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America must rethink Mideast policy in light of Palestinian UN bid

An assertive Palestinian diplomatic strategy exposes the obsolete nature of America’s foreign policy with relation to the Middle East. Eyal Clyne argues that the US is increasingly isolated and faces worse if it fails to provide more support to the future Palestinian state.

By Eyal Clyne

The anticipated American veto of the vote to admit Palestine as a full member of the UN is not surprising. Since 1972, the US has vetoed 80 resolutions of the Security Council; almost 54% of those vetoes have been in defence of Israeli interests (mostly countering resolutions condemning settlements, and investigations of Israel’s violations of international law and human rights). Over the past ten years the portion of America’s vetoes spent defending Israel grew to over 90% (10 of 11 since 2001).

The Palestinians are not blind to the one-sided support and financing of their occupier. Last year, the Ramallah leadership came to realize who its real opponents are, and decided to expose them, hoping for a less biased broker. The US has been twisting the Palestinian arm for so long that it broke, and now there’s nothing for America to bend anymore. The Palestinians, in turn, feeling they have nothing to lose, decided to engage with the global superpower at the UN. Earlier this year they managed to push the US into a corner, when it vetoed condemnation of West Bank settlements, in opposition to all the other 14 UNSC members, including the UK and France.

The vote on the settlement resolution marked an interesting turn in power relations. For many years the US and Israel have been the ones wielding the pressure. Then, last week, the two powers found themselves pressured, and increasingly isolated, over the UNESCO vote on whether to accept Palestine’s application for entry into the agency. The US and Israel barely managed to recruit Samoa, Solomon Islands, Palau, Vanuatu and eight of the other 163 voting members to support their position at UNESCO. When Palestine won the vote with a wide and enthusiastic majority, the Palestinians quickly announced their intention to apply to the World Health Organisation and other international bodies.

The US, however, has yet to understand its new situation. Given the pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East, the decline in American influence and financial power, and the decreasing legitimacy of colonial wars, the US is in a global crisis of legitimacy. Opposing Palestinian liberation would mean risking future allies and support in the region, and globally. Every time the Palestinians ostensibly “lose” a vote, what it actually means is that the US loses legitimacy points.

Imposing an old and anachronistic American “price-tag”-like punishment on UNESCO funds, even before Israel does so, shows that Washington has not learned its lesson. Not paying its share, means risking Washington’s voting rights in this important international body, which would mean losing another bent arm. A better route for the Americans would be to turn this crisis into an opportunity. If they are really seeking ways to strengthen pragmatic Palestinians, then instead of sweetening them with funds, arms and the release of prisoners, they should strengthen pragmatic Israelis, who support the legitimate claims of Palestinians to end the occupation immediately, with no conditions. Supporting the Palestinian plea to the UN would send a powerful message of US support for justice, and would energize those who support life without oppression.

Eyal Clyne is an Israeli blogger and researcher or the societies in Israel-Palestine. His commentary has been published in Haaretz, Ynet, Walla!, 972mag.com and Ha’Oketz.

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    1. aristeides

      Until the stranglehold of the Israel Lobby is broken, the US will be incapable of acting in its own interests, or the interest of justice in the world.

      Reply to Comment
    2. AT

      Eyal Clyne may be a researcher on Israel-Palestine societies but he hasn,t done much research on the US relation to the UN. To put it shortly: it’s a very bad one and the people of the US despise the institution. The law that blocks payment to the UN is not a result of the magical “might” of the Israel lobby, but because of this wall to wall antipathy to the UN it was an easy bill for Congress to support. There is no way in hell that Obama will or should expend an ounce of political to get the law repealed.

      It is US military and financial might that gives the US power, not winning or losing UN votes. Because of this power the US will NOT have to use its veto in the security council to block Palestine’s application. It is the Palestinians who are losing out by expending effort on hot-air PR stunts.

      Reply to Comment
    3. AT

      Just to make it clearer to people who are ignorant of reality:

      1. Congress votes for bills which the Israel lobby supports only if no other interest is involved. However, if other countervailing interests are involved, come into play, the lobby is ineffective. For example, arm sales to Saudia Arabia are vigorously oppossed by the lobby but never get voted down.

      2.US Aid to Israel is almost all subsidies to the US military industry. No money ever crosses the ocean. It’s another form of govt welfare to that industry. Israle is often forced to buy stuff it doesn’t need.

      3. Palestine receives more aid per capita than any other nation on the planet. A huge chunk of that is from US. That is money that crosses the ocean.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Anthony

      “If they are really seeking ways to strengthen pragmatic Palestinians”

      There’s no coherent set of aims “they” the Americans are seeking to achieve – there are only individual politicians seeking re-election, which means not picking fights with the Israel lobby and trying to present your opponent as weak.

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      AT – you are totally wrong about the level of opposition to the UN in the US. A very recent poll shows that half the country approves of US involvement in the UN.


      “Voters overwhelmingly believe it is important the United States maintain an active role within the United Nations.

      More than eight out of ten voters (86%) say it is important that the United States maintain an active role within the United Nations, with a substantial majority (65%) saying it is ‘very important’ the United States do so.”

      There’s always been a group of isolationist wingers who’ve tried to keep the US out of the UN, but they’re a fringe minority. And that group overlaps in large part with those who don’t like ANY foreign entanglements, which includes Israel. See Ron Paul.

      If you gave US voters a choice between the UN and Congress, AIPAC would be out of a job.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Anthony

      AT: I think it’s naive to think that the US government’s support of Israel doesn’t encourage them to continue building settlements etc. Israel spends a lot on its military and without US military aid that money would have to come from somewhere (we’ve seen with the J14 protests that trimming the defence budget is quickly vetoed by the Israeli defence establishment). Moreover that aid is symbolic – it shows that the world’s richest and mightiest nation supports you.

      Also, the Palestinian effort is certainly a PR stunt with little chance of success but what other options do they have left?

      I hope, by the way, you don’t respond to this message in the same insulting manner you responded to Eyal’s article. There’s no reason to make out that people you disagree with are idiots…

      Reply to Comment
    7. David44

      AT wrote:

      “US Aid to Israel is almost all subsidies to the US military industry. No money ever crosses the ocean.”

      Tripe. See http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf – an official Congressional study of aid to Israel. To summarize the relevant part briefly (pp.5-6): around 25% of the military aid that the US gives to Israel, something like $750 million of it every year, is specifically permitted to be spent on domestic Israeli weapons. That is (a) a lot of money which crosses the ocean, and (b) a unique privilege that the US gives to Israel, because with EVERY other country the US does insist on military aid being spent entirely on US weapons.

      Reply to Comment
    8. RichardNYC

      “…and the decreasing legitimacy of colonial wars”
      –>And there goes your credibility about US interests.

      Reply to Comment
    9. G

      RichardNYC, Sorry are the two wars on Iraq not collonial wars?

      Also, the piece didn’t mention anything about the Israel Lobby.

      Reply to Comment
    10. directrob

      Victoria Nuland: “it would be most welcome on our side. Our focus had been on working with members of Congress to make clear why we continue to believe that this money is important.” She added: “Israeli officials have the same interests that we have in ensuring that we can all support stability in the Palestinian territories.”
      Translated for “AT”: The money the US pays the PA is actually to support the occupation.

      Reply to Comment
    11. AT

      @Aristeides while I personally am all for US support for the UN, I can hardly find a poll paid for by the UN as credible evidence of “widespread popular support” in the US for the UN. In any case, I stand by my comment that there is no political upside for anyone in Congress to support aid for the UN. Even if you believe the US masses are g to aid the UN there is no money behind that thinking and we all know Congress are a bunch of low cost prostitutes. The main point is that those calling on Obama to expend political Capitol on refunding UNESCO are barking a pointless tree. Also, the fact that Obama successfully got Congress to refund the PA shows he does know where to expend political capital, despite the contentions of the writer of this article.

      @David44 Yes I misspoke. I did say almost all in first part of my sentance and I exaggerated in second half. Note that 25% is allowed. Doesn’t mean all of that is spend in Israel. The article did note that Israel military industries need to focus on exports since the government throws them crumbs. And of course I realize this is a huge benefit to Israel. I merely want to point out tags the big impetus for military aid to Israel is that it is a great source of more corporate welfare to US military industries. That point doesn’t contradict it’s benefit to Israel. It does undermine the super powers of the Israel lobby meme. It’s about internal US interests not love of Israel.

      @directrob if supporting the PA means supporting the occupation then you should be happy the US is fighting the PA in it’s efforts in the UN, unlike what the author of this article wants.

      @anthony I didn’t call Eyal an idiot. I noted his analysis was totally off the mark when it comes to the realities of US politics (as is Aristeides btw) I agree US support encourages the occupation. Sadly, I’m not so sure there is cuurently any real political motivation for the US to oppose it, or else they surely would (cf. Bush Sr who pushed Shamir to Madrid) Perhaps changes in Arab regimes caused by the Arab Spring might eventually change US interests. So far the picture is still not clear. if I was Abbas, I would call Bibi’s bluff and go back to negotiations w/o preconditions. I would also have the PA put up Marwhan Barghouti as their next Presidential candidate, Of course DirectBob and others will see that as co-operating with the occupation but my guess is those two steps simultaneously would put huge and real pressures on Bibi & friends.

      Reply to Comment
    12. AT

      BTW here is another poll from Galllup that shows only 31% of US citizens think the UN is doing a good job in 2010. Yes, I agree, better than Congress 🙂 In general, though, US people only like UN when it supports US wars.

      Also, please note my critique of people’s analysis is not meant as a statement of support for any given US or Israeli policy. I just firmly contend that international relations are not driven by magical forces, but are purely interest based. The US is a military imperial power and thinks only of its own interests in those terms. the Zionist movement and subsequently Israeli governments always tried to be on the right side of imperial powers. Most likely because the Jewish people learned a bitter lesson 2000 years ago about what happen when you end up on the wrong side of imperial powers. The Palestinians, to their misfortune have not yet learned that lesson.

      And while discussing imperial realities, I don’t ignore moral issues: there is no morality or justice for people suffering from wars. The Palestinians accepting the partition plan (something Abbas recently acknowledged they should have) may not have meant maximum “justice” from their perspective (although I find that proposition arguable) but it would have spared much suffering all around and so would have been the just and moral decision. The Palestinians continue to face such tradeoffs and partition continues to remain the only moral choice. And yes, of course these comments apply equally as strongly to Israel. Maximalists positions are immoral in the face of the fact they lead to war. My opinion,feel free to disagree.

      Reply to Comment
    13. David44

      AT wrote:
      “The big impetus for military aid to Israel is that it is a great source of more corporate welfare to US military industries. That point doesn’t contradict it’s benefit to Israel. It does undermine the super powers of the Israel lobby meme. It’s about internal US interests not love of Israel.”

      Why, then, does the US give Israel the unique privilege of not having to spend all the money in the US? Every other country has to – so why not Israel, if this is primarily “about internal US interests, not love of Israel”? You ignored this point in your reply to me, but it is a key piece of evidence against your claim that US policy is driven purely by self-interest, not the pushing of the “Israel Lobby”.
      Self-interest here would surely require the US to treat Israel like every other country: how is it in the interests of the US for the American taxpayer to subsidize the Israeli defense industry in a way it does for no other country’s defense industry.

      Reply to Comment
    14. RichardNYC

      “RichardNYC, Sorry are the two wars on Iraq not collonial wars?”
      No, they weren’t. Ultra-left playing fast and loose with the “C” word again!

      Reply to Comment
    15. AT

      @david44 because Israel is actively at war it gets to “beta test” US equipment and provides invaluable field data for US military. Plus Usrael provides many other useful functions for US:

      1. It can do US dirty work – cf. Iran contra affair. It was in fact this that led to the unusually close military co-operation between the two countries in the first place
      2. It serves as the “bad cop” threat against Arab and Muslim countries that helps promote US interests (see how it’s being used in current Iran blow up to get countries in line for tighter sanctions)
      3. It serves as a coward base in Middle East – which is why US equipment is tationed there

      Of course there are military benefits to Israel, but the close relationship serves US interests well.

      Reply to Comment
    16. David44

      You are once again evading my question, which appears (uncharacteristically) dishonest of you. My question wasn’t what the benefits to the US are of military support for Israel in general. My question, which I asked very specifically and very precisely, was what the benefits to the US are of allowing 25% of military aid to be spent domestically in Israel – and why that privilege is given to no other country EXCEPT Israel. That is, as I said, strong evidence that US policy is not being driven purely by US advantage, contrary to what you repeatedly claim.

      Reply to Comment
    17. aristeides

      Thanks for the link, AT. I note that it also says:

      “The Gallup World Affairs and other polls also show that different words in two apparently similar questions can make a sensational difference. It turns out that saying that the UN is not doing a good job is not the same as calling for the United States not to support the United Nations.

      Indeed, polls over the years have shown Americans answering questions about US support for the UN with majorities in favor ranging from 55 percent to 70 percent. A 2008 poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations had typical results. It reported that 79 percent of those who were asked if the US should strengthen the UN agreed “strongly” or “somewhat.”

      In that same poll, the US public was clear about what it wanted the UN to do: members’ authority to enter countries to investigate human rights violations – 73 percent; send marshals to arrest genocidal leaders – 71 percent; and organize and command a standing peacekeeping force – 70 percent.”

      Which is pretty consistent with the results of the poll that I cited. And which makes it very clear that the people of the US do NOT “despise the institution” of the UN.

      Although we agree that they do indeed despise the institution of Congress.

      Reply to Comment
    18. AT

      @david44 I wasn’t intentionally evading your question, rather I suppose my answer wasn’t clear. The 25% potential (note its not likely actual) domestic payment is a payoff for those benefits is my contention. take Egypt, another big recipient of US military aid. It does not provide those “value-added” benefits, not to mention there are other reasons the US may not be willing to help out local Egyptian military industries. Keep in mind Israeli military industries in general work co-operatively with the US military and have joint ventures with US partners, So think of it as a sort of venture capital investment on the part of the US.

      @aristeides to make you happy I will concede your point. But as I noted earlier that does NOT in anyway change the thrust of my original point: there is zero political incentive for Obama or Congress to change the UNESCO funding law, so asking Obama to expend political capital or urging Congress to change the law is a waste of time and energy, empty blustering (just like the PA UNESCO application).

      BTW, I originally (about a year ago) thought the PA’s idea to apply to the SC was a great tactic, but Abbas did not lay the ground work well at all (to put it mildly) and was totally out maneuvered by Bibi. Once that happened, continuing down that path was political folly and a waste of energy.

      Reply to Comment
    19. David44

      AT wrote:
      “The 25% potential (note its not likely actual) domestic payment is a payoff for those benefits is my contention … So think of it as a sort of venture capital investment on the part of the US.”

      A highly strained and dubious claim. Are you seriously suggesting that Israel, the recipient of $3 billion of military aid (as well as a great deal of political support), would co-operate with the US less enthusiastically in the areas you name were it not that the US “invests” part of that money with Israeli defense industries? Do you have the slightest grounds for saying that?

      Reply to Comment
    20. AT

      @david44 nope. That’s not at all what I said. I said, it’s like a VC investment. Funneling some of the money into local Israeli defense industries helps lubricate the whole process and benefits the investors as much as the investees. Just like VCs invest, out of real hard interests, the US defense department and the US govt as a whole supports putting some money into the local Israel defense industry out of hard interests, and not because of some magical Jewish conspiracy breathing down their backs.

      Truly the Israel lobby bogey man is a convenient excuse for Palestinians to justify their own policy failures and for Israelis to make themselves feel more important than they really are.

      Reply to Comment
    21. AT

      Noam Chomsky on the Israel lobby:


      He also argues that it is US imperial interests, not any lobby, that drives US Mideast policies and it’s “support” of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    22. DAVID44

      AT, that’s no less strained than your first version. Venture capitalists aim to get financial returns on their capital, not some sort of vague “lubrication” – and certainly not when they could get the same benefits while investing the money directly in things which would provide them with direct returns closer to home. The parallel with the US subsidizing the Israeli defense industry is so loose as to be useless.
      The alternative – and, I suggest, more plausible – interpretation is that the unique benefit given to Israel is the result of domestic lobbying on behalf of Israel even when (as here) it privileges Israeli interests over those of the US. Again, the smoking gun here is the uniqueness – the US gives military aid to dozens of countries, democratic allies as well as unreliable dictatorships or quasi-dictatorships like Egypt. But to no other, however closely allied or useful to the US, is this privilege given.
      As for your sniffing at a “magical Jewish conspiracy”. I don’t see anything magical or conspiratorial about it. We all know (don’t we?) that there are groups of people (not all Jewish) lobbying Congress perfectly openly on behalf of Israel; we all know (don’t we?) that some of them are well enough financed to be able to provide or withhold significant domestic support from Congressmen should they choose to. This doesn’t mean that they always win, or that they are always pulling the strings from behind the scenes – there are many other countervailing lobbies and interests that sometimes prevail as well. But it would be ridiculous to think that they never gain their ends, or that they only do so when their ends are in the wider interests of the US. Congressmen often make their decisions based on their perceived personal interests, and those may or may not coincide with national ones.
      You have no difficulty seeing this in other contexts: you have already in this thread suggested (with regrets) that Congress votes against funding UNESCO, not because defunding UNESCO is in the wider interests of the US, but because individual Congressmen have a well-funded domestic constituency (not particularly connected with Israel, just to be clear) which is anti-UN, but no well-funded domestic constituency demanding support for UNESCO (your words were “there is no money behind that thinking”). So why, when it is similarly suggested that domestic pressures and individual financial considerations, rather than the advantage to the US, might have led Congressmen to provide support to the Israeli defense industry, do you suddenly bridle and start accusing your interlocutors of inventing “magical Jewish conspiracies”?

      Reply to Comment
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