Just how “eternal” and “unbreakable” is our alliance with Israel? Rashid Khalidi explores as much in his new book Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. Scott Horton asked Khalidi “what, precisely, was dishonest about the American role” in the peace process:
The United States claimed not only to be an honest broker between Palestinians and Israelis — Condoleezza Rice uses precisely these words in a document I quote in the book — it also claimed to be working for peace between them. Neither claim was true. The United States has been bound by a 1975 memorandum of understanding to the prior coordination of its positions on this issue with Israel, which it has faithfully done ever since then. This has been interpreted in practice to mean that Israel has effective veto power on what the United States can propose regarding the Palestine issue.
And since Camp David in 1978, the United States has allowed Israel to dictate the low ceiling for what the Palestinians can aspire to. This ceiling was established by Menachem Begin in 1978, as laid out in documents I cite in the book, and that has not changed since: Israel will never accept a fully sovereign Palestinian state; it will never stop expanding its settlements or give up control of land, water, or Jerusalem. And every deal brokered by the United States since then, and indeed the status quo that emerged from the Oslo Accords and that we are living with today, is completely consonant with Begin’s schema. That is neither honest, nor for that matter brokering: It is acting as “Israel’s lawyer,” as Aaron David Miller accurately put it, quoting Henry Kissinger.
There was a moment when Obama first took office when the US regaining the role of an actual honest broker seemed possible again. For the first time, a West Bank Palestinian leadership really had emerged that helped Israel’s security and governed with relative efficiency. For the first time, we had an American president with real and new credibility to reset relations with the Arab and Muslim world, after a decade of dangerous polarization. Netanyahu and the American Jewish Establishment, Democrats and Republicans, deliberately and strategically killed that moment and if it had been possible, would have ended Obama’s presidency in four years to send a message that no US president dare do such a thing in future. They sure spent enough money trying to accomplish that. But having failed to end his presidency, they still managed to neuter it on this question.
And that, it seems to me, became the premise of the visit to Israel.
An American president, having tried to meet the Palestinians and Israelis at the mid-point, is now doing what he actually has to do, given that Israel controls US foreign policy in the Middle East. He has to beg, flatter, charm and seduce the Israeli people as his only way of having any impact on that part of the world. He has to accede to Netanyahu’s conditions for talks, which is the continuation and acceleration of settlements in ways that make a two-state solution impossible. He has to give up reaching out to the Muslim world in a new way in a new era. Israel and its lobby succeeded in spectacular fashion, out-maneuvering and humiliating the US president, and erasing any credibility he had with the Arab and Muslim world. In the last four years, despite an historic opportunity for proactive change, they made sure no US president could jeopardize, or do more than mildly delay, the permanent establishment of the real project: a Jewish state in line with fundamentalist principles rather than present realities, a Jewish state that in practice is wiping Palestine – and its Arab inhabitants – off the map.
Obama’s rhetorical skills are all he has left. That he has used them to such effect in Israel is a testament, it seems to me, that he has not given up and feels a core duty to his own country not to give up on the single most important issue rendering the US’s relationship with the Muslim and Arab world eternally toxic. This is a president, re-capitalized by a re-election, trying again, knowing, as he surely must, that he will fail again. His role now will be to act as cover for another pre-emptive war against alleged weapons of mass destruction.
I admire Obama’s perseverance. I admire the audacity of his hope. I admire those Israelis and Americans, Jewish and Gentile, who understand why he is right about the settlements and right about a two-state solution. I share his admiration for the state of Israel, its extraordinary achievements, its raucous democracy, its economic renaissance. I supported Israel for as long as I felt it had no real partner for peace. But I have learned the hard way that none of this really means anything or can lead to anything. As long as the settler movement has rock-solid overwhelming support in the US Congress, which, whatever platitudes are uttered, it de facto does, and the project of Greater Israel is also backed by a large swathe of fundamentalist America, we are past the point of no return. The facts on the ground have achieved what they were designed to achieve: wiping the entire idea of Palestine off the map.
Maybe secretary of state Kerry believes he can thread this needle. My view, arrived at through exhaustion and despair these last four years, is that the needle has already been threaded. And Greater Israel will be as “unbreakable” as America’s support for it; and the president who ran against dumb wars will be forced to start a new one because of it. He has now done what his conscience and unfathomable optimism requires of him, and mercifully erased the smear that he is somehow hostile to Zionism or to the Jewish people. He is sane enough not to try much more. If someone is intent on hanging himself, even the best of friends cannot prevent it.
(Photo: In this handout photograph supplied by the Government Press Office of Israel (GPO), U.S. President Barack Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu place their arms around each other during a visit to Mount Herzl on March 22, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. By Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images)