Whoa, Israel is our friend. We have an unbreakable bond. The 19 months of proximity talks are just starting to lead into direct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Whymess with this Karma? No one talks about Israeli sanctions, why discuss it now? No one discusses sanctions openly and perhaps it is past time we did.
Last month, Obama met with Netanyahu to discuss US-Israeli relations. The outcome of that meeting was a public display of unity and solidarity between our nations and a commitment by Netanyahu to advance toward direct peace talks with Abbas. What is more relevant was what transpired in the weeks after that meeting. Within the next week over150 Palestinian homes in the West Bank were razed to the ground. Several attacks were carried out on Palestinians in Gaza and a number of additional Palestinian were killed or wounded. Palestinian deaths by Israel on average number about 20-30 per week and have for the last 2 years independent of the recent Gaza war (1,250 - 1,350/year). Netanyahu also insisted what has been a "partial" freeze on Israeli building in the West Bank would completely end in September. Is the US facilitating peace by its public displays of solidarity with Israel, or are we just enabling Israel's agenda? It seems the later, and our very public displays of support for Israel are producing more harm than good for peace in the region.
Let's start with a simple stumbling block to peace, a single word. Israel has never recognized the areas taken in the Six Days War as "occupied", it refers to them as "disputed". This semantic difference in what adjective is used to describe these areas might seem minor, even trivial. It is not. If the areas under Israeli control are "disputed", Israel does not believe it needs to recognize international law related to their control. It is not obligated to provide civilians living in "disputed" territories similar rights as people who live in "occupied" territories under its control. Occupied means "it belongs to the Palestinians" and Israel is there for only a limited time and has certain obligations to the civilians under its control. Disputed means "it is unclear who has what rights" until the dispute is resolved. Most Israeli settlers today accept the territories as "their land." The Palestinians and Arabs living there are just interlopers. The use of armed forces to keep the peace places most of the 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank under constant military rule. Meanwhile, the 280,000+ Jewish settlers in the region are provided the same civil and judicial rights as any other Israeli citizen.
This dichotomous state for Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the same territory automatically creates tensions, hate, fear and anger due to their unequal treatment. Mistreatment and discrimination of individuals based on their ethnicity is prevalent in the West Bank and is appropriately labeled "racism". Racism in its severest forms is associated with segregation and apartheid, visibly displayed by the West Bank and Gaza walls. Justification for such severe segregation is always the same wherever it occurs in the world: "protection". This national Israeli policy of apartheid is a highly developed, enforced and ingrained strategy that has transformed life in those territories Israel controls.
Superimposed on this discrimination is a slow, methodical taking of Palestinian land without recourse, and in direct conflict with any Palestinian rights. Palestinian land has been expropriated directly by Israel for security, to build Jewish settlements and roads to connect them or merely taken by Jewish settlers claiming the land as theirs. The more aggressive Jewish settlers have physically assaulted and removed Palestinians from their own homes in order to claim the homesas theirs. Such inappropriate human behavior is an outgrowth of a belief system that treatment of fellow humans is defined by power and not by basic human rights or equality. When the Israeli army and courts do little or nothing to severely punish such abusive behavior they reinforce the message "yes, you can."
The West Bank today is now divided by over 220 pockets of Jewish settlements and outposts. There has been about a 10 fold increase in the Jewish population there since 1967. That steady rate of increase significantly outpaces the rate of Palestinian population growth (4 fold) or the growth of the Jewish population in Israel itself (3 fold) over that same time period. This rapid growth rate is neither "normal" nor "natural". It is "facilitated". Israel also regulates building throughout most of the West Bank. Since 1967, Israel has approved more than 50,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in Palestinian East Jerusalem. During the last 35 yearspermits have not been approved for Palestinianhomes in Jerusalem. The denial of building to allow for "natural" growth among the much larger number of Palestinian people in territory Israel covets is an outgrowth of an institutionalized program of discrimination that embraces "might makes right" and "the ends justify the means". While it seems disagreement over a single word should not justify ignoring personal property rights, human rights and equality as relevant issues, in fact it has. This is merely part of the collateral damage produced by that strategy.
Hostility resulting from the Palestinian response to such discrimination and their lands slow, continual pillage with the approval, help and acquiescence of the Israeli government has often resulted in Palestinian death or imprisonment. Palestinians in the territories are arrested without charge or due process and detained for as long as Israeli authorities wish. This policy of detainment has also applied to Palestinian children.
A convoluted system of Israeli rules, dictate Palestinian travel, building and business that by design discourage and hinder their normal prosperity and growth. None of this has led to any serious consequences for Israel. Israel has used excessive force, degrading treatment and extensive detention, demolition of homes and schools and discrimination against Palestinians with impunity. When Palestinians fight back, Israel claims "we are the victim."
The US has many tools to encourage a better standard of behavior from Israel, but we have refused to discuss, let alone apply them. We promote our solidarity with Israel, which turns around and continues to carry out the same policies, for the same reasons and with the same excuses and the same outcome. US actions have given Israel a free pass to continue what it has been doing. When we embrace our "unbreakable bond", deflect criticism of bad behavior, excuse or ignore human rights violations and abuses and fail to impose any serious penalties while Congress supports every misdeed and action as the fault of someone else, what is the world to conclude? What does Israel conclude? It is business as usual.
The US encourages this response by failing to impose sanctions on Israel that affirm "rights come with obligations." Great power carries greater responsibility. However, when there is no enforcing any limits on power and no demands that obligations be associated with rights, the only outcome is abuse. Israeli power (not right) is what currently justifies the execution of its policies in the territories it controls. Israeli obligations associated with that power are difficult to find. Instead of opposing that attitude by Israel, the US has enabled, supported and encouraged it by our inaction and inability to demand Israel change its direction or course, or suffer the consequences of US sanctions associated with such intransigence. Use of the word "disputed" is no excuse for injustice, inequality or human rights violations. But since it has been used this way, the US could start by insisting Israel adopt the word "occupied" to describe the territories instead of "disputed" as all other countries in the world do today.
This administration cannot be both a proponent of human rights, and ignore Israeli actions and behaviors in the territories it controls. Such duplicity makes the US position on human rights a shame, only applicable to those with whom the US disagrees, not our friends with whom we share an unbreakable bond. If there is only solidarity and no pressure and sanctions on Israel, then how is Middle East peace to be achieved? Why would Israel seriously embrace peace when it gains far more by the present process of expropriation and settlement without any serious consequences arising from those actions and behaviors? A lack of US sanctions encourages business as usual, peace be damned, a likely outcome indeed.