of Netanyahu and Israel, while stalemating the issues and stalling for time. They do not even use the same definition of the word “negotiate,” as the rest of the world, which to them means, “on our terms only.” Any “negotiation” with Israel is a monologue. Peace is not a word in their lexicon. It is employed only as a substitute for “surrender,” as in their charges that “…the Palestinians do not want peace (to surrender),” “or “We will negotiate (dictate) terms of “peace” (surrender) with Palestine at any time.”

    The Pre-1967 borders are pretty well established in history… so what is there to “negotiate?” In Palestine, the pre 1948 borders are still valid and as well-defined, even more legitimately so!

    It would be quite difficult for Israelis who call themselves a “State” but who have not yet written or ratified a Constitution, or established and defined geographic borders to define it, to face a competing State which had, and which might include a lot of the land upon which the Israelis are squatting, or lay claim to lands which they intend to move in on and absorb at some future date.

    You gotta remember, the Zionist argument is from River to River. To give up an inch of what they have persuaded the “Jewish people” is their rightful home, is to give up the entire land. With Eretz Israel, it has to be all or nothing.

    Time will eventually and inevitably bring them to nothing!

    They are sailing in shaky enough waters as it is, without suddenly having reefs appear all around them.

    They have cause to worry!

    Truth will always prevail.

    There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall –Mahatma Gandhi

  3. Zachary Smith
    January 5, 2015 at 20:18

    …U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power while voting against the resolution. Power said her government opposed the resolution because peace “will come from hard choices and compromises that must be made at the negotiating table” and because hardships and threats associated with the conflict “will not subside until the parties reach a comprehensive settlement achieved through negotiations.”

    As author Pillar well demonstrates, this is plainly stupid bafflegab. So why has Ambassador Power been instructed to say these things?

    To answer that question, I’m going to pause to put on my tin-foil hat. There!

    Ok, I’ve said since 2008 that Barack Hussein Obama was put in office to be the figurehead of a government of the Bankers, by the Bankers, for the Bankers. That was Job #1. For this purpose he got all the support unlimited money could buy. Can anybody deny that BHO has been a splendid president for his Banker Constituency?

    A secondary but lesser imperative was to safeguard the Bush Torturers – the legacy and perhaps the very freedom of Bush Junior and Dick Cheney being at stake. These two ending up in prison wasn’t going to do anything good for future Republican prospects. So BHO’s election (and reelection) was greatly assisted when the Republicans made as their 2008 and 2012 nominees candidates who were so rancid and toxic that their election would have been nearly impossible. In exchange BHO would protect the Torturers, and he has done that very well.

    My question is this: do the Bankers really care much about Israel? My impression is that their interests are confined to wealth and power for themselves.

    So why is BHO sucking up to Israel so obsessively?

    First answer: a brand new news story titled “‘MOSSAD BLACKMAIL RING’ LINKED TO PRINCE ANDREW?” Prince Andrew of the UK was entertained by an under-aged girl. My premise is that his escort would have been an under-aged boy or a cute & under-aged farm animal if his tastes had gone in those directions. After the encounter, there would have been some excellent movies put into safe-keeping.

    A considerably older story has the title “Netanyahu said to have offered Lewinsky tapes for Pollard”

    There is the darned Israel connection again. According to Internet Stories Clinton tried to talk the CIA into releasing Pollard, but failed.

    Assumption: Every intelligence service in the world is working full time. Some concentrate on industrial or military secrets, but others also go for the gossip. VERIFIABLE & court-suitable gossip – meaning audio or video tapes.

    Fact: Israel totally owns every single US congressman. How else do you explain 100:0 in the important votes? How do they do it? I believe they’ve pulled a “J. Edgar Hoover” and have a fat file of dirt on each and every one of them.

    Which brings me back to Barack Hussein Obama. It didn’t take a genius to see that he was being groomed for high office when he ran for US Senator from Illinois. At that point the standard investigations would have swung into action. They’d have been looking for financial issues, infidelity, and Lord knows what else. Another assumption: sometime back then BHO would have been faced with some severe temptations. Dream stuff, as in a “10” girl finding him irresistible. Or something else, but guaranteed to be tempting beyond belief.

    What if he took the bait, and there is a video somewhere?

    This would explain the Administration’s irrational behavior towards Israel better than anything else I can conjure up.

    Israel is constantly taking journalists and politicians on trips to the Holy Land. Once over there, the rules are pretty much forgotten.

    TOPEKA, Kan. — A Kansas congressman’s 10-second naked plunge into the sea where the Bible says Jesus walked on water prompted apologies Monday from him, head-shaking from other Republicans and the kind of international attention that no politician wants.

    (Mr. Yoder is still in the Congress.) Point is, it’s party time once you get to Israel, and you can bet the camera is running every single second.

    One more time: Israel totally owns the US Congress – both parties and both Houses. Anybody have a better explanation of why this is so?

    • Chet Roman
      January 6, 2015 at 04:07

      I very much doubt the “blackmail” conspiracy. Not that others might not have been an easy target like Clinton, but because blackmail was not necessary in Obama’s case.

      Obama’s meteoric rise in politics can be attributed to the support and grooming by a powerful and wealthy group of people with Israel centric politics (Pritzkers, Crowns, etc.). In the 2008 presidential campaign Penny Pritzker was the campaign’s national finance chairwomen, Jim Crown (Krinsky) the son of billionaire Lester Crown (uber Zionist) was the 2008 Illinois finance chairman. Abner Mikva said “Obama is our first Jewish president” during the 2008 campaign. Without the Zionist support Obama’s presidency would have been impossible, especially since it’s estimated that 60% of Democratic presidential campaign contributions originate from Jewish sources.

      Therefore, in my opinion, Obama’s strict obedience to the Israeli lobby is an integral part of your Job #1.

    • Peter Loeb
      January 6, 2015 at 07:01


      The analysis of Mr.Parry does not deal with the effects of the so-called “Palestinian” proposal as presented by Ali Albuminah is in his article on why he SUPPORTS a veto of the draft posposal.

      These reasons refer to the effects on the ground should the draft have been accepted. Albuminah also includes the text of the draft proposal (from Haaretz).

      In jest: Why is it always assumed that the
      “third presence” would be the USA? The
      third presence must evidently be a co-belligerent of one of the parties as the US has been in the agressions by Israel. According to this, Iran would be the perfect “third presence”. The fact that it is
      sympathetic to one of the parties—in this
      case Palestine—should have no relevance
      as it has never had any relevance in the
      case of the US.

      —–Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

      • Peter Loeb
        January 6, 2015 at 07:18

        In my comment above I wrote
        Parry when the correct name should have been (Pillar).

        My appologies to Mr. Parry.

        —-Peter Loeb, Boston

      • Peter Loeb
        January 7, 2015 at 06:53


        Dear Mr. Pillar and others:

        A full discussion of Ali Albuminah’s and Phyllis Bennis’ views on the US veto are available in Albuminahs’ article in “EI” of Jan 5,2015.

        The FULL TRANSCRIPT of
        their remarks on “Democracy Now” are also available here.

        These are reqjuired reading.

        —–Peter Loeb,Boston, MA US

Comments are closed.