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Israeli settlements, U.S. policy: The gap between values and actions

The only thing odder than Netanyahu’s “un-American” comment is the White House’s response.

Although the latest Israeli announcement of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem drew the usual verbal slap on the wrist from the U.S., the media didn’t make much of it – until, that is, when Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to call that criticism un-American on American TV.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Haim Zach/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Haim Zach/GPO)

The White House of course felt compelled to respond. On Monday Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest called Netanyahu’s choice of words “odd” – another in a series of adjectives that U.S. government spokespersons pull from their thesaurus to show their dismay at Israel’s settlement enterprise.

It did seem odd for him to try to defend the actions of his government by saying that our response does not reflect American values…The fact is, when it comes to American values, it’s American values that lend this country’s unwavering support to Israel. It’s American values that have led us to fight for and secure funding to strengthen Israel’s security in tangible ways.

While media headlines called this a harsh response, even if you understand  Earnest’s use of the term “odd” as somewhat facetious, his comments were not harsh as much as telling of the dynamic of the U.S.-Israel relationship over the last few decades and certainly between Netanyahu and Obama in recent years.

In effect, Earnest exposes the gap between what Israel claims to stand for and what it actually does – and in turn the failure of the U.S. to match its policy to its words.

Israel’s stated values and positions are peace, democracy and a two-state solution. But oddly enough, its actions are to delegitimize Abbas as a partner in the “peace process,” continue the military control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the siege on Gaza, and build settlements in East Jerusalem, the most tangible affront to a two-state solution.

The U.S. knows this, but for various reasons (chief among them the lucrative nature of the American-Israeli weapons business and the power of AIPAC to ruin political careers) it limits itself to condemnations – but no actions. It did come close during the Gaza war when the White House withheld a shipment of Hellfire missiles and threatened to review every Israeli requests for American arms individually. But that didn’t last long.

The fact is that as “odd” as Netanyahu’s rhetoric is on the U.S. (not to mention actions such as endorsing Romney for president and meeting with Sheldon Adelson just before Obama last week) the U.S. comes out looking even odder. It on the one hand condemns settlement building over and over again, using as many different words as it can muster to express its disapproval, but it ultimately enables it because it has chosen not to take any concrete steps.

As a result, it is the number one enabler of Israel’s anti-peace policies. In this sense, Netanyahu actually exposed the gap between Israeli rhetoric and action, as well as the gap between American rhetoric and action. This was most apparent in the following statement by Earnest:

We oppose any unilateral actions that attempt to prejudge final status issues including the status of Jerusalem. These can only be legitimately determined through direct negotiations between the parties that this president has worked hard to try to facilitate.

Israel has been unilaterally prejudging final status issues since 1967. The act of redefining the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem two weeks after the Six-Day War to expand its capital by 70 kilometers was the most definitive unilateral action it has taken – possibly ever. This is why the U.S doesn’t recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and won’t put its embassy there.

But it has stopped short of outlawing Israeli settlements. The farthest it has come is when U.S. Secretary of State called them “illegitimate” during his failed attempt to restart negotiations last year. This is not enough.

If the U.S. wants to be taken seriously, if it wants to do away with the obvious conflict between its words and deeds, it needs to make the settlements illegal and put in place a set of punitive consequences.

Without this, Netanyahu will continue to do as he pleases – and when he states that America’s criticism of his actions are “un-American,” he won’t be totally wrong.

Netanyahu’s not-so-white-lies to Americans
Settlers take over 7 East Jerusalem homes in dead of night

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    1. Henrietta

      I think recent events have taught us that the US government gives approximately zero damns about being taken seriously. And why should it? All it wants to do is serve its, and Israel’s interests. No serious thought – beyond empty condemnations – is given to human rights and stability in the Middle East whatsoever.

      Reply to Comment
    2. bir

      If the US wants to be taken seriously, it should stop with the emphasis on construction in Jerusalem neighborhoods, the insane White-House level focus on the the 7th or 6th stage in the 8 stage process of construction approval and start in Jerusalem, and instead the White House should try hard to hold itself to a similar standard to which it holds Israel when it comes to terror groups and fighting regulations.

      Reply to Comment
      • ***and instead the White House should try hard to hold itself to a similar standard to which it holds Israel when it comes to terror groups and fighting regulations.***

        Another trollish attempt by ‘Bir’ to deflect by making cackling noises about something that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Nothing.

        Don’t feed the trolls.

        As regards the article itself, the words “(chief among them the lucrative nature of the American-Israeli weapons business and the power of AIPAC to ruin political careers)” are probably the most important ones in it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Sound advice. Thanks for reminding me.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      An open letter to President Obama:

      Dear sir:

      As you know, last week, Israel’s prime minister – on a visit to your country as part of his annual American hasbara tour – went on one of your country’s television networks and went on record that you, your administration and your administration’s policies vis-a-vis Israel are “un-American”. A few nights before that, he had dinner with one Sheldon Adelson, a man who is on record multiple times for personally besmirching you and your Presidency.

      Mr. President – when will you finally accept that time has long ago come to deal with this man in the harshest possible ways, as befitting an enemy, not only of you personally, but of your country as well.

      When this bloody ingrate says that it is “un-American” to criticize his country for doing things which indirectly puts American lives in harm’s way, it is time to take the kid-gloves off. When he publicly thumbs his nose at you and your administration, it is an affront not only to you, but also to every person who voted for you (which is, of course, the majority of Americans). When he makes no secret of his wish that Mitt Romney had won the election, and even made concrete efforts to rally support for him within your country’s Jewish community, you know he is a man you must have absolutely no dealings with.

      Mr. President – it is clear why your press secretary still uses words like “odd” to describe this man’s behavior on American television last week. It is because you still have hope that the 2014 midterm election can be salvaged, and your wish to not do anything to sabotage that election.

      Mr. President – when the clock strikes midnight on November 5th, regardless of the outcome, which will surely not be to your liking, remember this man’s words about you: Un-American. Remember how he has publicly insulted and defamed you personally at every turn and every opportunity, and get to work to make him personally pay for every insult and every attack on you.

      My personal suggestion is that you begin by revoking his visa into the United States. From now on, let him meet his sugar daddy Adelson in Tel Aviv, and let him address his pals at AIPAC via video conference. Let him sit at home with his wife and lament at his own isolation from the America he so loves (remember – he knows what is American and what is un-American). That is the first punishment you should mete on him, but by no means the only one.

      Mr. President, if you will spend the remaining time you have in office to hang this wretch out to dry, you will have made a significant contribution to peace in the Middle East, because every President that comes after you will have no problem to deftly follow in your foot steps and cease fearing the AIPAC-ISRAEL boogeyman.

      It is time to clean up Washington. Mr. President – and the first order of business in achieving that is the expunging of the “Bibi” from your midst.

      Kind regards,
      A concerned American and Israeli citizen.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man


        Reply to Comment
      • bill

        Outstanding comment, thank you for putting this into perspective

        Reply to Comment
    4. GKJames

      Just another instance of the US administration’s wetting itself in panic as it struggles not to look foolish in the face of yet another Netanyahu provocation while catering to his every whim. Political theater at its tawdriest. And contrary to the long-held view that this is the product of concern over the Jewish vote, the fact is that Washington and Jerusalem’s views on the two-state solution are in sync: there will not be two states, and Israeli dominion and control over the Palestinians will be perpetual.

      Reply to Comment
      • mikek

        We are the United States of Israel!

        Reply to Comment
    5. THANK YOU for a very important and well written article! Far too many people are terrified of exposing the control Israel has over US politicians from both parties and over US foreign policy for the Middle East. This must stop.

      Progress! Bob Johnson

      Reply to Comment
    6. CigarButNoNice

      “If the U.S. wants to be taken seriously, if it wants to do away with the obvious conflict between its words and deeds, it needs to make the settlements illegal and put in place a set of punitive consequences.”

      Good point. Making the Arab settlements in the Land of Israel illegal would be an important first step toward a just and viable peace in the Middle East. The injustice of Arab colonists stealing Jewish indigenous land cannot stand. No justice, no peace!

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        What is The Land Of Israel? What are its borders? The ones on Begin’s Irgun Zionist Terrorist posters?

        Reply to Comment
    7. Average American

      Israel can go f**k itself. It does absolutely nothing for the average American. Israel feeds off of the average American. It might be great for arms manufacturers, it might be great for political campaign purses. It’s definitely great for the Zionist charter of territorial expansion. For us? Not so much. It’s our government that supports Israel, not us. Our government no longer represents us.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Eliza

      Yep, great article by Mairav.

      But Netanyahu must be the stupidest and most self-indulgent political leader set forth on the world stage today. He positively brings the sharp focus on America’s dilemma regarding Israel and its consequent ‘odd’ statements. Best keep it quiet – ordinary Americans might start to notice. And not like it.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Tomer

      The US is a sinking ship. Their $100 Trillion of unfunded laibilities mean their dollar will collapse very soon.

      That’s why it does not matter what Hussain obama does or does not do in the middle east. His country is dead either way.

      Reply to Comment
      • David

        Well, this is bad news for the beggar state, Israel. It will have to find another country comparable to the US to infiltrate, bribe politicians and suck money from its taxpayers (now well over $ 4 billion per year.) However, the odds of another country allowing itself to be played for a sucker are extremely remote, i.e., never gonna’ happen. The good news is that the “special relationship” between Israel and the US is in free fall. It’s only a matter of time before America sets Israel adrift. Israel is America’s number one geopolitical liability, an increasingly heavy and unbearable millstone around its neck.

        Reply to Comment