Monday, 15 March 2010

The US-Israeli "rift" only distracts from the oppression of the Palestinians

Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, has reportedly told diplomats that relations between the two countries are at a thirty five year low. This comes after Israeli plans to go ahead with settlements in occupied East Jerusalem "angered" vice president Joe Biden. However, it should be questioned how genuine this alleged "rift" is.

In the past, when the interests of right-wing Zionism clash with those of global economic hegemony, the US is not afraid to chastise its client state. We have seen this in the past few years over Israeli arms sales to China and US-vetoed plans to bomb Iran, amongst other events. The idea of some all-powerful "Israel Lobby" dictating US policy on this matter is a nonsense, since the same policy is duplicated around the world, primarily serving the state corporate interests of the United States rather than of the hard-right Zionists in the government of its Israeli client.

Noam Chomsky reviews the history of US-Israeli relations to illustrate this point;
Take, as one example, arms sales to China, which [John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby] bring up as undercutting US interests. But they fail to mention that when the US objected, Israel was compelled to back down: under Clinton in 2000, and again in 2005, in this case with the Washington neocon regime going out of its way to humiliate Israel. Without a peep from The Lobby, in either case, though it was a serious blow to Israel. There's a lot more like that. Take the worst crime in Israel's history, its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 with the goal of destroying the secular nationalist PLO and ending its embarrassing calls for political settlement, and imposing a client Maronite regime. The Reagan administration strongly supported the invasion through its worst atrocities, but a few months later (August), when the atrocities were becoming so severe that even NYT Beirut correspondent Thomas Friedman was complaining about them, and they were beginning to harm the US "national interest," Reagan ordered Israel to call off the invasion, then entered to complete the removal of the PLO from Lebanon, an outcome very welcome to both Israel and the US (and consistent with general US opposition to independent nationalism). The outcome was not entirely what the US-Israel wanted, but the relevant observation here is that the Reaganites supported the aggression and atrocities when that stand was conducive to the "national interest," and terminated them when it no longer was (then entering to finish the main job). That's pretty normal.
Here, once again, we can see the US taking a strong rhetorical line on Israeli actions. Unlike the Lebanon war, however, Israeli settlement building is not neccesarily harming American national interest. What it is doing is challenging the PR image that Barack Obama has built up for himself and his administration. As I pointed out during the 2009 invasion of Gaza, Obama's position on the Middle East is a somewhat more dovish approach than the Bush administration, though with much the same goals. Propagandised through the filters of the media, this makes him concilliatory, a peacemaker to Bush's warmonger.

Thus, whilst Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden go "on the offensive" over settlement plans in East Jerusalem, little clamour is raised for Bilin and Nilin. The Israeli government has declared both Palestinian villages "closed military zones" and barred Israelis and foreigners entering in a bid to suffocate protest there against the apartheir imposed by the "separation wall."

According to Anarchists Against the Wall, this has not prevented resistance;
After giving speeches in Arabic, English and Hebrew, a small group of demonstrators went through the barbed wire set on the road, and was pushed by the soldiers who also threatened activists will be arrested as the area is a closed military zone. Demonstrators on both sides sat on the ground, beat drums, sang songs, and called upon the soldiers to abandon the oppression of the popular struggle and join it in stead. The soldiers, already with stun and tear gas grenades at hand, were somewhat taken aback faced with this act of non-violent resistance and the many cameras documenting all over the place. And so, with nobody arrested and no attack on the demonstrators, activists eventually decided to leave willingly and escape the burning sun, promising to return next week as well.
However, as well as protests such as these, what the people of these towns (as well as in Gaza and East Jerusalem) need is solidarity. They need their cause to be heard across the world, and stories of a "rift" in US-Israeli relations over what is ultimately a tactical question only obfuscate that fact.