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Issue #1486      26 January 2011

Culture & Life

Between a rock and a hard place

When the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was at its height, a global blockade was implemented, to make South Africa’s isolation tangible and clear. Several countries – and quite a few capitalist firms – sought to thwart this blockade but few dared to do it openly because of the world-wide abhorrence of the blatantly racist apartheid system.

One state that did not hesitate to give aid (especially military aid) and succour to the South African racists was Israel. South African gold helped make Israel one of the world’s major arms manufacturers and suppliers.

The universally-condemned South African policy of segregated areas or “Bantustans” for the black population of the country today forms the basis for Israel’s policy in illegally-occupied Palestine, with Palestinians substituted for Africans.

For half a century the US, with an eye to securing control over Middle East oil and at the same time countering Arab unity and possible Arab power, has given Israel open and unstinting support, using military might and UN veto to provide a shield for Israeli aggression.

Israel has been the USA’s big stick in the region, and a mighty useful big stick it has been. In the meantime, on the strength of this special relationship, the Zionist “Israel Lobby” in Washington has flourished, attaining extraordinary influence and consequently power.

They have forged strong relationships with right wing US politicians, particularly in the Republican Party. The new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for example, is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida. Her main individual campaign contributor is Irving Moskowitz, a major funder of the most militant settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Not surprisingly, Ros-Lehtinen is less than partial to the Palestinian cause.

With people like Ros-Lehtinen on board, the Israel lobby must have seemed impregnable. But in the face of Israel’s blatant, racist aggression, and the scale of that aggression, the popular tide is turning against the Israeli propaganda machine. The feeble excuse that Israel is only defending itself (against the puny and largely ineffectual rocket attacks from Palestine) simply won’t wash anymore.

According to Washington commentator Jim Lobe, who has a blog at, even the USA’s own experts are beginning to press the White House to change its Middle East line. “Some four dozen former top US diplomats and prominent policy analysts”, according to Lobe, are urging the US administration to support (or at least not to oppose) a Security Council draft resolution that condemns the Israeli settlements in Palestine as illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace.

The diplomats include George Bush Sr’s UN ambassador, and Reagan’s national security adviser and defence secretary, as well as several former US ambassadors to Israel.

The resolution should go before the Security Council in February and, unless it is vetoed by the US, Britain or France, is expected to reaffirm the illegality of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories.

For all their concern over the dangers inherent in present US policy towards Palestine and Israel, the US former diplomats and ambassadors seem to be sadly out of touch with the reality of how US policy is perceived in the region, and indeed throughout the world. In a letter released to the media, they actually warn the Obama administration that “America’s credibility” in the region would be at stake if the US vetoes the resolution. “Our seriousness as a guarantor of international law and international legitimacy is at stake,” they went on (I kid you not).

The US, remember, is the country that tried to get Israel to accept a paltry three-month suspension of settlement building in the occupied territories by offering it a bribe of billions of dollars worth of new warplanes, various security guarantees, and a US pledge to veto any Security Council resolution critical of Israel over the next year. Israel, confident that the US has no alternative but to support its belligerent Middle East proxy, in effect told the US to go take a running jump.

The letter from the former diplomats and advisers is deemed daring in the official US context, where questioning the line of US foreign policy is regarded as virtually disloyal. But amongst the American people, the letter’s assertion that “America’s credibility in a crucial region of the world is on the line” was met with derision, probably because the letter couldn’t resist describing the Middle East as “a region in which hundreds of thousands of our troops are deployed and where we face the greatest threats and challenges to our security”.

A typical comment was: “The United States has not had the respect of the rest of the world since World War 2, and has been the laughing stock of the rest of the world due to our government’s arrogance, hubris, stupidity, inefficiency, and domination of the rest of the world.” Which doesn’t leave you anywhere much to go, does it?

Meanwhile, there has been a sharp increase in Israeli settlement construction on the West Bank and demolition of Palestinian property in East Jerusalem over the last six months, as Israel thumbs its nose at a US administration it sees as powerless to stand up to it.

When Obama, desperate to get some credibility in the Middle East, asked Israeli PM Netanyahu last year to freeze all settlement activity in the Occupied Territories, including in East Jerusalem, he got embarrassingly rebuffed.

On the other hand, Palestinian diplomacy has been gaining support from states in various parts of the world for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 boundary. At the same time, a number of other countries have upgraded their diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority.

Virtually all the world’s nations and the World Court have regarded Israeli settlements in territory conquered during the 1967 war as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The US for its part finds itself lodged firmly between a rock and a hard place.  

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