Bipartisan Assault on Middle East Peace

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Foreign Policy in Focus

Bipartisan Assault on Middle East Peace

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a dangerous piece of legislation (H.R. 4133) which would undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, weaken Israeli moderates and peace advocates, undercut international law, further militarize the Middle East, and make Israel ever more dependent on the United States.

The margin was an overwhelming 411-2, with eight abstentions.

House minority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Howard Berman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined House Majority leader Eric Cantor (D-VA) and House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in co-sponsoring the bill, an indication of how closely the Democratic Party leadership aligns with the most right-wing Republicans when it comes to U.S. Middle East policy.

Indeed, the way the Democratic Party is now allied with the Republican Right could not be more obvious than the fact that the resolution passed on a “suspension of the rules,” a legislative procedure reserved for legislation on non-controversial topics requiring little debate and allowing for a quick vote.

Exempting Israel

A number of provisions in the bill are highly disturbing to those who support Middle East peace, justice for Palestine, and genuine security for Israel.

The“Findings” of the bill, rather than praising the growth of democratic movements in the Arab world, bemoans “the fall of some regimes long considered to be stabilizing forces,” indicative of how little either party cares for democracy in the Middle East.  Similarly, rather than praise the grassroots pro-democracy movements and their strategic nonviolent action, the bill blames Iran for “seeking to exploit the dramatic political transition underway in the region to undermine governments traditionally aligned with the United States.”

United in the belief that U.S. allies should somehow be exempt from accountability under international law, the bill calls on the United States to veto any “one-sided” resolutions at the United Nations Security Council directed at Israel, even those that are reasonably critical of Israel’s ongoing violations of international humanitarian law and previous UN security Council resolutions, or for possible future crimes against humanity and related war crimes, such as those documented by reputable human rights groups during Israel’s recent military assaults on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

With this bill, Congress has made peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors all the more difficult. It has also created a situation requiring increased U.S.-Israeli military cooperation and increased profits for U.S. arms manufacturers. Indeed, the bill calls for dramatically expanded U.S. arms aid and arms sales to Israel.

As an indication of how the Democratic Party is now even further to the right than former President George H.W. Bush, the bill also calls for additional unconditional loan guarantees to Israel, which the former Republican president tried to make conditional on a freeze in construction of Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

Although there has never been any real debate regarding the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security, this resolution takes the unprecedented step of insisting that that commitment be within the context of defending Israel as an explicitly “Jewish state.”  The Israeli government certainly has the right to identify itself as a Jewish state or anything else. But this clause not only demonstrates a lack of concern about the security interests of the more than 20% of Israelis who are not Jewish and the millions of Palestinians who are effectively under Israeli military control. – this resolution appears to be making an unprecedented commitment by the United States to guarantee the religious, ethnic, or cultural identity of a foreign country.

Similarly, although the Palestine Authority (PA) and virtually every other Arab government has pledged to make peace with Israel, including strict security guarantees, in return for an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab territory, the bill insists that the United States not just “encourage Israel’s neighbors to recognize Israel’s right to exist,” but its “right to exist as a Jewish state.”  The PA and other Arab states – noting that no peace treaty in history has ever required recognition by one state of the other’s religious, ethnic or cultural identity –have therefore rejected such a prerequisite.  By including this new provision for Arab-Israeli peace in this resolution, which was not required of Egypt and Jordan in their peace treaties with Israel, it appears to be designed to sabotage any possible additional peace agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Arms Up

With this bill, Congress has made peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors all the more difficult. It has also created a situation requiring increased U.S.-Israeli military cooperation and increased profits for U.S. arms manufacturers. Indeed, the bill calls for dramatically expanded U.S. arms aid and arms sales to Israel.

For example, instead of simply providing Israel with enough deterrent capability to ward off any potential combination of threats, the legislation calls on the United States to insure that Israel maintain a “qualitative military edge,” presumably in order to have such a dominating military presence that the right-wing government can maintain its ability to invade, occupy, and subjugate its neighbors – in effect, to keep Israel in a constant state of war and increasingly dependent on the United States.  To make sure President Obama takes this clause seriously, the bill requires the White House to put together a report every year detailing how the United States is insuring that Israel’s superiority is being maintained.  No such requirement is made in regard to any other country.

The legislation calls for dramatically increasing U.S. military aid to Israel over this year’s record of $3.1 billion in order to insure Israel right of self-defense. The bill radically redefines “defense” to include military equipment that has generally been seen as offensive in nature, such as tanker aircraft, which are only necessary for offensive military operations like bombing raids and troop deployments in far-off countries such as Iran.  

U.S. military aid to Israel is already higher than the foreign aid programs to all of sub-Saharan Africa combined.  With overall foreign aid already being reduced, this bill will translate into even deeper cuts in international assistance programs that aid the poor – such as vaccinations and other disease prevention, clean water initiatives, food aid, sustainable development projects and other programs that save countless lives.

Some “progressive” organizations like MoveOn and Democracy for America have endorsed and are raising money to support a number of the right-wing Democrats who co-sponsored and voted for this extraordinary dangerous legislation.  Unlike previous periods, when liberal groups stood up against both Republicans and Democrats who supported repressive right-wing governments and increased militarization in Central America and Southeast Asia, liberal groups today have no problem working to re-elect Democratic hawks who demonstrate a similar hostility to human rights, international law, and demilitarization in the Middle East.

Without such pressure from the left, the Democrats have little incentive to change their right-wing foreign policy.

Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes is a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, where he serves as coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies. Recognized as one the country’s leading scholars of U.S. Middle East policy and of strategic nonviolent action, Professor Zunes serves as a senior policy analyst for the Foreign Policy in Focus project of the Institute for Policy Studies, an associate editor of Peace Review, a contributing editor of Tikkun, and co-chair of the academic advisory committee for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

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