Five Questions President Obama Should Ask Prime Minister Netanyahu
PHOTO: President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting at the White House in March 2014. (GETTY)
Q - It’s clear that you don't support the two-state solution or the creation of an independent Palestinian state. In fact, you’ve spent much of the past 25 years trying to destroy the two-state solution. What is your vision of the future if you're not willing to allow Palestinians to have an independent state of their own or to grant them equal rights in a single state, and are you prepared to be known as the man who made permanent Israel's apartheid rule over the Palestinians?
- Since the early 1990s, Netanyahu has played a major role in cementing Israel’s apartheid system, most notably through the construction of illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land which have made the creation of an independent Palestinian state all but impossible, as well as leading four increasingly extreme right-wing governments that have passed a slew of racist and anti-democratic laws, while fostering an atmosphere of open, virulent racism against Palestinians and other non-Jews.
- Over the entirety of Israel’s 67-year-long history, there has only been a period of about one year (1966-67) in which it didn’t rule over large numbers of Palestinian Arabs by military decree, granting them no political rights simply because they are not Jewish.
- Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians meets the legal definition of apartheid as stipulated by the United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002), the latter of which defines apartheid as acts “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
- Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has been recognized as a form of apartheid by numerous experts and others including former US President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, one of the heroes of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and at least four Israeli prime ministers (David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert).
Q - You want US taxpayers to give Israel $2 billion in additional military aid, on top of the more than $3 billion you already get each year. Why should Americans give your government any military aid at all as long as it continues to enact and enforce policies, like building Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land, that violate official US policies and international law, are destroying prospects for peace with the Palestinians, and harm US national interests in the region and around the world?
- Today there are approximately 650,000 Israeli settlers living on occupied Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law and official US policy dating back to at least 1979, when a State Department legal opinion deemed settlements “inconsistent with international law."
- Since Netanyahu returned to power in 2009, the number of settlers in the West Bank has grown by approximately 120,000. This figure doesn’t include East Jerusalem settlements, where according to Haaretz newspaper “for the past six years settlement construction has been at its highest annual level since 2000.” During his first term (1996-99) the number of new settlement housing units grew by an average of nearly 3,000 a year.
- Because of the massive, almost unconditional military aid and diplomatic protection that the US gives to Israel, many people in the region and beyond view the US as complicit in Israeli war crimes and abuses of Palestinian rights, to the detriment of US national security interests. This has been publicly acknowledged by a number of senior US officials, including General David Petraeus, former head of the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, and former CENTCOM head General James Mattis.
- Rather than serving as an incentive for Israeli leaders to act in accordance with US policies and international law, unconditional US support has encouraged them to believe that they can do whatever they want with impunity.
Q - Your Likud party and coalition government are filled with right-wing extremists who have been provoking tensions around the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex (the Temple Mount) in occupied East Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive religious sites in the world, where they want to build a Jewish temple. Your government also funds extremist organizations that are working towards building a temple in the Noble Sanctuary and it funds Israeli public religious schools which indoctrinate children into dreaming of doing the same. What are you going to do to rein in the dangerous messianic Temple Mount fanatics in your government and party, and to end your government's financial and political support for their movement, which risks sparking major bloodshed?
- There are currently at least seven cabinet ministers in Netanyahu’s government, including at least four from his Likud party, who have been agitating to change the status quo in the Noble Sanctuary in order to assert Jewish Israeli sovereignty over it.
- Over the past five years, the Israeli government has given more than half a million dollars to the extremist Temple Institute, an organization actively working towards building a Jewish temple in the Noble Sanctuary, which also works with Israel’s ministry of education to indoctrinate children into the messianic Temple Mount movement.
- Over the past several years, Temple Mount extremists have been provoking tensions in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, where the Noble Sanctuary is located, which is one of the immediate causes behind the current crisis. Extremist Temple Mount activists have increased their visits to the Noble Sanctuary, the Israeli Knesset (parliament) has held hearings and discussed legislation that would change the status quo, and senior government officials have publicly declared their desire to impose Jewish Israeli sovereignty over the Noble Sanctuary and to build a temple there.
Q - You and senior members of your government have repeatedly insulted and publicly disrespected me and senior members of my administration while continuing to violate US policies with settlement construction and other actions. Add to this Israel’s shift to the extreme right politically in recent years under your watch at a time when the US center has been moving in the opposite direction, and the gap between Israelis and Americans has probably never been greater. Do you realize that you are alienating large swathes of the American public and the world with your racist treatment of the Palestinians and your aggressive attacks against anyone who criticizes your actions?
- According to a poll conducted by Frank Luntz released in July 2015, 47% of Democratic Party “opinion elites” believe Israel is a racist country, while just 48% believe Israel wants peace with its neighbors. Thirty-one percent support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights when it’s explained to them. A February 2015 Gallup poll showed that the percentage of Democrats who support Israel dropped 10 points over the previous year to 48%.
- A December 2014 poll by the Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland found that 39% of all Americans support imposing sanctions on Israel over settlement construction.
- During Israel’s attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014, a Gallup poll found that 18 to 29-year-old Americans said by a two-to-one margin (51% vs. 25%) that Israel's actions were unjustified, while a CNN poll found that 42% of Democrats felt the same way.
Q - For many years, Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights organizations, as well as the United Nations, have all documented a pattern of the Israeli military and police using reckless and disproportionate force against Palestinians, including the use of live fire against unarmed teenage protesters. There have also been many documented incidents of summary executions of defenseless Palestinian suspects. Human rights groups have also documented a two-tiered legal system when it comes to how Jews and Arabs who are suspected or accused of throwing stones or carrying out armed attacks are treated by Israel’s armed forces and courts. Do you not understand that this brutality and discrimination only further fuels the conflict, to the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians, and that it also violates American law regarding the use of foreign military aid?
- Israel’s military and police have a long and thoroughly documented history of committing grave and systematic war crimes, including the excessive use of deadly force in heavily populated civilian areas, the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, and the torture and abuse of prisoners, including children. They’re also involved in the bureaucratic and punitive destruction of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories and enforcing Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza, which are acts of collective punishment, which is illegal under international law
- During and after Israel’s 50-day attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014, which killed more that 2,250 Palestinians, including at least 1,462 civilians, including 551 children and 299 women, human rights organizations documented evidence of widespread war crimes and atrocities committed by the Israeli military. They included the use of massive, indiscriminate force, including the destruction of entire neighborhoods, and the deliberate targeting of hospitals and medical workers.
- Israeli forces also have a long history of executing unarmed Palestinian suspects. Most recently, according to a report about the current crisis released on October 27, 2015, Amnesty International: “documented in depth at least four incidents in which Palestinians were deliberately shot dead by Israeli forces when they posed no imminent threat to life, in what appear to have been extrajudicial executions.”
- According to the amended Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, one of the so-called “Leahy Laws,” it is illegal for the US government to provide military aid “to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights” unless the perpetrators of said violations are held accountable for their actions.
Bonus Question - Given everything I’ve noted here today, why shouldn't I support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement and other efforts by Palestinians to peacefully achieve their freedom and rights?