The Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas meetings in May 2009, followed by Obama’s speech in Cairo, have been widely interpreted as a turning point in U.S. Middle East policy, leading to consternation in some quarters, exuberance in others. Fairly typical is Middle East analyst Dan Fromkin of the Washington Post, who sees “signs Obama will promote a new regional peace initiative for the Middle East, much like the one championed by Jordan’s King Abdullah…[and also] the first distinct signs that Obama is willing to play hardball with Israel.”1 A closer look, however, suggests reservations.
King Abdullah insists that “There is no change to the Arab Peace Initiative, and there is no need to amend it. Any talk about amending it, is baseless.”2 Abbas, the U.S. favorite and regularly described as the president of the Palestinian Authority (his term expired in January 2009), firmly agreed. The Arab Peace Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus that Israel must withdraw to the international border, perhaps with “minor and mutual adjustments,” to adopt official U.S. terminology before it departed sharply from world opinion in 1971, endorsing Israel’s rejection of peace with Egypt in favor of large-scale settlement expansion (then in the northeastern Sinai)—a fateful decision, granting expansion priority over security, and firming up Israel’s dependence on the United States. Furthermore, the consensus calls for a Palestinian state to be established in united Gaza and the West Bank after Israel’s withdrawal. The Arab Peace Initiative adds that the Arab states should then normalize relations with Israel. The initiative was later adopted by the Organization of Islamic States, including Iran,3 which had already indicated its willingness to go along with this plan.
Obama has praised the initiative and called on the Arab states to proceed to normalize relations with Israel, scrupulously evading the core of the proposal: reiteration of the international consensus.4 His studied omission can only be understood as implicit reiteration of the U.S. rejectionist stand that has blocked a diplomatic settlement since the 1970s along with its Israeli client, in virtual isolation, with rare and temporary—and highly instructive—exceptions. There are no signs that Obama is willing even to consider the Arab Peace Initiative, let alone “promote” it. That was underscored in Obama’s much heralded address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, 2009, to which I will return.
The U.S.-Israel interactions—with Abbas on the sidelines—turn on two phrases: “Palestinian state” and “natural growth of settlements.” Let’s consider these in turn.
Obama has indeed pronounced the words “Palestinian state,” echoing Bush. In contrast, the (unrevised) 1999 platform of Israel’s governing party, Netanyahu’s Likud, “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.” The Bush-Obama position could, therefore, be understood as “hardball,” if it meant anything. And it is also useful to recall that it was Netanyahu’s 1996 government that was the first in Israel to use the phrase “Palestinian state.” It agreed that Palestinians can call whatever fragments of Palestine are left to them “a state” if they like—or they can call them “fried chicken.”5
The contemptuous reference to Palestinian aspirations by the 1996 Netanyahu government was a shift toward accommodation in Israeli policy. As he left office shortly before, Shimon Peres, regarded in the West as a leading dove, forcefully declared that there will never be a Palestinian state.6
Peres was reaffirming the official 1989 position of the Israeli coalition government (Shamir-Peres), fully endorsed by Washington (Secretary of State James Baker), that there can be no “additional Palestinian state” between Israel and Jordan—the latter declared to be a Palestinian state by U.S.-Israeli fiat. Furthermore, in the Peres-Shamir-Baker plan, the fate of the occupied territories was to be settled in terms of the guidelines established by the government of Israel, and Palestinians were permitted to take part in negotiations only if they accepted these guidelines, which ruled out Palestinian national rights.7
Contrary to much misunderstanding, the Oslo agreements of September 1993—the “Day of Awe,” as the press described it—changed little in this regard. The Declaration of Principles that was signed ostentatiously by both parties, with Clinton standing over them, established that the end point of the process would be realization of the goals of UN 242, which accords no rights to Palestinians. And by 1993, the United States had long withdrawn its earlier interpretation of 242 (still held by the world generally, Israel aside), which took the international border to be the pre–June 1967 “green line,” with perhaps “minor and mutual adjustments.”
The Peres-Shamir-Baker declarations of 1989 were in response to the official Palestinian acceptance of the international consensus on a two-state solution in 1988. That proposal was first formally enunciated in 1976 in a Security Council resolution introduced by the major Arab states with the tacit support of the PLO, vetoed by the United States (again in 1980). Since then U.S.-Israeli rejectionism has persisted unchanged, with one brief but significant exception, in President Clinton’s final month in office.
Clinton recognized that the terms he had offered at the failed 2000 Camp David meetings were not acceptable to any Palestinians, and in December, proposed his “parameters,” inexplicit but more forthcoming. He then announced that both sides had accepted the parameters, though both had reservations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt, to iron out the differences, and made considerable progress. A full resolution could have been reached in a few more days, they announced in their final joint press conference. But Israeli prime minister Barak called off the negotiations prematurely, and they have not been formally resumed.
The single exception suggests that if an American president were willing to tolerate a meaningful diplomatic settlement, it might very well be reached.
The facts are well documented in Hebrew and English sources.8 But like much of the relevant history, they are regularly reshaped to suit doctrinal needs; for example by Jeffrey Goldberg, who writes that “by December of 2000, Israel had accepted President Bill Clinton’s ‘parameters,’ offering the Palestinians all of the Gaza Strip, 94 percent to 96 percent of the West Bank and sovereignty over Arab areas of East Jerusalem. Arafat again rejected the deal.”9 That is a convenient and conventional fairy tale, demonstrably false or seriously misleading in all particulars, and another useful contribution to U.S.-Israeli rejectionism.
Returning to the phrase “Palestinian state,” the crucial question on the U.S. side is whether when Obama produces the words, he means the international consensus or “fried chicken.” So far that remains unanswered, except by careful omission, and—crucially—by Washington’s steady funding of Israel’s programs of settlement and development in the West Bank, recognized on all sides to be illegal, as already discussed. Probably Netanyahu would still accept his 1996 position.
The contours of “fried chicken” are being carved into the landscape daily by U.S.-backed Israeli programs. The general goals were outlined by Prime Minister Olmert in May 2006 in his “Convergence program,” later expanded to “Convergence plus.” Under “Convergence,” Israel was to take over the territory within the illegal separation wall along with the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is broken into cantons by several salients extending well to the east. The most important of these is the salient extending to the east of the greatly expanded Jerusalem area including the town of Ma’aleh Adumim, whose lands extend virtually to Jericho, effectively bisecting the West Bank. Recently released Israeli documents reveal that it was planned for this purpose in 1974 by the Rabin Labor government, driving out Palestinians. Current Defense Minister Ehud Barak (also Labor) informed the press in February 2009 that “Ma’aleh Adumim will be an inseparable part of Jerusalem and the State of Israel in any permanent settlement.”10 That includes the E-1 corridor between Greater Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, where Israeli encroachment has been proceeding slowly. The construction of a huge police headquarters in the E-1 corridor—“like a colonial palace in the Third World”—was completed in 2008, intended to be connected to a new town that is on the drawing boards but has been held up for five years by U.S. objections, which so far have blocked plans to develop the corridor. Press investigation discovered that the bulk of the funding for the colonial palace comes from far-right private donors operating within the Elad Foundation, whose stated purpose is “the strengthening of Jewish ties to historic Jerusalem”—which has nothing to do with the E-1 corridor, intended to bisect the West Bank. The resort to private donors to build a major police headquarters for the West Bank (“Judea and Samaria”) is typical of the devious methods Israel has regularly used to conceal encroachment on Arab lands within Israel itself, and in its systematic takeover of the West Bank. The concealment is very shallow, but it works, if the paymaster chooses not to look.
Several other salients to the north carve up the rest of Palestinian territory. Israel has effectively annexed Greater Jerusalem, the site of most of its current construction projects, again driving out many Arabs. These Jerusalem projects not only violate international law, as do all the others, but also Security Council resolutions (at the time, still backed by the United States).
The plans being executed right now are designed to leave Israel in control of the most valuable land in the West Bank, with Palestinians confined to unviable fragments, all separated from Jerusalem, the traditional center of Palestinian life. The separation wall also establishes Israeli control of the crucially important West Bank aquifer. Hence Israel will be able to continue to ensure that Palestinians receive one-fourth as much water as Israelis, as the World Bank reported in April, in some cases below minimum recommended levels. In the other part of Palestine, Gaza, regular Israeli attacks and the merciless siege reduce consumption far below these levels.11
Obama continues to support all of these programs, and has even called for substantially increasing military aid to Israel for an unprecedented ten years.12 It appears, then, that under Obama Palestinians may be offered fried chicken, but nothing more.
Since the Oslo “peace process” was initiated in 1991, Israel has carried out a systematic policy of forced separation of Gaza from the West Bank, with carefully calculated savagery, and in violation of Israel’s repeated commitments. It was intensified with U.S. support after the unacceptable free election of January 2006. All of this too has been ignored in Obama’s “new initiative,” thus underscoring his lack of commitment to any viable Palestinian state.13
Gaza’s separation from Palestine has been almost entirely consigned to oblivion, an atrocity to which we should not contribute by tacit consent. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, one of the leading specialists on Gaza, writes that
the restrictions on Palestinian movement that Israel introduced in January 1991 reversed a process that had been initiated in June 1967. Back then, and for the first time since 1948, a large portion of the Palestinian people again lived in the open territory of a single country—to be sure, one that was occupied, but was nevertheless whole.… The total separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is one of the greatest achievements of Israeli politics, whose overarching objective is to prevent a solution based on international decisions and understandings and instead dictate an arrangement based on Israel’s military superiority.… Since January 1991, Israel has bureaucratically and logistically merely perfected the split and the separation: not only between Palestinians in the occupied territories and their brothers in Israel, but also between the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and those in the rest of the territories and between Gazans and West Bankers/Jerusalemites. Jews live in this same piece of land within a superior and separate system of privileges, laws, services, physical infrastructure and freedom of movement.14
The leading academic specialist on Gaza, Harvard scholar Sara Roy, adds that
Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers.… Gaza’s subjection began long before Israel’s recent war against it [December 2008]. The Israeli occupation—now largely forgotten or denied by the international community—has devastated Gaza’s economy and people, especially since 2006.… After Israel’s December  assault, Gaza’s already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable. Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel Defense Forces admitted was indefensible. In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. 80 percent of Gaza’s agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well-fenced and patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished.… Today, 96 percent of Gaza’s population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic needs. According to the World Food Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum of 400 trucks of food every day just to meet the basic nutritional needs of the population. Yet, despite a 22 March  decision by the Israeli cabinet to lift all restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks of food and other supplies were allowed entry during the week of May 10, at best meeting 23 percent of required need. Israel now allows only 30 to 40 commercial items to enter Gaza compared to 4,000 approved products prior to June 2006.15
It cannot be too often stressed that Israel had no credible pretext for its 2008–9 attack on Gaza, with full U.S. support and illegally using U.S. weapons. Near-universal opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that Israel was acting in self-defense. That is utterly unsustainable, in light of Israel’s flat rejection of peaceful means that were readily available, as Israel and its U.S. partner in crime knew very well.16 That aside, Israel’s siege of Gaza is itself an act of war, as Israel of all countries certainly recognizes, having repeatedly justified launching major wars on grounds of partial restrictions on its access to the outside world, nothing remotely like what it has long imposed on Gaza.
One crucial element of Israel’s criminal siege, little reported, is the naval blockade. Peter Beaumont reports from Gaza that “on its coastal littoral, Gaza’s limitations are marked by a different fence where the bars are Israeli gunboats with their huge wakes, scurrying beyond the Palestinian fishing boats and preventing them from going outside a zone imposed by the warships.”17 According to reports from the scene, the naval siege has been tightened steadily since 2000. Fishing boats have been driven steadily out of Gaza’s territorial waters and toward the shore by Israeli gunboats, often violently without warning and with many casualties. As a result of these naval actions, Gaza’s fishing industry has virtually collapsed; fishing is impossible near shore because of the contamination caused by Israel’s regular attacks, including the destruction of power plants and sewage facilities.
These Israeli naval attacks began shortly after the discovery by the BG (British Gas) Group of what appear to be quite sizeable natural gas fields in Gaza’s territorial waters. Industry journals report that Israel is already appropriating these Gazan resources for its own use, part of its commitment to shift its economy to natural gas. The standard industry source reports that
Israel’s finance ministry has given the Israel Electric Corp. approval to purchase larger quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed upon, according to Israeli government sources [which] said the state-owned utility would be able to negotiate for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast of the Palestinian controlled Gaza Strip. Last year the Israeli government approved the purchase of 800 million cubic meters of gas from the field by the IEC.… Recently the Israeli government changed its policy and decided the state-owned utility could buy the entire quantity of gas from the Gaza Marine field. Previously the government had said the IEC could buy half the total amount and the remainder would be bought by private power producers.18
The pillage of what could become a major source of income for Gaza is surely known to U.S. authorities. It is only reasonable to suppose that the intention to appropriate these limited resources, either by Israel alone or together with the collaborationist Palestinian Authority, is the motive for preventing Gazan fishing boats from entering Gaza’s territorial waters.
There are some instructive precedents. In 1989, Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans signed a treaty with his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas granting Australia rights to the substantial oil reserves in “the Indonesian Province of East Timor.” The Indonesia-Australia Timor Gap Treaty, which offered not a crumb to the people whose oil was being stolen, “is the only legal agreement anywhere in the world that effectively recognises Indonesia’s right to rule East Timor,” the Australian press reported. Asked about his willingness to recognize the Indonesian conquest and to rob the sole resource of the conquered territory, which had been subjected to near-genocidal slaughter by the Indonesian invader with the strong support of Australia (along with the United States and UK, and some others), Evans explained that “there is no binding legal obligation not to recognise the acquisition of territory that was acquired by force,” adding that “the world is a pretty unfair place, littered with examples of acquisition by force.”
It should, then, be unproblematic for Israel to follow suit in Gaza.19
A few years later, Evans became the leading figure in the campaign to introduce the concept “responsibility to protect”—known as R2P—into international law. R2P is intended to establish an international obligation to protect populations from grave crimes. Evans is the author of a major book on the subject and was co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which issued what is considered the basic document on R2P. In an article devoted to this “idealistic effort to establish a new humanitarian principle,” the London Economist featured Evans and his “bold but passionate claim on behalf of a three-word expression which (in quite large part thanks to his efforts) now belongs to the language of diplomacy: the ‘responsibility to protect.’” The article is accompanied by a picture of Evans with the caption “Evans: a lifelong passion to protect.” His hand is pressed to his forehead in despair over the difficulties faced by his idealistic effort. The journal chose not to run a different photo that circulates in Australia, depicting Evans and Alatas exuberantly clasping their hands together as they toast the Timor Gap Treaty that they had just signed.
In passing, we may note that it is common to conflate two crucially different versions of R2P: the one adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005 and the one proposed by the Evans Commission. The latter grants NATO, and NATO alone, the right to use military force within what it determines unilaterally to be its “area of jurisdiction”—boundless, as NATO has made clear by action and word, matters to which we return. The UN version, in contrast, reiterates positions already taken, with at most a shift of focus, and therefore was accepted with little opposition—at the same time that the countries of the South were bitterly and vociferously condemning “the so-called right of humanitarian intervention,” which is scarcely different from the Evans Commission version of R2P. The confusion on this issue—or deception, take your pick—is both remarkable and dangerous.20
Though a “protected population” under international law, Gazans do not fall under the jurisdiction of the “responsibility to protect,” joining other unfortunates, in accord with the maxim of Thucydides, which holds with its customary precision.
The kinds of restrictions on movement used to destroy Gaza have long been in force in the West Bank as well, less cruelly but with grim effects on life and the economy. The World Bank reports that Israel has established “a complex closure regime that restricts Palestinian access to large areas of the West Bank.… The Palestinian economy has remained stagnant, largely because of the sharp downturn in Gaza and Israel’s continued restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement in the West Bank.” The World Bank “cited Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints hindering trade and travel, as well as restrictions on Palestinian building in the West Bank, where the Western-backed government of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas holds sway.”21 Israel does permit—indeed encourage—a privileged existence for elites in Ramallah and sometimes elsewhere, largely relying on European funding; a traditional feature of colonial and neocolonial practice.
All of this constitutes what Israeli activist Jeff Halper calls a “matrix of control” to subdue the colonized population. These systematic programs over more than forty years aim to establish Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s recommendation to his colleagues shortly after the 1967 conquests, already cited, that we must tell the Palestinians in the territories that “we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads.”
Turning to the second bone of contention, settlements, there is indeed a confrontation, but it is rather less dramatic than portrayed. Washington’s position was presented most strongly in Hillary Clinton’s much-quoted statement rejecting “natural growth exceptions” to the policy opposing new settlements. Netanyahu, along with President Peres and in fact virtually the whole Israeli political spectrum, insists on permitting “natural growth” within the areas that Israel intends to annex, complaining that the United States is backing down on Bush’s authorization of such expansion within his “vision” of a Palestinian state.
Senior Netanyahu cabinet members have gone further. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced that “the current Israeli government will not accept in any way the freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea and Samaria.”22 The term “legal” in U.S.-Israeli parlance means “illegal, but authorized by the government of Israel with a wink from Washington.” In this usage, unauthorized outposts are termed “illegal,” though apart from the dictates of the powerful, they are no more illegal than the settlements granted to Israel under Bush’s “vision” and Obama’s scrupulous omission.
The Obama-Clinton “hardball” formulation is not new. It repeats the wording of the Bush administration draft of the 2003 Road Map, which stipulates that in Phase I, “Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).” All sides formally accept the Road Map (modified to drop the phrase “natural growth”)—consistently overlooking the fact that Israel, with U.S. support, at once added fourteen “reservations” that render it inoperable.23
If Obama were at all serious about opposing settlement expansion, he could easily proceed with concrete measures, for example, by reducing U.S. aid by the amount devoted to this purpose. That would hardly be a radical or courageous move. The Bush I administration did so (reducing loan guarantees), but after the Oslo accord in 1993, President Clinton left calculations to the government of Israel. Unsurprisingly, there was “no change in the expenditures flowing to the settlements,” the Israeli press reported: “[Prime Minister] Rabin will continue not to dry out the settlements,” the report concludes. “And the Americans? They will understand.”24
Obama administration officials informed the press that the Bush I measures are “not under discussion,” and that pressures will be “largely symbolic.”25 In short, Obama understands, just as Clinton and Bush II did.
At best, settlement expansion is a side issue, rather like the issue of “illegal outposts”—namely those that the government of Israel has not authorized. Concentration on these issues diverts attention from the fact that there are no “legal outposts” and that it is the existing settlements that are the primary problem to be faced.
The U.S. press reports that “a partial freeze has been in place for several years, but settlers have found ways around the strictures…construction in the settlements has slowed but never stopped, continuing at an annual rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 units over the past three years. If building continues at the 2008 rate, the 46,500 units already approved will be completed in about 20 years.… If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation’s overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank.”26 The probable source, Peace Now, which monitors settlement activities, estimates further that the two largest settlements would double in size: Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim, built mainly during the Oslo years in the salients that subdivide the West Bank into cantons.
“Natural population growth” is largely a myth, Israel’s leading diplomatic correspondent, Akiva Eldar, points out, citing demographic studies by Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, deputy military secretary to former prime minister and incumbent defense minister Ehud Barak. Settlement growth consists largely of Israeli immigrants in violation of the Geneva Conventions, assisted with generous subsidies. Much of it is in direct violation of formal government decisions, but carried out with the authorization of the government, specifically Barak, considered a dove in the Israeli spectrum.27
Correspondent Jackson Diehl derides the “long-dormant Palestinian fantasy,” revived by Abbas, “that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees.”28 He does not explain why refusal to participate in Israel’s illegal expansion—which, if serious, would “force Israel to make critical concessions”—would be improper interference in Israel’s democracy. By his logic we should stop our interference in Iran’s internal affairs by refusing to help it develop nuclear weapons.
Diehl also refers to a recent Olmert peace plan of unprecedented generosity offered to Abbas, which he turned down, though it allegedly yielded just about everything to which Palestinians might reasonably aspire. Others have also referred to this mysterious plan and its rejection by Abbas. Efforts to unearth the plan have been unavailing. The only sources detected to date [June 2009] are comments by Palestinians in the Arab media that appear to be part of internal conflict about power sharing. Elliott Abrams dates the alleged plan to January 2009, citing unspecified press reports.29
If there were any significance to this tale, it would be trumpeted by Israeli propaganda and its enthusiasts here with credible sources, as a welcome demonstration that Palestinians simply will not accept peace, even the most moderate of them. It is questionable on other grounds. For one thing, Olmert was in no position to offer any credible proposal, certainly, in January 2009, having announced his resignation as he was facing indictment for serious corruption charges. The alleged plan is also hard to reconcile with the steady ongoing expansion of settlement under Olmert, vitiating even far less forthcoming offers.
Returning to reality, all of these discussions about settlement expansion evade the most crucial issue about settlements: what the United States and Israel have already established in the West Bank. The evasion tacitly concedes that the illegal settlement programs already in place are somehow acceptable (putting aside the Golan Heights, annexed in violation of Security Council orders)—though the Bush “vision,” apparently accepted by Obama, moves from tacit to explicit support for these violations of law. What is in place already suffices to ensure that there can be no viable Palestinian self-determination. Hence there is every indication that even on the unlikely assumption that “natural growth” will be ended, U.S.-Israeli rejectionism will persist, blocking the international consensus as before.
Subsequently Prime Minister Netanyahu declared a ten-month suspension of new construction, with many exemptions, and entirely excluding Greater Jerusalem, where expropriation in Arab areas and construction for Jewish settlers continues at a rapid pace. Hillary Clinton praised these “unprecedented” concessions on (illegal) construction, eliciting anger and ridicule in much of the world.30
It might be different if a legitimate “land swap” were under consideration, a solution approached at Taba and spelled out more fully in the Geneva Accord reached in informal high-level Israel-Palestine negotiations. The accord was presented in Geneva in October 2003, welcomed by much of the world, rejected by Israel, and ignored by the United States.31
Obama’s June 4 Cairo address to the Muslim world kept pretty much to his well-honed “blank slate” style—with little of substance, but presented in a personable manner that allows listeners to write on the slate what they want to hear. CNN captured its spirit in headlining a report “Obama Looks to Reach the Soul of the Muslim World.” Obama had announced the goals of his address in an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. “‘We have a joke around the White House,’ the president said. ‘We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.’” The White House commitment is most welcome, but it is useful to see how it translates into practice.32
Obama admonished his audience that it is easy to “point fingers…but if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”
Turning from Obama-Friedman Truth to truth, there is a third side, with a decisive role throughout: the United States. But that participant in the conflict Obama omitted. The omission is understood to be normal and appropriate, hence unmentioned: Friedman’s column is headlined “Obama Speech Aimed at Both Arabs and Israelis.” The front-page Wall Street Journal report on Obama’s speech appears under the heading “Obama Chides Israel, Arabs in His Overture to Muslims.” Other reports are the same. The convention is understandable on the doctrinal principle that though the U.S. government sometimes makes mistakes, its intentions are by definition benign, even noble. In the world of attractive imagery, Washington has always sought desperately to be an honest broker, yearning to advance peace and justice. The doctrine trumps truth, of which there is little hint in the speech or the mainstream coverage.
Obama once again echoed Bush’s “vision” of two states, without saying what he means by the phrase “Palestinian state.” His intentions are clarified not only by the crucial omissions already discussed, but also by his one explicit criticism of Israel: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” That is, Israel should live up to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, rejected at once by Israel with tacit U.S. support, as noted—though the truth is that Obama has ruled out even steps of the Bush I variety to withdraw from participation in these crimes.
The operative words are “legitimacy” and “continued.” By omission, Obama indicates that he accepts Bush’s vision: the vast existing settlement and infrastructure projects are “legitimate,” thus ensuring that the phrase “Palestinian state” means “fried chicken.”
Always even-handed, Obama also had an admonition for the Arab states: they “must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.” Plainly, it cannot be a meaningful “beginning” if Obama continues to reject its core principles: implementation of the international consensus. But to do so is evidently not Washington’s “responsibility” in Obama’s vision; no explanation given, no notice taken.
On democracy, Obama said that “we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election”—as in January 2006, when Washington picked the outcome with a vengeance, turning at once to severe punishment of the Palestinians because it did not like the outcome of the peaceful election, all with Obama’s apparent approval judging by his words before and actions since taking office. Obama politely refrained from comment about his host, President Mubarak, one of the most brutal dictators in the region, though he has had some illuminating words about him. As Obama was about to board the plane to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two “moderate” Arab states, “Mr. Obama signaled that while he would mention American concerns about human rights in Egypt, he would not challenge Mr. Mubarak too sharply, because he is a ‘force for stability and good’ in the Middle East.… Mr. Obama said he did not regard Mr. Mubarak as an authoritarian leader. ‘No, I tend not to use labels for folks,’ Mr. Obama said. The president noted that there had been criticism ‘of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt,’ but he also said that Mr. Mubarak had been ‘a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States.’”33
When a politician uses the word “folks,” we should brace ourselves for the deceit or worse that is coming. Outside of this context, there are “people”; or often “villains,” and using labels for them is highly meritorious. Obama is right, however, not to have used the word “authoritarian,” which is far too mild a label for his friend.
Just as in the past, support for democracy, and for human rights as well, keeps to the pattern that scholarship has repeatedly discovered, correlating closely with strategic and economic objectives. There should be little difficulty in understanding why those whose eyes are not closed tight shut by rigid doctrine dismiss Obama’s yearning for human rights and democracy as a joke in bad taste.
There had been some verbal pressure from the Bush administration for relaxing Mubarak’s harsh despotism, though it amounted to very little, and as a special report in the Financial Times observes, “US pressure ended after the electoral gains of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Hamas victory in parliamentary polls in the Palestinian territories,” putting an end to neocon flirtation with democracy rhetoric. Under Obama, however, such U.S. pressure as there was for political reform “dramatically eased,” and the dictatorship has proceeded “to tighten its grip on politics, harassing opponents and ensuring that no challenges emerge,” showing “that even an experiment with cosmetic reforms can be reversed.”34
The regime also felt free to unleash the brutality of the security forces against the nonviolent international activists who arrived in Egypt to protest the savage siege of Gaza, to which the government of Egypt is contributing still further by building a steel wall at its border, deep into the ground to prevent the desperate prisoners from digging tunnels to obtain some limited sustenance beyond the trickle permitted by their captors, all of this a remarkable exercise in coordinated sadism, evidently tolerable to Western elite opinion. The Egyptian actions were barely reported in the United States.35
With his endorsement of the brutal Mubarak tyranny, Obama made clear that he does not intend to depart from the traditional policy of supporting harsh dictatorships for geostrategic ends, a policy of course not limited to the Middle East, even though often salient there. The consequences of the policy have long been understood, and have been considered acceptable by planners. George W. Bush was probably genuinely puzzled when he asked, “Why do they hate us?” and his response that “they hate our freedom” may reflect what he learned at school. But the diplomatic and historical record, and the specialist literature, provide more compelling answers. More than half a century before Bush’s plaintive query, President Eisenhower expressed his concern about “the campaign of hatred against us” in the Arab world, “not by the governments but by the people.” The reasons for the “campaign of hatred” were outlined by the National Security Council: “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism. They believe that the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress.” Furthermore, the perceptions are accurate: “Our economic and cultural interests in the area have led not unnaturally to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries,” blocking democracy and development.36
Popular attitudes in the Arab world were particularly striking at that time (1958), shortly after Eisenhower had expelled Israel, Britain, and France from the Sinai. Polls after 9/11 showed that much the same remained true, even among elite elements deeply embedded in the U.S.-dominated “globalized” economic order. By then, of course, there were other reasons for the hatred, among them the murderous Iraq sanctions, unnoticed in the West but taken seriously in the region, and U.S. support for Israeli crimes. The Afghanistan and particularly the Iraq invasion only exacerbated these feelings. Government studies draw the same conclusion. A Pentagon advisory panel, the Defense Science Board, responded to Bush’s question by concluding that “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies,” adding that “when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”37
The views are conventional among specialists, who also understand that these U.S. policies are a gift to the extremists among the jihadis, whose goal is to incite violent retaliation against the populations that they are seeking to mobilize. As Gardner summarizes the fairly broad specialist consensus, “For so long as the jihadis can rely on the USA to stand by its Arab allies, such as the House of Saud and President Mubarak.… The Bin Laden franchise’s monstrous bet that it can foment a clash of civilizations may be evil but it is not wholly mad.… If we continue to connive in the survival of tyranny, [then] we abet the onward march of the jihadis, for whom western policy is their most consistently reliable ally.” If reducing terror had been a high priority after 9/11, Washington would have used the ample opportunities to isolate and eliminate Bin Laden by encouraging the bitter condemnation of his opportunism and violence by the majority even of the jihadis. Instead the Bush administration chose to unify the jihadi movement in support of Bin Laden and to mobilize many others to his cause by supporting his charges, preferring violence for its own purposes. With good reason, the hawkish Michael Scheuer, in charge of tracking Bin Laden for the CIA for many years, concludes that “the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.”38
Apart from rhetorical flourishes, Obama seems committed to following the same path, as his praise for Mubarak and other policies illustrate.
Obama also had observations on nuclear weapons, a matter of no slight significance in the light of his focus on Iran. Obama repeated his hope for their general abolition and called on all signers of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to abide by the responsibilities it imposes. His comments pointedly excluded Israel, which like India and Pakistan is not a signer of the NPT, all of them supported by the United States in their development of nuclear weapons—Pakistan particularly under Reagan, India under Bush II and Obama. Israel, India, and Pakistan are now escalating their nuclear weapons programs to a level that is highly threatening. But our significant role in this nuclear confrontation, from the outset and continuing, confers no “responsibility.”39
Small wonder that outside the West few can take U.S. charges against Iran very seriously, not only the alleged concern for human rights, which Obama clarified with regard to Egypt, but also the primary charges: that Iran is concealing something from the International Atomic Energy Agency, as it doubtless is. Others are concealing nothing at all, for example, the three countries that have never signed the NPT, continuing to rely on U.S. support for their nuclear weapons programs. At the peak of the furor about Iran a few months after Obama’s trip to Cairo, India announced that it “can now build nuclear weapons with the same destructive power as those in the arsenals of the world’s major nuclear powers.” This was India’s immediate reaction to Security Council Resolution 1887 (September 24, 2009), which called on all states to join the NPT and to resolve any disputes within that framework, without the threat or use of force in violation of the UN Charter (a provision directed solely at the United States and Israel). At the same time, the IAEA passed a resolution calling on Israel to join the NPT and open up its nuclear facilities to inspection. The United States and Europe tried to block the resolution, and when they failed, voted against it. It passed anyway. President Obama immediately assured Israel that the United States would support its rejection of the resolution. The IAEA also overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for application of the agency safeguards to the Middle East (103-4: United States, Israel, Canada, Georgia opposed). The White House also assured its Indian ally that it can ignore Security Council resolutions on nuclear weapons, most recently Resolution 1887.40
These actions provide further evidence about Obama’s concerns about proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Obama reacted to Resolution 1887 in a different way as well. Two days after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his inspiring commitment to peace, the Pentagon announced that it was accelerating delivery of the most lethal weapons in the arsenal short of nuclear weapons, thirteen-ton bombs to be delivered by B-52 stealth bombers, designed to destroy deeply hidden bunkers shielded by ten thousand pounds of reinforced concrete. There is no secret about what they are for. Planning for these “massive ordnance penetrators” began in the Bush years, but languished, until Obama called for developing them rapidly when he came into office.41
Obama’s assurance to Israel adheres to the unacknowledged “rules” since Nixon: “It is generally believed that [Israeli prime minister Golda] Meir informed Nixon that Israel had already acquired the bomb and pledged to keep it invisible—that is, untested, undeclared, and in low political salience. Nixon agreed to end American annual visits to the nuclear reactor at Dimona and no longer press Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”42
Some who have placed their hopes in Obama have cited remarks of Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller: “Universal adherence to the NPT itself—including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea—also remains a fundamental objective of the United States.” But the concern that her comment might mean something was quickly allayed by the report of a senior Israeli diplomat that Israel had received assurances that Obama “will not force Israel to state publicly whether it has nuclear weapons…[but will] stick to a decades-old U.S. policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’” And as the Institute for Public Accuracy reminds us, the Bush administration had also adopted Gottemoeller’s stand, calling for “universal adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”43
It appears, then, that “universality” applies to Iran’s suspected programs, but not to the actual ones of U.S. allies and clients—not to speak of Washington’s own obligations under the NPT.
With regard to Iran’s nuclear programs, Obama chose his words carefully. He said that “any nation—including Iran—should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” His words again reiterate the Bush administration’s position: it too held that Iran could “access peaceful nuclear power.” But as Obama and his associates know well, the contentious issue has been whether Iran has the rights guaranteed to signers of the NPT under Article IV, which go well beyond “access”—say by the goodwill of outside powers. The words of the NPT are quite clear: “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty,” which refer to nuclear weapons. There is a considerable difference between research and production, as Article IV permits, and “access,” which Bush and Obama have been willing to permit, meaning access from the outside. That has been at the heart of the dispute, and remains so. The Non-Aligned Movement, most of the world’s states, has forcefully affirmed Iran’s rights under Article IV (which have also been supported by the majority of Americans). The “international community”—a technical term referring to Washington and whoever happens to agree with it—opposes allowing Iran the rights guaranteed to NPT signers, and Obama, with his customary scrupulous choice of misleading words, indicates his continued adherence to this stand.
It is also worth repeating that despite much fevered rhetoric, rational souls understand that the Iranian threat is not the threat of attack—which would be suicidal. Wayne White, former deputy director of the Near East and South Asia Office of State Department intelligence (INR), quite plausibly estimates the likelihood that the Iranian leaders would carry out a nuclear attack against Israel, thus leading to the instant destruction of Iran and themselves, as “down there with that 1 percent possibility.” He dismisses the possibility that Supreme Leader Khamenei and the clerical elite, who hold power in Iran, would throw away the “vast amounts of money” and “huge economic empires” they have created for themselves “in some quixotic attack against Israel with a nuclear weapon,” even if they had one. Also timely is his confirmation that Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor did not end Saddam’s nuclear weapons program, but initiated it. U.S. or Israeli bombing of Iranian facilities, White and other specialists observe, might have the same effect. Violence consistently elicits more violence in response.44
Among specialists, including rational hawks, it is well understood that if Iran is pursuing a weapons program, it is for deterrence. Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld writes that “the world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy.” In the conservative National Interest, former CIA weapons inspector David Kay speculates that Iran might be moving toward “nuclear weapons capability,” with the “strategic goal” of countering a U.S. threat that “is real in Tehran’s eyes,” for good reasons that he reviews. He notes further that “Perhaps the biggest agitator of all in this is the United States, with its abbreviated historical memory and diplomatic ADD.” White too agrees that Iran might seek weapons capability (which is not the same as weapons) for deterrence.45
These matters are well understood by informed hardliners. The leading neoconservative expert on Iran, Reuel Marc Gerecht, formerly in the CIA Middle East division, wrote in 2000 that
Tehran certainly wants nuclear weapons; and its reasoning is not illogical. Iran was gassed into surrender in the first Persian Gulf War; Pakistan, Iran’s ever more radicalized Sunni neighbor to the southeast, has nuclear weapons; Saddam Hussein, with his Scuds and his weapons-of-mass-destruction ambitions, is next door; Saudi Arabia, Iran’s most ardent and reviled religious rival, has long-range missiles; Russia, historically one of Iran’s most feared neighbors, is once again trying to reassert its dominion in the neighboring Caucasus; and Israel could, of course, blow the Islamic Republic to bits. Having been vanquished by a technologically superior Iraq at a cost of at least a half-million men, Iran knows very well the consequences of having insufficient deterrence. And the Iranians possess the essential factor to make deterrence work: sanity. Tehran or Isfahan in ashes would destroy the Persian soul, about which even the most hard-line cleric cares deeply. As long as the Iranians believe that either the U.S. or Israel or somebody else in the region might retaliate with nuclear weapons, they won’t do something stupid.46
Gerecht also understands very well the real “security problem” posed by Iranian nuclear weapons, should it acquire them:
A nuclear-armed Islamic Republic would of course check, if not checkmate, the United States’ maneuvering room in the Persian Gulf. We would no doubt think several times about responding to Iranian terrorism or military action if Tehran had the bomb and a missile to deliver it. During the lead-up to the second Gulf War, ruling clerical circles in Tehran and Qom were abuzz with the debate about nuclear weapons. The mullahs…agreed: if Saddam Hussein had had nuclear weapons, the Americans would not have challenged him. For the “left” and the “right,” this weaponry is the ultimate guarantee of Iran’s defense, its revolution, and its independence as a regional great power.
With appropriate translations for the doctrinal terms, Gerecht’s concerns capture realistically the threat posed by an Iran with a deterrent capacity.
Also generally discounted is the likelihood that Iran might provide nuclear weapons or technology to terrorists or “rogue states,” though such transfers have happened, notably by the infamous A. Q. Khan network protected by U.S. ally Pakistan. Such actions would place Iran itself at great risk for no conceivable gain except possibly deterrence, and even that is a very remote contingency.
It is difficult to disagree with strategic analyst Leonard Weiss of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The assumption that Iran, if it had nuclear weapons, would attack Israel, he writes, “amounts to assuming that Iran’s leaders are insane, [that] the Iranian clerics’ hatred of Israel is so intense that in order to destroy it they would launch a nuclear attack that would kill not only Jews but also up to 1.5 million Muslims living in Israel, as well as triggering an Israeli nuclear counterattack [which] would turn back the clock on Iran’s development for many decades and reduce its leaders to radioactive dust.” As for the speculation that Iran might transfer such weapons to third parties, not only could Iran not “be sure that the transfer will be perfectly secure from discovery or that the weapons will be used as intended,” but it “would undoubtedly be treated as if it came from Tehran, again resulting in Iran’s utter destruction.”47
As all eyes were focused on Iran’s possible violations of the NPT in late 2009, Obama initiated a reconfiguration of the missile defense systems planned for Eastern Europe, evoking lively controversy as to whether he was selling out to the Russians or providing a better way to protect the world from Iranian aggression. The debate was resolved in January 2010, when Obama decided to place the systems in northern Poland, thirty-five miles from Kaliningrad, thus posing a threat to Russia but without any obvious relation to Iran; and shortly after in Romania, again immediately arousing Russian concerns. The chief of Russia’s general staff warned that the perceived threat to Russian security was holding up negotiations on the crucial Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Throughout, the debate skillfully avoided the central issue: are these systems designed for defense against an Iranian attack, as advertised? That is hardly plausible, for the reasons just discussed. Zbigniew Brzezinski is perceptive in describing these systems as “based on a nonexistent defense technology, designed against a nonexistent threat, and designed to protect West Europeans, who weren’t asking for the protection.”48
We should recall, however, that antimissile systems, were they to become functional, do serve a military purpose: as a first-strike weapon, potentially eliminating a deterrent, in this case ensuring that Iran is open to U.S.-Israeli attack. The same reasoning holds for U.S. delivery to Israel of Patriot antimissile systems, and Obama’s decision in January 2010 to place “special ships off the Iranian coast and antimissile systems in at least four Arab countries,” not for “defense” as the government professes and the media uncritically repeat. The antimissile systems supplement the more direct first-strike threats: keeping “all options on the table,” including the threat of force, in violation of the UN Charter and repeated UN resolutions, most recently Security Council Resolution 1887. Also, training maneuvers that take Iran as the obvious target; development of superweapons aimed just at Iran; and much else, including such actions as dispatch of Israeli warships and Israel’s German-made Dolphin class submarines capable of carrying nuclear missiles, virtually undetectable, through the Suez Canal and Red Sea into positions where they can attack Iran, with Egyptian permission though Egypt denies it.49
In February 2010 General Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command with jurisdiction over the Middle East region, confirmed the near-unanimous view among specialists that “a military strike on Iran could have the unintended consequence of stirring nationalist sentiment to the benefit of Tehran’s hard-line government,” a significant blow to the democratic movement in Iran, not to speak of the human disaster and the likelihood of Iranian retaliation.50
No one wants Iran—or anyone—to develop nuclear weapons, but it should be recognized that the perceived threat is not that they will be used in a suicide mission, but rather the threat of deterrence of U.S.-Israeli actions to extend their own domination of the region. And to repeat, if the concern were Iranian nuclear weapons, there would be sensible ways to proceed—to which, furthermore, the United States is officially committed: namely, to join in the overwhelming international support (including a large majority of Americans) for a nuclear weapons–free zone including Iran, Israel, and U.S. forces deployed there. Adequate verification is by no means impossible. That should mitigate, if not terminate, the regional nuclear weapons threat. Even steps toward that goal would have a positive impact. But it is not on the agenda.
Obama’s “new initiative” for the Middle East was spelled out most extensively by John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a regular emissary to the region, in an important speech at the Brookings Institution on March 4, 2009.51 In interpreting Kerry’s words, we have to recognize that the actual facts of history are irrelevant. What is important in his address is not the contrived picture of past and present, but the plans outlined.
Kerry urges that we face the unpleasant fact that our honorable efforts to bring about a political settlement have failed, primarily because of the unwillingness of the Arab states to make peace. Furthermore, all of our efforts to “to give the Israelis a legitimate partner for peace,” for which Israel has always yearned, have foundered on Palestinian intransigence. Now, however, there is a welcome change. With the Arab Peace Initiative of 2006, the Arab states have finally signaled their willingness to accept Israel’s presence in the region. Even more promising is the “unprecedented willingness among moderate Arab nations to work with Israel” against our common enemy Iran. “Moderate” here is used in its technical meaning: “willing to conform to U.S. demands,” irrespective of the nature of the regime. “This re-alignment can help to lay the groundwork for progress towards peace,” Kerry said, as we “re-conceptualize” the problem, focusing on the Iranian threat. This brings the United States into alignment with the wishes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who speaks for the Israeli right wing—which unfortunately means most of the country after the sharp shift to the jingoist right in Israel in the past few years.
Kerry goes on to explain that there is also at last some hope that a “legitimate partner” can be found for our peace-loving Israeli ally: Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. How then do we proceed to support Israel’s new legitimate Palestinian partner? “Most importantly, this means strengthening General [Keith] Dayton’s efforts to train Palestinian security forces that can keep order and fight terror.… Recent developments have been extremely encouraging: During the invasion of Gaza, Palestinian Security Forces largely succeeded in maintaining calm in the West Bank amidst widespread expectations of civil unrest. Obviously, more remains to be done, but we can help do it.”
Routinely, Kerry describes the attack on Gaza as entirely right and just: by definition, since the United States crucially participated in it. It doesn’t matter, then, that the pretext lacks any credibility, under principles that we all accept—with regard to others, that is; matters already discussed. Furthermore, it is evidently right and just, indeed admirable, to use force to prevent Palestinians from publicly expressing concern at the slaughter and destruction under way in the other half of Palestine.
Armed and trained in Jordan, or in the occupied West Bank by Jordanian instructors with Israeli participation and supervision, General Dayton’s Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) are described by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy as “subcontractors to the Israeli Security.” Accurate enough, and from his pen that is not praise. It is, however, a good reason the PASF is so admired by the Israeli army, by the Obama administration, and by U.S. journalists.52
Some recognize that not all is going quite as well as Kerry describes. Charles Levinson, like others, reports that “the [PASF] won exceptional praise from Israeli officers for their effectiveness keeping a check on protests in the West Bank during the December–January Gaza War.” But there is concern that the PASF “may not have won the battle of public opinion, and were seen as protecting the Israeli army” (quoting the official in charge of the European police-training team). That is, they are seen as Israeli subcontractors. Levinson cites an incident in which “Palestinian forces swept into a West Bank town on the heels of the Israeli army—only to be chased out by angry residents”—and an internal memo of General Dayton’s training team warning: “There are growing signs that the local population are increasingly losing respect for the PASF.” He also quotes a PASF commander who describes his troops as “disillusioned”: “Operations against Hamas and other anti-Israel groups appeared at odds with a Palestinian public that increasingly viewed him and his men as doing Israel’s bidding and getting little in return.”53
The Dayton army is the soft side of population control, under theoretical State Department supervision. According to knowledgeable observers, the tougher and more brutal forces are trained by the CIA: General Intelligence and Preventive Security.54
Kerry is right that Washington can do more to ensure that West Bank Palestinians are so effectively controlled that they cannot even protest the atrocities suffered by Palestinians in Gaza—let alone take a step toward meaningful self-determination or even protection of the shreds of Palestine left to them under the U.S.-Israeli encroachment schemes that are constantly under way. To do more to support the Dayton army, and its more brutal associates, the United States can draw on a long history of colonial practice, developed in exquisite detail during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the murderous conquest a century ago, then widely applied elsewhere. This sophisticated refinement of traditional imperial practice has been highly successful in U.S. dependencies, while also providing means of population control at home. These matters are spelled out in pathbreaking work by historian Alfred McCoy.55 The approach relies on a variety of means to dismantle resistance to colonial domination, using rumor, slander, and the highest available technology of surveillance and control; enlisting cooperative domestic elites; and the mailed fist, the Philippine constabulary and U.S. forces, when needed. Kerry is surely familiar with these techniques from his service in South Vietnam. Applying these measures to Palestine, collaborationist paramilitary forces can be employed to subdue the domestic population with the cooperation of privileged elites, granting the United States and Israel free rein to carry forward Bush’s “vision” and Olmert’s “Convergence plus,” and their later versions. Gaza can meanwhile be kept under a strangling siege as a prison and occasional shooting gallery.
Washington’s new initiative for Middle East peace, so it is hoped, will integrate Israel among the “moderate” Arab states as a bulwark for U.S. domination of the vital energy-producing regions. It fits well into Obama’s broader programs for Afghanistan and Pakistan, where military operations are escalating and huge “embassies” are being constructed on the model of the city-within-a-city called an “embassy” in Baghdad, clearly signaling Obama’s longer-term intentions.56
The “re-conceptualization” is evidently satisfactory to U.S. high-tech industry, which continues to enhance its intimate relations with Israel. One striking illustration is a gigantic installation that Intel is constructing in its Kiryat Gat facility in Israel to implement a revolutionary reduction in the size of computer chips, expected to set a new industry standard and to supply much of the world with parts.57 Relations between U.S. and Israeli military industry remain particularly close, so much so that Israel has been shifting development and manufacturing facilities for its advanced military industry to the United States, where access to U.S. military aid is easier; and is also considering transfer of production of armored vehicles to the United States over the objections of thousands of Israeli workers who will lose their jobs.58 The relations are also very lucrative for U.S. military producers—doubly so, in fact, because U.S. government–funded weapons supplies to Israel, themselves very profitable, also function as “teasers” that induce the rich Arab dictatorships (“moderates”) to purchase great amounts of less sophisticated military equipment. Close intelligence cooperation goes back over half a century.
Israel also continues to provide the United States with a strategically located overseas military base for prepositioning weapons and other functions, most recently in January 2010, when the U.S. army moved to “double the value of emergency military equipment it stockpiles on Israeli soil,” raising the level to $800 million. “Missiles, armored vehicles, aerial ammunition and artillery ordnance are already stockpiled in the country.” The deal also “allows Israel access to a wider spectrum of military ordnance, [aiding] Israel in its effort to bolster its weapons stockpiles for use in an emergency. Israel’s stores of aerial and artillery ammunition were depleted during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, nearly reaching levels the IDF considers dangerously low.”59
The prepositioning goes back to 1990. The quiet announcement that the United States was sending weapons to Israel during the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza in December–January 1999–2000 raised a few eyebrows, but the Pentagon explained, probably accurately, that the weapons were not intended for use in Gaza but were being prepositioned for future use by U.S. forces in the region.60
These are among the unparalleled services that Israel provides for U.S. militarism and global dominance, as well as for the U.S. high-tech economy. They afford Israel a certain leeway to defy Washington’s orders—though it is skating on thin ice if it tries to push its luck too far, as history has repeatedly shown. So far the jingoist extremism of the current government has been constrained by more sober elements. But if Israel goes too far, there might indeed erupt a U.S.-Israel confrontation of the kind that many commentators perceive today, so far with little basis.