Unseemly Competition for Israel’s Blessing

President Obama’s record $38 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel shows neither U.S. major party wants to be “out-Israeled.” The Trump campaign endorses an Israeli claim that Palestinians want to ethnically cleanse Jews, ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Republican Party and Republican candidates have been moving over the past few years ever more fully into the embrace of Israel’s right-wing government, even more than American politicians in general do. This trend has been apparent notwithstanding the traditional preference of AIPAC, the core of the Israel lobby, to keep its support bipartisan so that its influence on U.S. policy will not be largely dependent on the success of only one U.S. party.

The de facto alliance between the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the 2012 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney can be considered a part of this trend. A more obvious part was the spectacle last year of Congressional Republicans inviting the head of a foreign government — i.e., Netanyahu — to denounce from the podium of the House chamber a major U.S. foreign policy initiative.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking to the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking to the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

For this year’s campaign, the Republican Party platform surrenders all traces of independent thought on issues involving Israel and defers completely to the preferences and themes of Netanyahu’s government. The platform makes no mention whatever of Palestinians, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or of a two-state solution or any other resolution of that conflict.

It explicitly denies that there is any such thing as an Israeli occupation. It calls for outlawing any boycotts or other peaceful measures directed against Israeli policies in Israeli-controlled territories. It speaks of “no daylight between America and Israel.” This section of the platform would read no differently if it had come straight out of a printer in Netanyahu’s office.

Republican canvassers for Donald Trump are showing in another way their attitude toward the occupation by opening offices in settlements in the occupied West Bank to seek votes from U.S. citizens who live there. Those running the operation say their funds are raised locally but they coordinate daily with the Trump campaign. Their operation is based in what, according not only to long-established U.S. policy under multiple administrations but also the position of the international community generally, is an illegal Israeli presence.

Endorsing Netanyahu’s Video

Now the Trump campaign has endorsed a video from Netanyahu asserting that Palestinian leaders call for “ethnic cleansing” of Jews from any future Palestinian state. Such an endorsement is especially significant because the assertion in the video is an especially inapt portrayal of relevant issues.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on March 3, 2015, in opposition to President Barack Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran. (Screen shot from CNN broadcast)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on March 3, 2015, in opposition to President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. (Screen shot from CNN broadcast)

Any objective and fair-minded observer would conclude, as a matter of accuracy and of propriety, that the video should be roundly criticized. That is what the Obama administration — even though it has no reason to be picking new fights with Netanyahu’s government — has done.

A State Department spokesperson stated, “We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful.”

Netanyahu’s statement in the video that “the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one precondition: no Jews” is false. The Palestinian leadership has clearly and explicitly stated that Jews and members of any other religious or ethnic groups would be welcome to reside in, and accept citizenship of, a Palestinian state. What the Palestinians have rejected is continuation of Israeli citizens in Israeli settlements as a kind of extra-territorial Israeli presence within a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu appears to have based his assertion on a comment in 2013 by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas that “in a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands.” Netanyahu’s substitution of “Jew” for “Israeli” in his incorrect assertion is the same technique he uses more broadly to wrap everything his government does in the cloak of world Jewry. It is the same false equivalence that underlies the habitual pinning by some of Netanyahu’s defenders of the label anti-Semitism on any and all criticism of his government’s policies.

A Painful History

The whole matter of minorities in states with a Jewish or Arab majority has a relevant and painful history. A continuing characteristic of that history has been one of Arabs having control of less land than the relative sizes of the populations would suggest.

In 1948, some Palestinians, uprooted by Israel's claims to their lands, relocated to the Jaramana Refugee Camp in Damascus, Syria

In 1948, some Palestinians, uprooted by Israel’s claims to their lands, relocated to the Jaramana Refugee Camp in Damascus, Syria

In the United Nations partition plan that in 1947 laid out boundaries for new Jewish and Arab states in what had been the British mandate of Palestine, the Jewish state was allocated 56 percent of the land even though Jews constituted only 33 percent of the population. As a result, while the projected Arab-run state would have had only a tiny (one percent) Jewish minority, the projected Jewish-run state would have had a population that was 45 percent Arab.

What many Arabs considered the injustice of such a division of land underlay the rejection of the U.N. plan by Arab governments and leaders. In the ensuing war of 1948-1949, the Arabs’ military failure left them with only about 22 percent of Palestine. And then Israel’s military conquests in 1967 gave it control of the whole thing.

It is hardly surprising that today, as Palestinians think about a future Palestinian state that would be only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what they consider to have once been theirs, they reject even more inroads, in the form of permanent Israeli settlements, on whatever fraction they would be left with.

The international community has seen things the same way. Every peace plan over the last couple of decades has included the concept that, wherever final boundaries might be drawn, withdrawal of some Israeli settlements would be necessary, partly to make possible the economic viability of a Palestinian state.

Reality Turned Upside-Down

As Matt Duss observes, if the “ethnic cleansing” accusation were to be applied to Palestinian leaders, it also would have to be applied to other international figures who have worked on the problem, including at least the last three U.S. presidents.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Nov. 21, 2012. [State Department photo]

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Nov. 21, 2012. [State Department photo]

In his video, Netanyahu highlights the fact that Israel has a 20 percent Arab population and that this shows Israel’s “diversity” and “openness.” He tries to pair this observation with the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The Israeli Arabs are not an obstacle to peace, he says, so why should the settlements be considered illegitimate and an obstacle to peace? Of course, there is really no comparison at all between colonization of conquered territory by the conqueror against the will of — and to the detriment of — the existing inhabitants, and the residence of Arabs within Israel because they and their ancestors had been living there all along.

But another observation to make about Netanyahu’s rhetoric on this subject is how much it contrasts with his insistence at other times that the Palestinians explicitly recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” This precondition has been one of the current impediments to getting any productive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under way.

Palestinian leaders reject that demand not only because it might prejudge resolution of the so-called right of return issue but also because they would be formally endorsing the second-class citizenship of their Arab brethren within Israel. Consistency evidently is not Netanyahu’s objective; indefinitely putting off any peaceful settlement of the conflict, while finding ways to blame Palestinians for the impasse, is.

A major backdrop to the charge about ethnic cleansing, one that liberal voices in Israel have noted, is the forcible replacement of one population with another that actually has occurred in Palestine. The biggest instance was when some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were forced from their homes during the 1948 war in what Arabs call the Nakba or catastrophe. That is a major reason why that 20 percent Arab population that Netanyahu used as a rhetorical prop in his video is not any larger than it is. Currently Netanyahu’s government conducts a more gradual form of forcible replacement of one population with another through, on one hand, continued expansion of Israeli settlements and, on the other hand, the confiscation of land, demolition of homes, erection of economic impediments, lethal force, and other measures that squeeze life out of the Palestinian community in the West Bank. Use of the term ethnic cleansing may be appropriate, but not because of anything that Palestinians are doing or have the ability or opportunity to do.

The Trump campaign’s reaction to all of this, as voiced by Trump’s adviser on U.S.-Israeli relations, is that Netanyahu “makes exactly the right point” and that the Obama administration “should be ashamed of their misguided reaction” to Netanyahu’s video.

Evidently the strategy — notwithstanding Trump briefly making the lobby nervous earlier this year by saying he would be “neutral” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is an especially uncompromising version of the usual American political strategy of making sure one is not out-Israeled by one’s opponent. And it is not as if Hillary Clinton has given any indication that she will mount a challenge on these issues from the other direction.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

12 comments for “Unseemly Competition for Israel’s Blessing

  1. Peter Loeb
    September 17, 2016 at 07:01

    AGAINST MY BETTER JUDGEMENT…

    Not having seen the Netanyahu video, I often feel hat
    Jews in Palestine should NOT be “ethnically cleansed”
    but should be evacuated. They should be welcomed
    as guests of a sovereign Palestinian government
    on that government’s terms. Just as they should be
    welcomed in the US, France, Italy etc. They should
    have the rights of all citizens where they choose to
    live, the rights to build their own houses of worship
    and so forth.

    There is no reason for any special —and exclusive—
    sovereignty in a country where others have lived for many years.

    This, however, can never be. The Palestinians lost
    the conquest of their territory.

    Others helped. The UK, the US etc.

    I do not see any solution as long as Zionism controls
    Palestine . in the forseeable future.

    Courage to the many who continue to fight for
    crumbs.

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  2. Fergus Hashimoto
    September 16, 2016 at 16:23

    “What many Arabs considered the injustice of such a division of land underlay the rejection of the U.N. plan by Arab governments and leaders.”
    This statement is a blatant falsehood. The Arabs DID NOT object to “SUCH a division of land”. They objected to ANY division of land. The Arabs insisted that the Jews be subject to Arab rule in an independent Palestine.
    However that was an extremely problematical demand, since between 1920 and 1948 the main Palestinian Arab leader was Haj Amin al-Husseini, who in Jerusalem on March 7, 1920, exhorted a crowd of 70 thousand Arabs to violence against the Jews. The crowd roared back “Mohammed’s religion was born with a sword!” On the walls of towns all over Palestine they wrote “Death to the Jews” and “Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs!” https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89meutes_de_J%C3%A9rusalem_de_1920
    In 1940 Husseini fled from British colonial police to Iraq, where he masterminded a pogrom that killed dozens of native, non-Zionist Jews. He soon left for Berlin, where he became a general in the SS and personally agitated for sending hundreds of thousands of Hungarian and other Jews to the gas chambers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amin_al-Husseini
    If in 1948 the Arabs expected that the Jews would willingly submit to rule by an SS general who had participated in the Holocaust, that is proof that the Arabs were insane.

  3. Alexander Contis
    September 16, 2016 at 15:09

    Bravo, Mr. Pillar !

    Israel’s egregious international war crimes of military invasion, occupation, ethnic cleansing, plunder and colonization of Palestinian land should be forcefully and repeatedly condemned , as you’ve done. Perhaps I’ve overlooked such, if so, I apologize, but it seems that you have never published a like condemnation of Turkey’s brutal 42 years occupation. plunder, ethnic cleansing and colonization of almost 40% of European Union member Cyprus. Your opinion about this conspicuous but rarely discussed violation of the 4th Geneva Convention would be very interesting to read.

  4. Ol' Hippy
    September 16, 2016 at 12:59

    It’s time for real change, make peace for a change instead of hate fueled rhetoric. It’s time to end this nonsense and try a different way of living. It just might work if hate is dispelled and resolved. Try it. it’s the least you can do.

  5. September 16, 2016 at 07:57

    Our own fifth columnist the anglo-zionist lobby. a bit of History 1916 Sykes -Picot and the Balfour accord where Sir Rothschild and Balfour had a gentlemans agreement with regards to the Palestinian mandate the Israel midwifing. The war hadn’t finished and the imperial powers of the west already dividing the spoils and anglo-zionist supremo himself Rothschild midwifing the pregnancy of a nation. I might add another a bit of history 1913 Federal reserve act. Woodrow Wilson in his later years and stated that that was one of his worst decisions he had made political in his whole political career.

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      September 17, 2016 at 15:02

      No he didn’t. The debunking of that can be seen on RationalWiki. And Wilson’s credibility is reduced by the fact he was a white supremacist.

  6. Sally Snyder
    September 15, 2016 at 18:35

    Here is an article that looks the relationship between the timing of Israeli attacks and important non-Israeli new coverage in the United States:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2016/04/what-israel-does-when-worlds-not.html

    Israel does whatever it can to ensure that its attacks against Palestinians receive minimal negative press coverage.

  7. Wobblie
    September 15, 2016 at 17:13

    Imagine if Liberals and Conservatives cared as much about Americans as they do Israeli politicians!

    I guess we’re just second class citizens

    https://therulingclassobserver.com/2016/09/14/ruling-class-society-vs-paradise/

  8. Bill Bodden
    September 15, 2016 at 14:01

    Nothing will change for the better, consequently the US-Israel-Palestine lunacy will only get worse as long as Americans continue to elect courtesans to national offices who sell their favors and souls to the Israel Lobby. It is astonishing how the English language continues to become equally more corrupt when Israel is referred to.

    • Joe Tedesky
      September 15, 2016 at 16:30

      Bill, there are often moments I have where I feel that saving the US from all this corporate greed is impossible. Our politicians run campaigns that only the media profits from. Our media profits from reporting only what the corporations wish for us to hear. Our corporations profit even when they lose money, because they know the taxpayer who has little to say about it will bail them out in the end. Our defense department is so out of control, that a June 2016 Inspector General DOD report stating how the DOD can’t locate 6.5 trillion dollars, goes unreported. A man made bacteria named Cynthia which was used to eradicate the spilled oil from the 2010 Gulf BP oil spill is now eating up every living thing it gets near, and no one is reporting this either. Oh there is no remedy yet for Cynthia either.

      http://journal-neo.org/2016/09/14/cynthia-the-flesh-eating-s/

      Let’s hope that Cynthia isn’t as bad as they say it is.

      Finally, it would appear that the only politicians who do get their way, are the Israeli politicians. Our wonderful media works very hard to cover up the sins of the Israeli government imposed upon the unfairly treated Palestinians to the point of fascist censorship. Most Americans haven’t yet figured it out, that these Middle Eastern wars are nothing but America fighting for dear little Israel.

      Jewish people should be concerned to how Netanyahu has framed these Israeli acts of aggression, as being a Jewish cause, and denounce this man and his rhetoric for everything it stands for. Netanyahu is harming the good Jewish people, and this will be the final nail in the Jewish coffin, unless people can separate the good from the bad. I don’t mean to scare any Jewish people, but Netanyahu’s policies are always framed as a Jewish policy, and that is where the problem lies.

    • Bill Bodden
      September 15, 2016 at 19:33

      there are often moments I have where I feel that saving the US from all this corporate greed is impossible

      Joe:

      You’re probably right. The plutocrats and corporations and the oligarchs they own in the media and in government in Washington and other capitals around the world are more likely to prevail if the people don’t rise in a revolution. Too bad Bernie Sanders didn’t join Jill Stein instead of selling out to Hillary. The “Our Revolution” movement he gives lip service to doesn’t look like it will go anywhere. Those of us who are opposed to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and their parties are like the soldiers who volunteered to serve in World War Two to defend the nation. This time, the enemies are fellow Americans who are destroying the nation from within.

      Our defense department is so out of control,…

      What “defense” department? It should go back to its former and more honest name – War Department.

      Most Americans haven’t yet figured it out,…

      Most Americans haven’t figure anything out.

      Netanyahu is harming the good Jewish people, and this will be the final nail in the Jewish coffin, unless people can separate the good from the bad.

      Fortunately, there is no Hitler-like anti-semite on the horizon who could condemn the good with the evil. People of Jewish heritage should be very grateful for the bloggers who maintain the Mondoweiss website reminding us of the best of their people.

    • Cal
      September 15, 2016 at 21:51

      ” I don’t mean to scare any Jewish people, but Netanyahu’s policies are always framed as a Jewish policy, and that is where the problem lies”>>>>

      Agree with you mostly.

      But I have often said the Jewish people ‘do need’ to be scared……scared enough to do something about it.
      Fear, like love and hate, is a great motivator.
      And they need to start with bringing down the US Zionist first and then Israel.

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