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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds news conference following address to United Nations Human Rights Council in Switzerland on Monday, March 2, 2015. (Photo: U.S. Department of State/flickr/public domain)

What Rift? When It Comes to Palestinians and Human Rights, US and Israel As Close As Ever

'The unprecedented partisan rancor that Netanyahu's speech engendered on Capitol Hill has not really affected the fundamentals of U.S. policy'

Sarah Lazare

Amid a public spat between the White House officials and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, top Obama administration aides signaled Monday that the U.S./Israeli "special relationship" is as ironclad as ever—especially when it comes to accountability over war crimes against Palestinians.

In the midst of Netanyahu's controversial visit to Washington, top Obama administration aides on Monday issued blistering condemnations of the United Nations Human Rights Council for launching an investigation into violations of international humanitarian law committed during Israel's 50-day military assault on Gaza last summer.

Addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, Kerry claimed that the global body holds an "unfair and unfounded bias" against Israel. "The Human Rights Council’s obsession with Israel risks undermining the credibility of the entire organization," the Secretary of State continued.

Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, struck a similar chord in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington on Monday.

"It is bitterly unjust that the United Nations, an institution founded on the idea that all nations should be treated equally, is so often used cynically by member states to treat Israel unequally," she said. "These attacks on Israel's legitimacy are biased, they are ugly, and the United States of America will not rest until they stop."

"We believe firmly that Israel's security and the U.S.-Israel partnership transcends politics and always will," Powers added, vocalizing a sentiment that was repeated by Netanyahu, who also presented at the AIPAC gathering.

"Our friendship will weather the current disagreement as well," declared the Israeli Prime Minister.

The conciliatory comments come in the midst of an unprecedented rift over Netanyahu's current visit, which was orchestrated by GOP House Speaker John Boehner and the Israeli ambassador without the blessing of the White House. Netanyahu has been clear that the primary purpose of his address to Congress, slated for Tuesday, is to sabotage talks between global powers and Iran, thereby undermining a key policy initiative of the Obama administration.

However, Josh Ruebner, policy director for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told Common Dreams that "Kerry and Power's defense of Israel's human rights abuses and war crimes is another indication that the unprecedented partisan rancor that Netanyahu's speech engendered on Capitol Hill has not really affected the fundamentals of U.S. policy."

"The Obama administration is still acting as Israel's guarantor in the UN, and despite the fact that Netanyahu is coming to the U.S. to undermine the foreign policy objectives of the Obama administrations, there have been no repercussions from the Obama administration."

In an article published last week, journalist and Palestinian rights advocate Ali Abunimah argued that "for suffering Palestinians, the Obama-Netanyahu 'rift' is a side show."

"Just because Obama, Netanyahu and their partisan followers may be peeved at each other does not change the basic dynamic of full US support for Israel's occupation of millions of Palestinians, the continuation of which guarantees ongoing suffering with regional repercussions," wrote Abunimah.

Nonetheless, human rights and Palestine solidarity advocates argue that the schism over Netanyahu's maneuver presents a political opening. This is an important moment to prevent potentially catastrophic military escalation towards Iran, they say, as well as an opening for real debate about atrocities against Palestinians.

Amid a grassroots push, 46 lawmakers have vowed to skip Netanyahu's Tuesday speech, according to Ruebner's count. Meanwhile, top White House officials—including the president—have announced that they will not be in attendance.

"Unfortunately, no members of Congress have come out and said that they are boycotting because of the horrific human rights conditions of Palestinians," Ruebner added. "But we hope that, by so many members of Congress skipping this speech, it will open up room for more dialogue and debate about this issue."


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