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Israeli politics and the West:
the more it changes, the more it stays the same

By Haim Bresheeth

In the wake of the criminal attack on Gaza, started by Israel on December 27, 2008, and lasting more than a month, leading to the death of around 1500 Palestinians, the wounding of many thousands, and the destruction of the infrastructure in the Gaza strip, and in the light of the results of the Israeli elections, one is advised to review the situation; this is even more urgent when one considers the growing opposition to Israel in many parts of the world, and the better understanding in many quarters of the unjust, criminal and extreme methods of Zionism, in trying to secure its continued hold over Palestine. Will Gaza lead to a change in the relationship to Israel, especially in the western democracies? What are the likely developments we can foresee as a result of public opinion and political elite changes due to the Gaza barbarities, and the new stance of the Netanyahu regime? What, if anything, has changed, and what does this change offer, or threaten?

For over four decades, ever since 1967 and the devastating war started by Israel, ending with full Israeli control over the whole of Palestine, western nations have been playing an odd and damaging game, one which in reality has made a just political solution in the Middle East all but impossible. Under the guise of different statements, policies and ideologies, one factor has remained constant – the unwavering, and unprincipled support of the Israeli political system by all Western governments, with scant (or totally absent) regard to the Palestinian people and its rights, not to mention its plight. During this whole period, and in the face of numerous UN and Security Council resolutions calling for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories of Palestine, and to vacate its illegal settlements, Israel was able to continue settling the said territories, with wanton disregard of the UN, the Security Council, the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Human Rights, the International Criminal Court, and too many international convention to list here, notably those on torture, nuclear proliferation, Chemical and Biological weapons and war crimes, to mention the main ones. One can hardly think of any other regime on earth which has broken, negated or ignored international law more systematically than Israel: it has invaded and conquered four of its neighbouring countries (it is still occupying territories which belong, or belonged to all four), it has attacked installations in a number of other countries, such as Tunisia, Iraq, Syria or Sudan, and had developed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction with total impunity, not to mention the active support from France, UK and USA.

A large number of researchers have tried to unfathom the reasons for this unswerving political, military, diplomatic and financial support and underpinning of Israel, an aggressive neo-colonial settler society, by a large group of democratic and sometime progressive nations, ranging widely, from the EU to the USA and Canada, Australia, India and Japan, the main players. Israel has been able to count on the support of this powerful bloc of nations, the richest on earth, for almost all of its six decades of existence. Such support has been crucial for its ability to flaunt international law, as well as the custom-and-practice of international behaviour, and to instigate and maintain a stranglehold on the Palestinian Occupied Territories, to terrorise other states in the region, and to act as the local policeman on behalf of the new empires. It seems, therefore, that any theorization of the relationship which does not start from the real meeting of interests between the western capitalist bloc and Israel, is constructing its arguments on a less-than-stable foundation. Such might be the position of those who base their arguments for the bond between Israel and those world powers on structures of influence, such as the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) – the so called Jewish Lobby, and its undoubted powers of persuasion. While only a child might doubt the real influence of AIPAC (and of similar Zionist lobbies elsewhere), it seems that, as argued by Noam Chomsky 1 , AIPAC would have much less influence on the USA administration, where it to promote a case which Americans will not recognize as an integral part of their mission, part of their national goals. Arguably, the lobby has been crucial in turning the Israeli agenda into such an integral part of the USA mission 2 , as it has been understood by a number of USA administrations and presidents across the political spectrum. That the lobby has been successful in this task is clear – any incoming president, even at the earliest stages of his campaign, must, it seems, indicate how deeply he is in support of Israel and Zionism, and make the traditional pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to meet with the Israeli elite. This is not the case with any similar ethnic group in the USA – presidential candidates do not see the need to go to Rome in order to pull Italian Americans, or to Poland, to persuade Polish Americans to vote for them. It will also be unthinkable that they will be expected to make a statement in support of such governments, in order to persuade voters from those communities. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, about a wide range of European leaders; from Berlusconi to Merkel, and not forgetting Sarkozy, EU leaders seem also enthralled by Israeli influence and interests. A lot has been written about the Holocaust, as a turning point in European and western politics, as far as Jews, and later Israel, are concerned. It is certain that this is so, and the various lobbies’ operations on behalf of Israel, are making much use of this factor, using and abusing the Holocaust, in order to elicit specific benefits to Israel; no one has clarified this mechanism better than Norman Finkelstein 3 , and his work, and the work of many others, has exposed this cynical use Israel and Jewish lobbies are making of this terrifying event in world history, partly by ‘privatizing’ the Holocaust into an exclusively-Jewish affair. However, only an anti-semite will be ready to accept that influence exerted by Israelis and other Jews over western democracies, is a result of some secret cabal, rather than the rational outcome of common interests. So, what are those interests which bind the western democracies to Israel so tightly?

That the Jewish state should present itself as an agent of the west, capable of rendering crucial services to its members, was, after all, the foundation on which Herzl has built political Zionism. This thesis saw the new state to be constructed in the Middle East as a sub-contractor of European imperialism of the period; it mattered little to Herzl which empire he would serve – the main point was to identify the most likely empire, persuading its leaders that such services are unique, and can only be offered by a colon, a dependable body of colonists of European origin, with an agenda which will separate them automatically and permanently from the indigenous population 4 .

Those basic attitudes still form the operative premise of Zionism. Empires might come and go – the ottomans give way to the British Mandate, and young Israel changes over to the French, before finally settling on the USA as its protector and paymaster, to whom services will be granted. This contract has withstood the test of time. Year after year, resolutions in the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations had attracted the veto or the negative vote of the USA, even on those occasions that it found itself isolated with Israel and Micronesia. The understanding and agreement between the unequal partners is strategic and long-term. The USA has contributed to tiny Israel more funds over the years than to all other countries combined, which says something about American priorities. So what are the services granted which the USA finds so worthwhile?

If Israel did not exist, the USA will have to invent it, it seems. In the whole Middle East, Israel seems like the only dependable, long-term client state, on which the USA can count. It is a non-Muslim, non Arab, racialised ethnocracy, seen as part of what the American term the ‘Judeo-Christian’ tradition 5 . In other words, the USA and Europe still perceive Israel as the only country in the Middle East which must, by definition, depend on them for survival, hence safely connected to western interests. That it has for so long fought a range of Arab and Moslem countries is a bonus of serious proportions – Israel has collected much information on most Arab countries, has a large military and civil intelligence community, with many tens of thousands of trained operatives, as well as operational methods it has developed over the years. In comparison to the other regimes in the region, it is much more dependable from a western perspective: most of the other countries have undergone a severe colonial period, which had shaped the perception of the west in those cultures, giving rise to deep-seated opposition to Europe and the west, the past colonial powers. In the few cases where an outspoken leader is supportive of western priorities, he may indeed be murdered, like Anwar Sadat was, or deposed like the Iranian Shah, leading to a reversal of policies in such countries. The leaders of the Gulf countries are obviously problematic – anti-democratic, unelected monarchs installed by the British Empire, far from libarel or democratic sentiments, and liable to disappear at some point with little notice. Israel is different – it is a colony itself, feared, hated and despised by millions in the Middle East. Hence, it not only serves western goals in the region and is supported in turn, but also serves as a political lightning rod: instead of the anti-colonial sentiment being directed against the west, and specifically the USA, it is instead focused on Israel, and the USA is seen by (too) many in the region as an honest broker, something it can never be, as the puppet master behind the Israeli marionette 6 .

This leads, periodically, to Israeli plans offered to the paymaster for approval, premised on resolving problems which affect both sides of the relationship; an example to this may be the Israeli plans to attack and topple Ayatollah Khomeini, and dispose of the Islamic Republic, as early as 1981:

“The idea of American-Israeli cooperation against Iran is not new for Sharon. On the contrary, in 1981, when he was just appointed Minister of Defense, he offered the Pentagon a daring plan: in the event of Khomeini's demise, the Israeli army would immediately occupy Iran, in order to forestall the Soviet Union. The IDF would turn the country over to the slow-moving Americans, once they arrived. For this purpose, the Pentagon would stockpile in advance the most sophisticated arms in Israel, under American control, to be used in this operation.”  7

Needless to say, the plans for an Israeli attack on Iran and destroying the Islamic Republic, have never been suspended; rather, Israel continues to pressurize the USA administration, in order to get a green light for such an attack. After the attack was vetoed by president Bush, during the last months of his reign, it seems that president Obama is considering it again.

Over the years, Israel has assisted, trained and supplied the Kurdish militias in Iraq, for example, as part of fighting against the Iraqi regime. In the latest Iraq war, Israel has helped the US and UK forces with intelligence and translation services, and there are unconfirmed reports about hundreds of Israeli operatives in Iraq, especially in the Kurdish region.

A recent example of the complexity of Israeli operations, are the events in Sudan, in January 2009; while busy destroying Gaza and killing its people, Israel has found time to bomb an area in Sudan, killing 39 people, who supposedly included some arms traders and traffickers. The facts are still being studied, but it seems certain that Israel has in this instance delivered a service to its Washington bosses – the arms dealers in this area are behind much of the piracy in the Indian Ocean and the red sea, of the Sudanese and Ethiopian coasts, and Israel has the capacity to bomb locally at short notice, alone among the western states. While arguably USA planes stationed In the Gulf could do this, it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia would have allowed this kind of action from its soil. The use of Israel is removing all responsibility from the USA or EU, the two blocs who would be served by such and similar actions.

That in Israel itself, only the USA is sometimes (not always, and not by all) trusted as an ‘honest broker’ between Israel and the Palestinians, is simply the result of shared interests and agendas. That other western nations accept that only the USA can achieve anything in the Middle East is not surprising either; a recent editorial in The Guardian makes this point clearly, when relying on the USA to become more efficient in its control function in the Middle East:

“Only a US president can insist that Israel keeps food, oil and electricity going into Gaza. Only he can say no to a government which is planning to build 3,000 housing units between the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim and East Jerusalem. Only he can insist that Israel does not choke off a Palestinian state before it is even born.”

Even the Palestinian leadership has, ever since 1993, fully depended on the USA as the only agent of political change, capable of bringing about the creation of a Palestinian state of some kind. That they have so done, and publicly put their trust in the paymaster and controller of a Zionist Israel, is one of the many failures of this leadership; instead of having an independent policy and developing means of attaining their goals, they have continuously put their trust in the very powers which have financed and directed their continued subjugation. This failure to read the political picture is both sad and less than surprising – Arafat has spent most of his life under one Arab despot or another, and the only way he could achieve anything was by trying to curry favour with those in power, as he lacked any real power himself, and could only operate under sufferance. This style of political operation was transferred to the rump of Palestine Arafat was pseudo-controlling after 1993, and as the USA seems to be the only power which could, if it so chose, force Israel to meet its obligations, then appealing for its favours was supposedly all that could be done.

It is this kind of policy which has led to one cul-de-sac after another; As all USA presidents could be trusted with the Israeli agenda, there never was an opening for Palestine in that quarter. To depend on the good will of the powerful is always a mistake; to depend on it in those conditions was sheer folly. But one has to go further in order to understand the deep bond now evident between Israel and the western nations; to do so we need to consider the deep political shift during the 1980s and 1990s, and especially after the fall of communism in 1989, and how it affected western, and especially American thinking about the Middle East.

The recent events – the Gaza criminal bombardment and invasion by Israel, and the subsequent Israeli elections – have put the conflict in a new context altogether. Despite the unquestioning support given to Israel by the main western nations, and especially by the USA, UK, France and Germany, it seems that Israel has at last managed to infuriate and inflame public opinion across the globe against the war crimes committed in Gaza, something which has not happened before. Beyond the immediate anger of millions with this unhindered mass murder, and their frustration with their governments’ collusion, it seems that the international community is now starting to mobilise heavily against Israeli atrocities; an example is the UN commission on war crimes which has been appointed to inquire into the Gaza war. Another type of international initiative is the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) now active in many countries and in all walks of life. The growing disillusion with the fig-leaf of the ‘peace process’, under which protection Israel has continued and intensified its illegal settlements, the Apartheid Wall, and such murderous operations as the Lebanon Invasion in 2006 and the Gaza war started in December 2008, and the realisation that the two-state solution has been made impossible by careful Israeli sabotage since 1967, leads to new discourse and new options being laid on the public table of media and academic debate.

Ironically, during the same period, in which world opinion has formed strong anti-Zionist understandings and positioning, Israel itself has buried its head deeper in the sand – Israeli political discourse has become even more obtuse, racist and exclusivist, now also excluding, for the most part, the two-state solution, and hence allowing other options, such as the one-state solution, to be aired in public for the first time. This option, the only one left on the table, now that Israel has made sure that no workable two-state option is there, is not new – it is the liberal alternative suggested in 1947 by an group of Arab and other states to the UN, instead of the famous (Partition) Resolution 181 – the one which brought about not only the partition, but also the Nakba, and turned Palestine into a series of broken and disconnected communities, and almost a million Palestinians into refugees, unable to returns to their homes and country.

The main difference between past Israeli administrations and the current one seems not of action, but of positioning – while in the past the position was: ‘continue the settlement process, and speak interminably about peace, allowing for the illusion of the Two State solution’, the new regime in Jerusalem is saying clearly, for the first time, that such a solution is not on the cards. This new stance is re-igniting the discussion on the One State solution, of course.

While not being a new idea, it is the only one offering life together without the promise of a struggle to the death between both communities. This is well understood by Israeli politicians – Olmert and Livni have continuously stated that without movement towards a Two-State solution, the One-State will become the new and lasting context for a future solution – something they are both totally against, of course. That the Israeli Jewish electorate has given most of its votes this time to right-wing parties, including extreme-right parties, is an interesting act of public denial in the Israeli polis - the voters have acted not through ignorance about the hostility to Israel’s policies, but instead, with defiance against such surging positioning abroad. Not for the first time, Israel is facing the classical dilemma – on the one hand it must secure and use international support for its policies, while on the other, its public and politicians are disdainful and resentful towards the international coalition of western states which make its crimes possible… This fundamental contradiction at the heart of Israeli politics is explosive – it cannot be contained for ever; The harder such positions become, the more untenable they become.

The new government is not just right-wing, but one which is not offering Israel and the Palestinians any political solution, only a continued military, financial and political subjugation. This is not just short-termist and lacking in vision, but also very difficult to argue for, after more than four decades of illegal occupation, so what do they think they are going for? One is tempted to pose a question about the long-term aims of such a policy.

To the degree that a coherent policy exists in Jerusalem, it must be presumed that it is premised on ethnic cleansing, as all the other options have now been rejected out of hand, especially the Saudi option of a regionals peace agreement with all Arab states on withdrawal from the Palestinian Occupied Territories, as well as the bottom lines of Oslo, Camp David, The so-called Road-Map, and now Annapolis. With all the negotiated political solution out of favour with the Israeli public and leadership, what is left is a struggle to the bitter end, until one group or the other manages to slaughter or exile its adversary. In what is really a most bizarre turn for most people, Israel has made clear that what it is worried, and wary about, are just peace negotiations and agreements, as those must involve withdrawal from its mini-empire. What the Israeli society seems to prefer to negotiated peace is self-initiated war/s. Israelis, on the whole, trust their military prowess more than their political ability to enforce a solution which will be acceptable to them, and the latest fiascos in Lebanon and Gaza seem unable to push the Israeli society back into the rational discourse zone. Instead, more apocalyptic scenarios are being adopted – a nuclear attack by Iran on Israel, for example, and more and more apocalyptic solutions are being put forward, including the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from parts, or the whole, of their land, in order to allow the ideological and practical apartheid buried within the concept of Israel as the Jewish State. The attraction of military aggressive solutions is obvious - after all, Israel has managed to sell the rest of the world a thesis that in the past was limited to itself and the American Century ideological bunker – the Huntingtonian concept of the ‘clash of civilizations’ - and has also pioneered the presentation of the Arab/Moslem as the other of the west. As such, Israel presents itself as the bulwark against the Arab and Islamic culture, which, goes this argument, is alien and other than that of the ‘Judeo-Christian’ cultures of the west. In this role of stopping the advance of this alien and hostile culture, Israel has received all the assistance that could be given to it by western states, and especially by the USA. Thus, the result of a military conflict between Israel with the latest and best technological weapons, and the lightly-armed Palestinian militias, is not too difficult to foresee. Should Palestinian militias cross an invisible line, one defined and dictated by Israel, then the Israeli military machine will crush them, and intensify the process of ethnic cleansing started in 1947, and never stopped since. The western democracies will not intervene, as this will be presented and understood as another phase in the conflict; they have never intervened to stop Israel harming the Palestinians, in the way the USSR and the USA intervened in 1956, getting Israel out of its Sinai conquest. Such is the stark reality facing the Palestinians, I believe.

The choice between further mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homes, as opposed to the continuation of the occupation and speedy settlement which will eventually make life impossible for Palestinians anyway, is not a real choice; but this is what is now being presented as the only choice, by the elimination of all other options from Israeli and American discourse. For those who put their hope in the new broom in the White House, It should be remembered that never before has the USA forced Israel into a position that was not acceptable to it. As the only way to resolve the conflict is forcing Israel, now more distant politically from such solutions than it ever was, then the option of Mr. Obamah playing tough with Israel is not a real one; after all, he still hopes to be re-elected in 2012...

The dangers described above are not just those of not achieving a just solution, but much deeper ones. In the absence of a political plan for resolution of the conflict, in a political vacuum of the kind which existed during the Bush years, the main danger is that of Israel advancing its control project by both incipient settlement and quantum leaps of ethnic cleansing, in tandem, as opportunities present themselves. In a period of deep economic decline, the eye of the world is less than fully-focussed on regional conflicts, and those powers, like Israel, who have an uncompleted regional control project, have a longer leash in such times of confusion and fear. The lack of a clear position then becomes itself a position, a freezing of the situation into acceptance and inaction. This is what the incoming Israeli regime is building upon, and unless there is worldwide movement which continues to agitate and act efficiently against the stasis (as was the case with the movement against South African Apartheid, Anti Apartheid) - the signs are that a just peace and a politically negotiated settlement of the Palestinian Nakba is further than ever.

Prof. Haim Bresheeth is Director of Research of the School of Social Science, Media and Cultural Studies, University of East London, UK


From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )