5 Questions for AIPAC Policy Conference 2012
1. What are the results of the almost unconditional support given to Israel by many members of Congress and the American government?
- The economic, military, and diplomatic support that the US provides Israel has allowed the latter to continue illegally occupying and building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in direct opposition to official US policy, putting the two-state solution and the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians farther out of reach every day.
- American interests and national security in the region and beyond have been harmed as the US is seen to be complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and denial of Palestinian freedom. In written testimony submitted to the US Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2010, then-head of CENTCOM General David Petraeus stated:
‘The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR [area of responsiblity] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.'
Also in March 2010, following an Israeli settlement announcement made on the eve of a visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden, Biden reportedly told Netanyahu: “This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
- American claims to be an impartial broker of peace between Palestinians and Israelis have been completely undermined. As former longtime State Department official and top Middle East advisor Aaron David Miller put it, the US has been behaving as if it were “Israel’s lawyer.”
- As Israel continues to act in blatant violation of international law and flout the policies of successive US administrations since the 1970s, Congress and the Obama administration continue to lavish it with enormous amounts of economic and military aid even while almost every other part of the budget is being cut due to the economic downturn. The Obama administration has proposed increasing aid to Israel to $3.1 billion for 2013, up from $3.075 billion this year.
- Between 2000 and 2009, the United States provided Israel with more than $24 billion in military aid alone. During that same time, Israel killed at least 2,969 Palestinians "who did not take part in the hostilities [i.e. civilians],” according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Between 2009 and 2018, the US is scheduled to give Israel $30 billion in military aid.
- Israeli forces have also used American military aid to suppress nonviolent protests against the illegal wall and settlements Israel is building in the occupied West Bank, particularly tear gas and other “riot control” equipment sold by companies like Combined Systems, Inc. of Jamestown, Pennsylvania.
- In addition to being used to suppress peaceful protesters resisting the encroachment of illegal Israeli settlements and the wall being built on their land, American-made “riot control” equipment is frequently used in violation of operating directions, causing numerous serious injuries and deaths amongst nonviolent Palestinian and international (including American) demonstrators.
2. Haaretz newspaper recently reported that, during his visit to the White House on Monday, Netanyahu will ask President Obama to publicly threaten to attack Iran and its nuclear program. Is Iran really building a nuclear weapon as Netanyahu and others claim, and if it is, would a nuclear-armed Iran pose an existential threat to Israel?
- On February 23, the Los Angeles Times reported that the latest official US intelligence estimate concluded that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb.
- In recent months, numerous Israeli military and intelligence officials, both currently serving and retired, have spoken out in private and in public warning against an attack on Iran and questioning the claim that Iran poses an existential threat to Israel. In December 2011, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, Tamir Pardo, told a gathering of Israeli officials that a nuclear-armed Iran wouldn’t pose an existential threat to Israel, stating:
‘Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That's not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely.’
- Israeli political and military leaders have been claiming since at least the early 1990s that Iran was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. For example:
- In 1992, then-member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Iran was 3 to 5 years away from acquiring nuclear weapons and urged the US to attack the Islamic Republic, stating that the threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the US."
- Also in 1992, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres predicted that Iran would have nuclear weapons by 1999.
- In 1995, the New York Times reported that senior Israeli and American officials were predicting Iran would get the bomb within 5 years.
- The current drive towards a military confrontation with Iran on the part of the Israeli government and some of its American supporters echoes the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, which Israeli officials also advocated for. In January 2003, AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr told the New York Sun that "quietly lobbying Congress to approve the use of force in Iraq" was one of "AIPAC's successes over the past year."
- While Israeli officials prefer to talk about Iran and the alleged threat that it poses to Israel's existence, the 45th anniversary of the 1967 War, when Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem began, will occur in early June. Since that time, Israel has ruled over millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories while granting them no political rights and relentlessly colonizing their land. A growing number of observers, including three former Israeli prime ministers, have called this situation a form of “apartheid,” as have figures such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former US President Jimmy Carter. Many Israelis would argue that a continuation of the status quo vis-a-vis the Palestinians is the greatest danger they face.
3. AIPAC leaders claim to represent the American Jewish community. Do they really?
- A growing number of American Jews, particularly young ones, are voicing their opposition not only to Israeli policies and actions, but also to the uncritical support given to Israel by many establishment Jewish organizations like AIPAC.
- In June 2010, journalist and Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, Peter Beinart, published an influential article in the New York Review of Books entitled “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” The article, which sparked intense debate within the American Jewish community, argued that young American Jews are increasingly alienated from Israel as their own liberal political views conflict with Israel’s unjust treatment of the Palestinians.
- Many leading Palestine solidarity activists in the US and around the world - including advocates of the boycott, sanctions, and divestment (BDS) movement - are Jewish.
- Many Israeli Jews are also disturbed by what they perceive to be outsiders who don't have to live with the consequences of their actions encouraging Jewish extremism and rejectionism in Israel. As acclaimed Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar wrote in a column:
‘The dominant view among the centrist group of the [US] Jewish community - that "we support every Israeli government, right or wrong" - reminds one of a situation in which a parent finds out that his child is addicted to drugs and hands him his credit card.’
4. What message is AIPAC sending to the Palestinians and the world when the first presidential hopeful announced as addressing the conference is Newt Gingrich, who has claimed on more than one occasion that Palestinians are an "invented" people? And what are the repercussions of the Republican presidential hopefuls advocating such extreme views?
- By welcoming Gingrich and others who have made similar, offensive claims about Palestinians, AIPAC is aligning itself with some of the most extreme elements of the Israeli right.
- The views expressed by Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, and others, add to the negative light that America's uncritical support for Israel has cast on the US internationally and leads many people around the world to question the grasp on reality that American politicians have when it comes to Israel/Palestine, as in some cases they sound more extreme than Israeli leaders.
5. What does the AIPAC conference tell us about the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the future of the two-state solution, the cornerstone of American and international peace plans for the region for more than two decades?
- The competition between members of Congress from both parties to prove their support for Israel encourages the intransigence and rejectionism of the current Israeli government, and the most hard-line elements in Israeli society.
- Jewish-only settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will likely continue to expand. Indeed, on February 22, just over a week before Netanyahu was scheduled to travel to Washington to meet with President Obama, Israeli officials announced 600 new settlement units would be built in Shilo, deep in the West Bank. The announcement fits a longstanding pattern of Israel approving new settlement construction ahead of high-level meetings between Israeli and American officials, including the aforementioned meeting between Biden and Netanyahu in 2010.
- The number of Palestinians disillusioned with the peace process and two decades of fruitless negotiations aimed at creating a Palestinian state in the occupied territories will continue to grow, as will the number of Palestinians and others calling for equal rights for Arabs and Jews within a single, secular, democratic state encompassing all of Israel and the occupied territories.