Monday, November 26, 2007

It's That Time Again!

This is the typical presidential chronology: The first term is the time for pushing, ever so softly, your pet initiatives while the populace is still somewhat entranced by the idea of a new president. The last half of the first term is the time to make the electoral rounds, trumpeting triumphs while glossing over mistakes. The second term is the time to set about creating a legacy by pushing the bold initiatives you aren't scared to champion now that the election is behind you. After seven years in office, when all your political capital is long gone, it is at last time to try your luck in the Middle East. It is time to try and facilitate peace between the Israeli's and Palestinian's.

I say facilitate because no American president would actually want to get their hands dirty creating peace. This is especially true with Mr. Bush. Seven years of inadequate attention to one of the most urgent conflicts in the world is about to be made right tomorrow by a little flesh pressing in Annapolis, and it won't do a thing.

While Mr. Bush's cool detachment may seem like another typical example of the Bush administrations unwillingness to confront and deal with the real problems of the world, the legacy of U.S. policy in the region has not been much better. There has been a consistent unwillingness to address the real issues in the region for years now, for reasons having to do with the special U.S.-Israeli relationship. The U.S. prefers Israel over Israeli security (more on that below) and especially over the Palestinians. But the Israel that the U.S. prefers has been downright disgraceful in dealing with the historical inheritors of the land their state is set upon.

Here are the facts. Israel has been unlawfully colonizing the occupied territories since 1967, all in violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions and numerous U.N. resolutions. Israel is holding thousands of Palestinian prisoners, some held without charge, many convicted in unlawful courts (see here). These prisons have been lambasted by human rights organizations the world over. Israel has created a virtual prison of Gaza, and has been unlawfully controlling the flow of people and goods throughout the occupied territories with roadblocks and checkpoints. Israel is building an illegal (recognized as illegal by both international and Israeli courts) wall under the pretenses of security. The wall is in fact a deliberate attempt to cut through Palestinian territory, thereby creating a situation where once contiguous land claims are balkanized, making it impossible to create a viable Palestinian state. Countlessly more Palestinians have been killed by Israeli's than the other way around. The Israeli army has tanks and gunships, the palestinians have crude rockets, rocks, and bombs. In The Battle of Algiers, a leader of the FLN (a group fighting for Algerian independence), Mr. Ben M'Hidi, is asked by a reporter at a press conference whether it is cowardly to kill civilians with bombs hidden in baskets. Mr. Ben M'Hidi reminds the reporter of French atrocities against Algerians, and then replies that "of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.” That response is directly analogous to the situation in Palestine.
All of this is according to plan for the historically hawkish Israeli government, who have consistently chosen, with tacit U.S. support, as Noam Chomsky puts it, "expansion over security". The Israeli government is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid, mostly military, of any country in the world. The U.S. has leverage but the policy has been to not even talk about using it.

There is little hope for the situation to get equitable with a new president, be he/she democrat or republican. The one foreign policy point that every single major candidate agrees on is that Israel ought to be supported, right or wrong.

To convince the public of the validity of such unequivocal support of Israel, most politicians, as well as media outlets, are incredibly good at shifting the debate onto pro-Israel terms. Instead of a dialog based on the presupposition that Israel must adhere to U.N. resolutions 242 - which demands an Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied during the six day war in 1967 - as well as all other U.N. resolutions, the debate is based upon vague demands such as Palestinians must renounce violence and except Israel as a "Jewish state". That sort of debate is what I will call a Security First debate. Nancy Pelosi - liberal democrat, San Francisco - as well as most American politicians, is a firm believer in "security first," a presupposition that is not only fairly impossible to gauge if it has been met, but also one which can shift, change, morph, at the whims of the one defining what "security" means. In other words it's just diplomatic claptrap meant to stall any real peace agreement that might put an end to the suffering felt by the Palestinians.

This brings us back to where we started, with Bush finally getting around to bringing peace upon the Middle East after his Iraq expedition got all fucked up. What Condoleezza is proposing is nothing new. The U.S. still refuses to use leverage to get Israel to meet Palestinians on fair terms. What it seems this will turn into is just one more piece of evidence for the Security Firsters. I can here it now: Israel tried its best to create peace. They came all the way from the Middle East to work things out but the ungrateful Palestinian delegation is just unable to deliver on Israel's modest preconditions for peace talks. All Israel demands is that Abbas makes sure that angry Palestinians won't hurt Israel as it continues to flaunt every U.N. resolution on the books as well as the Geneva Conventions.

I fear it won't be long before presidents give up on the pretenses of trying to bring peace to the Middle East, and instead just bow out early so they can spend more time sprucing up their legacy filled presidential libraries.

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