Thursday, March 25, 2010

congress, israel, and u.s. national security

CounterPunch | The Israeli “economic miracle” and technological innovations have spawned articles and a best-selling book in recent months. The country’s average GDP growth rate has exceeded the average rate of most western countries over the past five years. Israel provides universal health insurance, unlike the situation in the U.S., which raises the question of who should be aiding whom?

Keep in mind, the U.S. economy is mired in a recession, with large rates of growing poverty, unemployment, consumer debt and state and federal deficits. In some states, public schools are shutting, public health services are being slashed, and universities are increasing tuition while also cutting programs. Even state government buildings are being sold off.

Under U.S. law, military sales to Israel cannot be used for offensive purposes, only for “legitimate self-defense.” Nonetheless, there have been numerous violations of the Arms Export Control Act by Israel. Even the indifferent State Department has found, from time to time, that munitions such as cluster bombs were “likely violations.”

Violations would lead to a cut-off in aid but with the completely pro-Israel climate in Washington, the White House has never allowed such findings to be definitive.

The same indifference applies to violations of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act that prohibits aid to countries engaging in consistent international human rights violations. These include the occupation, colonization, blockades and military assaults on civilians in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, regularly documented by the highly regarded Israeli human rights group B’Tselem as well as by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

This week, Prime Minister Netanyahu visits President Barack Obama after the recent Israeli announcement of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem made while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting that country.

The affront infuriated New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, who wrote that Mr. Biden should have packed his bags and flown away leaving behind a scribbled note saying “You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality.”

Friedman, a former Times Middle East correspondent, concluded his rebuke by writing: “Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are as genuine and serious about working toward a solution as any Israel can hope to find.”

But until a few days ago, the U.S. government had no levers over the Israeli government. Cutting off aid isn’t even whispered in the halls of Congress. Raising the issue would further galvanize Israel’s allies, including AIPAC.

The only lever left for the U.S. suddenly erupted into the public media a few days ago. General David Petraeus told the Senate that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has foreign policy and national security ramifications for the United States.

He said that “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the Area of Responsibility…Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda and other military groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

A few days earlier, Vice President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel that “what you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

What Obama’s people are publically starting to say is that regional peace is about U.S. vital interests in that large part of the Middle East and, ultimately, the safety of American soldiers and personnel.

As one retired diplomat commented “This could be a game-changer.”