At the end of President Obama’s news conference on April 13, President Obama said something that we hardly heard before. He declared that resolving the long-running Middle East dispute was a “vital national security interest of the United States.” This shift in White House’s apparent urgency to help broker a Middle East peace deal should not come as a surprise. Mr. Obama’s words echoed those of General David H. Petraeus, the military commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East, including America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent Congressional testimony, the general said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States.
It is worth recalling here that when on January 16 a team of senior military officers from the CENTCOM arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen the briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that president’s point man for resolving Palestine-Israel crisis – ex-Senator George Mitchell himself was “too old, too slow ... and too late.” The briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus’s instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. A Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing said, “Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling; America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding.”
General Petraeus did not leave the matter there: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command -- or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus’s reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region’s most troublesome conflict.
As noted on April 1 by author Mark Perry in the Foreign Policy magazine, Petraeus was not the first general to object to Israeli interest. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Gen. George Marshall advised President Truman not to recognize the state of Israel. In the period between the end of World War Two and Marshall’s meeting with Truman, the JCS had issued no less than sixteen papers on the Palestine issue. The most important of these was issued on March 31, 1948 and entitled “Force Requirements for Palestine.” In that paper, the JCS predicted that “the Zionist strategy will seek to involve [the United States] in a continuously widening and deepening series of operations intended to secure maximum Jewish objectives.” The JCS speculated that these objectives included: initial Jewish sovereignty over a portion of Palestine, acceptance by the Great powers of the right to unlimited immigration, the extension of Jewish sovereignty over all of Palestine and the expansion of “Eretz Israel” into Transjordan and into portions of Lebanon and Syria. This was not the only time the JCS expressed this worry. In late 1947, the JCS had written that “A decision to partition Palestine, if the decision were supported by the United States, would prejudice United States strategic interests in the Near and Middle East” to the point that “United States influence in the area would be curtailed to that which could be maintained by military force.” That is to say, the concern of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was not with the security of Israel- but with the security of American lives.
Such legitimate concerns shared by top military commanders, now and then, once again show that many within the Pentagon and the White House are not all that stupid. While many folks in the upper echelon of power and authority may not have the guts to spell out what is required for a real change, a few do. Even Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s secretary of state, known more for her unabashed support of Israel and promotion of war than diplomacy and conflict resolution, was neither unaware nor naive to Israel’s long history of undermining of American vital national security interest in the Middle East. During a speech in Jerusalem in 2007, she was heard saying, “The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation [of the Palestinian people] can radicalize even normal people.” But we are not sure if she discussed her concerns with Bush. As we all know, President George W. Bush never challenged Israeli governments on repeated violations of human rights in the Occupied Territories.
As a matter of fact decades of American complacency, funding and attempts to whiten Israeli war crimes have only emboldened the rogue regime to feel haughty and untouchable like a mafia don. Since the time of Johnson administration the bonding between the two countries has only become stronger. Every Israeli leader knew about the hypocritical face of the U.S. public diplomacy, and thus, exploited it to the hilt to extract further concessions and advantages, thus allowing Israel to retain a military edge over its neighbors.
Thus, we were not surprised when Netanyahu’s ultra-racist and expansionist government decided to ignore President Obama’s request to stop all settlement activities in the Occupied Territories, and announce further construction of 1600 housing units during vice president Biden’s fence-mending visit to Israel. Nor were we surprised when just before Mr. Obama hosted Mr. Netanyahu at the White House last month during the latter’s trip to Washington D.C. to speak at this year’s AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) annual conference — Israeli officials revealed plans to build 20 units in the Shepherd Hotel compound of West Bank.
Attended by Zionists – Jewish and non-Jewish, and cheered by the ‘Amen Corner’ – the U.S. lawmakers whose allegiance is more to the state of Israel than to the USA, Netanyahu delivered a defiant speech before an AIPAC conference. There Netanyahu vowed to continue expanding settlements in occupied East Jerusalem despite criticism from the Obama White House. He said, “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It’s our capital.” He refused to budge on an American demand that he reverse a housing plan in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Hours before Netanyahu spoke at the AIPAC conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told AIPAC attendees that the US commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock-solid. However, she criticized Israel for continuing to build settlements in occupied East Jerusalem: “New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides say they want and need. And it exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit. It undermines America’s unique ability to play a role, an essential role, in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they’re courageous and when we don’t agree to say so and say so unequivocally.”
As can be seen Netanyahu was not sobered by Clinton’s concerns about losing credibility. He has the legislative wing of the U.S. government to use as a trump card against the administrative wing. Just notice what Pelosi had to say to Netanyahu: “We in Congress stand by Israel, something we have a joint bipartisan commitment. No separation between us on this subject. In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel. Together we remain committed to advancing the peace process, preserving Israel’s security, responsible sanctions against Iran, working to finalize Iran sanctions bill right now.”
On April 13, the AIPAC publicized letters to Secretary of State Clinton, signed by 76 senators and 333 House members, which implored the administration to defuse tensions. That is, more than three-fourths of the U.S. Congress is opposed to any change in matters affecting the rogue state! In an open letter to Mr. Obama from the World Jewish Congress, the organization’s president, Ronald S. Lauder, asked, “Why does the thrust of this administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks?”
If Obama is serious about change, he cannot let his administration and its policy be dictated by groups or interests whose allegiance threatens American vital security interest in the Middle East. True that AIPAC is a powerful Jewish lobby, which has a leash on the U.S. Congress. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military. America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.
Obama must reach out to the people and share the concerns of General Petraeus. He must explain that there is an international law ruling on the question of East Jerusalem. In July 2004, the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, stated unequivocally that East Jerusalem is an “occupied Palestinian territory.” It is not a question of conflicting claims to Jerusalem, let alone an Israeli exclusive right to the East Jerusalem, which was acquired in the course of the 1967 war. And under international law, it is simply inadmissible to acquire territory by war.
According to the UN, as many as 60,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem are currently at risk of forced evictions, demolitions and displacement by the Netanyahu government. The Israeli position on East Jerusalem is illegal, immoral, unjust and unacceptable, and only weakens America’s strategic interest for the entire region.
Obama must also make it clear to the American public that Netanyahu is not a partner for peace and that his administration threatens America’s vital interest in the region, and, as such, must be dumped. Only a biting boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) initiative can sober the Netanyahu administration and change its apartheid character. The Obama administration must take the lead in this initiative.
Israel simply cannot be allowed to blackmail the rest of the world under blinding victimhood that refuses to see that it has become the chief perpetrator of violence in the Middle East, thus, threatening global peace and security. Will Obama administration have the necessary courage and resolve to put the Israeli genie back into the bottle where it belonged before she does irreversible harm to America’s vital national security interest?