Israel–US split grows as Palestinians suffer

Protest in Washington on 3 March as the Israeli Prime Minister address US Congress

The re-election of the racist war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu as the Israeli prime minister after his Likud party snatched victory from the jaws of defeat has created a political crisis. US President Obama clearly favoured the ‘change’ promised by the Zionist Union led by Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog, who looked to be winning the election, and was outraged at Netanyahu’s open racism and unrestrained rhetoric against Iran. At a time when US imperialism is building new alliances to refocus its strategy on controlling the Asia–Pacific region, Israel is in a difficult position. Special relationships don’t always remain special. The political landscape is shifting. But as ever, the unceasing US and EU-supported Zionist occupation means that the Palestinian people remain the real victims. The overwhelming majority of Palestinians are of course excluded from the ‘democratic’ process.

Electoral politics in an apartheid state

The election came at a time of surging internal crises for the Zionist ruling class, which have included industrial downsizing, strikes and an economic crisis. But more problematic is the inability of the Zionists to defeat Palestinian resistance. Despite continual onslaughts over the past 14 years, with seven military invasions including last summer’s horrific bombardment of Gaza, the Palestinian people refuse to give up their struggle. Israeli strategies to assert Zionist control both in Palestine and in the wider Middle East have undermined Israel’s relationship with its US sponsor.

Tens of thousands of Zionist voters took to the streets before the elections in demonstrations for and against Netanyahu’s bid to continue as prime minister. His strongest opponents, the Zionist Union, was a coalition of Labour Party and like-minded politicians, described variously as ‘liberal’ or ‘leftist’ by the British and European media. Its slogan was ‘change’, towards ‘negotiation’ with the Palestinians and against Likud’s perceived economic mismanagement. Despite this, Herzog and Livni are tried and tested Zionist loyalists, both happy to have been in past Netanyahu governments. Livni was Netanyahu’s Justice Minister during the 2014 onslaught on Gaza, and a government minister during the 2006 war on Lebanon. Livni and Herzog’s support for ‘negotiations’ wouldn’t allow ‘a single Palestinian refugee’ to return (Livni). Both are opposed to Palestinian control of any part of Jerusalem. They hoped to capitalise on Netanyahu’s failed military and political policies. Although polls favoured them in the days before the election, in the end they secured 26 seats as against the 30 for Netanyahu’s Likud.

In his election campaign, Netanyahu painted the Zionist Union as too liberal to lead. In a racist diatribe on the day of the election, he urged supporters to come out and vote because ‘Arab voters are streaming to the polling booths’. Palestinians make up 20% of the Israeli electorate. He went on US TV to say a free Palestine would never happen on his watch, saying that ‘anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel.’ Asked ‘if you are Prime Minister, a Palestinian state will not arise?’ he answered ‘Indeed’, adding that a two-state solution was now ‘irrelevant’.

Sections of the Israeli ruling class blame the current US administration for their crisis. They present Likud as victims of a leftist media conspiracy. In the election run-up, Netanyahu was at pains to distance himself from the ‘international community’ and the ‘peace process’ in the eyes of the Zionist electorate. His ally Moshe Ya’alon, called John Kerry ‘messianic and obsessive...he should win his Nobel Prize and leave us in peace’. This dominant trend of Zionism has no interest in negotiating a position on settlements, prisoners or returning land, let alone returning Palestinian refugees. It will pursue laws that abolish Arabic as an official language, restrict freedom of expression and the financing of human rights organisations, and bring a nation state law which solidifies the Zionist character of Israel by denying Palestinians even more of their identity and rights. It supports the revised Prawer plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab region, and will build more settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights in Israeli-occupied Syria.

US imperialism’s response

Netanyahu has irritated and humiliated the US government. As votes were counted, David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior adviser, tweeted that Netanyahu’s last-minute stand against a Palestinian state might have won the day but asked at what cost? An unnamed White House official said Obama told Netanyahu ‘we will need to reassess our options following the prime minister’s new positions and comments regarding the two-state solution.’ He added that ‘They also discussed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments about Israeli Arabs.’ In Obama’s first public response he said he had ‘indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions.’ The US, he said, is ‘evaluating’ its options ‘to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.’

Since the election, Netanyahu has made a show of backtracking, denying that he meant there would never be a Palestinian state. He told NBC on 19 March, ‘I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution... There are so many areas where we must work together, will work together with the United States, and the president, because we have no other alternative...America has no greater ally than Israel and Israel has no greater ally than the United States.’ He went further on 22 March, apologising for his pre-election comments, saying, ‘I know the things I said a few days ago hurt some citizens in Israel, the Israeli Arab citizens. This was not my intention and I am sorry.’ There is of course not a jot of sincerity in these statements.

US imperialism is not impressed. After the ‘apology’, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said Obama would stick by his position, telling the US-based Zionist think-tank J-Street, ‘We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made.’ J-Street is also critical of Netanyahu. Guardian columnist and Zionist Jonathan Friedland writes that ‘it’s too late. I know of at least one European leader who now says privately that Netanyahu’s “credibility is shot” and that “no one will want to work with him”.’

The rift between Israel and the US goes deeper than surface embarrassment about racist language or Zionist rhetoric. Netanyahu is determined to scupper talks between the US and Iran, and used a US Congress invitation at the beginning of March to make his position clear in a pointed snub to President Obama. Obama has now appointed Robert Malley as his new White House Co-ordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region. Malley is seen as a pragmatist, open to negotiation with Syria, Iran, Hizbollah and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. He has also called on Fatah and Hamas to ‘unite’ and negotiate with the occupation. The US is seeking a neocolonial settlement of the Palestinian problem. Netanyahu is getting in the way of this ‘liberal’ solution and can’t even get on with the pro-imperialist, comprador bourgeoisie that runs the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The US may now stop blocking PA attempts to get the UN to recognise a Palestinian state. The US-Israeli relationship is not sacrosanct. It may be more than 30 years since US President Ronald Reagan allowed anti-Israel resolutions to pass at the UN when Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear facilities, but Netanyahu is expendable. More compliant, pro-negotiation Zionists are waiting in the wings if he fails again. On 27 March, Netanyahu authorised the release of PA tax revenues frozen when the PA referred Israel to the International Criminal Court in January for war crimes.

Total US aid to Israel has run at over $3bn a year since 2011 and well over $2bn a year since 1979, the year of the Iranian Revolution. The vast majority of this has been military assistance – contributing around 25% of Israel’s total military budget in recent years. It does not include massive loan guarantees and other investments. This may now prove counterproductive to US interests, particularly as Saudi Arabia and other regional clients prove themselves ready and willing to do imperialism’s dirty work in a way that Israel is no longer can.

Who pays?

While this geopolitical game plays out, ordinary Palestinians continue to pay the price. On 18 March IDF troops shot nine Palestinians in Al Jalazun camp, north of Ramallah, including Ali Mahmoud Safi who died a week later. They were protesting against a wall being built to seal off the area from a nearby Jewish settlement. A new report by Child Rights International Network shows that Israel arrests around 700 Palestinian children every year, subjecting them to ‘ill-treatment’, including ‘verbal and physical abuse’ during and after their arrest. 56% report ‘coercive’ interrogation techniques; 42% said they had to sign documents and statements in Hebrew, despite the vast majority not knowing the language. In all, ‘during 2014, an average of 197 children were held in military detention every month, 13% of whom are under the age of 16’.

Israel’s occupation regime is backed up by PA collaboration and police brutality. On 20 March two children were seriously wounded when PA security forces opened fire on a demonstration near Balata refugee camp. PA police have led a crackdown on the camp in recent months, claiming to target ‘wanted criminals’. The camp population faces chronic unemployment, poverty and a lack of basic services, such as clean water and decent sewage systems. Roman Catholic bishops from the US and Europe visiting Gaza reported that ‘Many tens of thousands of families in Gaza lack adequate shelter. In the latest freezing weather, at least two infants died of exposure ... The continuing blockade dramatically impedes rebuilding ... It also creates intolerable levels of unemployment and pushes ordinary people into deeper poverty.’

Despite continuing military incursions into the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza and a regime of apartheid and poverty forced onto Palestinians in Israel, resistance continues to develop. In response to an increase in the threshold for getting Knesset seats, Palestinian parties came together and their Joint List coalition secured 13 seats, making it the third largest bloc. Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi said: ‘Today we are stronger ... We will fight racism, we will fight fascism, we will defend our rights, regardless of the government. We are the indigenous people of this land and we look to the future with optimism and realism.’

Louis Brehony

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 244 April/May 2015


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