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The U.S. isn't going to do a damn thing to end the occupation

As long as Washington views ending the occupation as an Israeli problem instead of a Palestinian problem, it will never even consider using its leverage to do so.

A view of the Israeli settlement of Shilo in the West Bank, October 6, 2016. The new settlement that angered the United States is being portrayed as a neighborhood of Shilo, but Shilo’s boundaries have been redrawn to include the site that is over 1 kilometer away. (Flash90)

A view of the Israeli settlement of Shilo in the West Bank, October 6, 2016. The new settlement that angered the United States is being portrayed as a neighborhood of Shilo, but Shilo’s boundaries have been redrawn to include the site that is over 1 kilometer away. (Flash90)

The United States issued an unusually sharp rebuke on Wednesday to news that Israel is building a brand new settlement in the West Bank. The State Department sounded mad. The White House sounded mad. Nobody is going to do anything about it.

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    It’s not that the United States is powerless in the face of an Israeli government that for nearly four decades has refused to heed Washington’s and the entire international community’s demands to stop building and populating settlements. Both the United States and the United Nations have tools for compelling belligerent states into compliance.

    The problem is a matter of perception will. The United States does not perceive the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — or rather, the Israel occupation of Palestinian land and the denial of basic Palestinian rights — as a Palestinian problem. To the United States, and much of the West, the impetus for ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution is preserving Israel’s strategic interests, not protecting Palestinian rights.

    “It is deeply troubling, in the wake of Israel and the U.S. concluding an unprecedented agreement on military assistance designed to further strengthen Israel’s security, that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said in a statement Wednesday.

    “Israelis must ultimately decide between expanding settlements and preserving the possibility of a peaceful two state solution,” Toner continued. “Proceeding with this new settlement is another step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

    That state of affairs is framed as an Israeli decision. But Israelis do not have the right — whether exercised through seemingly democratic means or unabashed military might — to choose to keep millions of people disenfranchised, living under a discriminatory and brutal military regime that maintains two sets of laws for people living side by side depending on their religion or ethnicity.

    Nowhere does Toner, or the nearly identical statement issued by the White House, suggest that Israel’s perpetuation of the occupation, largely via its settlement enterprise, should be halted immediately because it systematically robs Palestinian men, women and children of their most basic, inalienable rights. Instead, “a one-state reality of perpetual occupation” poses a challenge to the domination of Israel’s democracy by Jewish Israelis.

    Which brings us to the matter of willingness. Never in the history of the contemporary international system has diplomatic — or more serious — pressure been brought against a country for acting against its own interests. As long as that is how the United States perceives the urgency of ending the occupation, it will never be willing to take action to ensure the occupation ends.

    Only if the United States starts to prioritize Palestinian rights over the minutia of Israel’s political system will it even consider using the type of leverage that might reflect that priority.

    Both the State Department and White House on Wednesday made sure to create a correlation between the signing of a recent $38 billion military aid agreement and Washington’s unusually harsh articulation of disappointment with settlement growth. If the political will to change or halt Israeli settlement activity existed, the military aid agreement could have provided exactly the caliber of leverage that might make Israel’s leadership question their priorities.

    But the United States is not that interested in ending the occupation, or even in preserving as much land as possible for a Palestinian state. And because Palestinian rights fall considerably lower than the religiously homogenous makeup of Israel’s elected government on Washington’s list of priorities, it’s not going to do a damn thing about it. At least not anything that matters.

    In a press briefing later in the day Wednesday, Toner said almost exactly that (starting at around minute 22:55 — the transcript appears below):

    QUESTION: Well, since you – since you started, since the United States starting – started opposing this kind of activity decades ago —

    MR TONER: And you’re right, decades ago in —

    QUESTION: Yeah.

    MR TONER: — Republican and —

    QUESTION: Under both administrations.

    MR TONER: — as I’d say.

    QUESTION: Yes, yes, I know. You read through the whole thing. Has it ever – have you ever seen – have you ever had any success?

    MR TONER: Well —

    QUESTION: There’s been —

    MR TONER: Yeah.

    QUESTION: I realize there have been short-term freezes, but it just seems to me that if you feel —

    MR TONER: There have been short-term freezes.

    QUESTION: — this strongly about it to come out with a statement like this that talks about the MOU that was just signed and President Peres’s death – if you come out with a statement that strong, don’t – I mean, don’t you expect it to have some kind of an effect?

    MR TONER: Yes, we do.

    QUESTION: You clearly feel strongly about it.

    MR TONER: Of course we do.

    QUESTION: But you – you do expect it to have some kind of effect, but you know that it won’t?

    MR TONER: You’re saying that – I was simply responding to your question that we don’t have – we’re not going to take any action. What I was trying to make clear —

    QUESTION: Is that correct? You’re not going to do anything?

    MR TONER: Well, again, we – our action is that —

    QUESTION: Other than trying to make them feel bad?

    MR TONER: No, but our action is that we convey to them both publicly and privately and to the world when we see Israel conducting itself in a way that runs counter to its security interests.


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      1. Average American

        No, USA won’t do anything about it, because for some reason that nobody can tell me, USA is under the thumb, no the ass cheeks, of Israel. Israel controls USA government. Why? No one can tell me why we allow that. We’re afraid of them. What are we afraid of? They’ll call us anti-semites? They’ll run smear campaigns in their newspapers? They’ll cut off our credit? If they are threatening to do something if we don’t kiss their ass, if they CAN do something to hurt us, then they are a danger to USA not a friend. Unbreakable-bond? Or un-breakable bondage?

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard Lightbown

          Israel may not be a danger to the USA but it most certainly is a danger to the politicians who nominally run the country. If they step out of line they are out of a job. Cynthia McKinney and Dennis Kucinich are two examples which come immediately to mind. A rookie Obama put the screws on Netanyahu and forced him to speak out in favour of the two-state solution, but the US President very soon found out who runs US policy vis-a-vis the Middle East. Since then he has never dared to stand up to Bibi again, despite all that the shit that he gets handed out and all the humiliation he routinely suffers.

          Reply to Comment
      2. I have to respectfully disagree with you, Michael.

        The central issue is not one of perception, but of domestic political cowardice in the face of electoral calculations. Viewing the occupation as a Palestinian problem would not move U.S. politicians one inch closer to exerting real pressure.

        That said, your observation about perception, and preference, is on point.

        Reply to Comment
      3. i_like_ike52

        Obama was more committted emotionally to the Palestinians than any other President. He twisted Netanyahu’s arm to get a freeze on building Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Yet, for all this, Abbas and the Palestinians refused to respond. Olmert offered an agreement giving almost all of the West Bank to Abbas INCLUDING THE JEWISH HOLY PLACES in Jersualem (which would be disguised as “international control” but in reality the Palestinians would control Jewish access to them). He even included at least “symbolic acceptance of the “Right of Return” of the Palestinian refugees. Abbas refused to respond to the offer. Obama begged Abbas to make a firm offer on the lines of full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-67 lines, including Jerusalem but accepting less than full return of the refugees. Abbas refused to make any such offer. The Palestinians will never offer a peace agreement than any Israeli gov’t, including one lead by MERETZ could accept. The world is sick of Abbas and the Palestinians, although sympathetic with them. That is why the US will never be in a position to impose a withdrawal on Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          @I_Like_Ike – when the Arab countries proposed the 2002 initiative – full recognition for Israel in return for a withdrawal to 2002 lines – it didn’t even make it to the Knesset floor. But the past is past, what are the 6 million Jews of Israelistine going to do with the 6 million Palestinians?

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Creative fiction, Ike. We’ve been through this before. The Israelis have never been serious about an offer. The thing with Olmert and the hapless but sincere Abbas fell through because Olmert actually offered less than you are advertising–details matter–and his criminal/legal problems and Israeli machinations courtesy of Tzipi Livni and the Likudists aborted a nascent real development. The Likud and allied extremists that thoroughly dominate your government would have brought down the house and would never have allowed a genuine viable peace deal to materialize. It’s all talking for the sake of talking. And notice, Ike, that once you admit that, your argument falls apart and we are left with the plain truth: what Richard Lightbown details above. The world is sick of the insufferable Israelis too, Ike, but the only ones who could do something about it, American congressmen, are, as explained above, at the mercy of a quasi-foreign agent/lobby that if it truly has any genuine and decisive interest in the true interests of the United States (the first “A” in “AIPAC”) or any interest in anything except Wild West Bank settlers and Jerusalem our undivided eternal capital, they sure have fooled me. And a lot of other people. Meanwhile the Israeli ambassador openly cavorts with and schemes with the Republicans. A sordid spectacle.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            According to Ben and his fellow fanatics, nothing is ever the Arab’s fault. Everything is always Israel’s fault.

            Reply to Comment